ニシタイ 西葛西駅前タイムズ

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AD!Venture 2017.06.20 Hometown Yamagata

dummy-image This time on Ad!Venture, Hometown, I spoke with our music enthusiastic from Yamagata, Sales Associate Do-san. 

“To tell the truth, a lot of people from Yamagata end up going back. Maybe they head out to college, or to work in Tokyo, but more often than not they come home after a while. People from Yamagata just really love their hometown.”  

Oh really? A prefecture in the Tohoku region of Japan…what could really be so special about it? 

Do-san at Okama, in the Zao Area

Do-san was happy to let me know. 
Where is your hometown?

My hometown is Yamagata City, Yamagata Prefecture. And when I think of people visiting…

Do you know “juhyo”? You know the kanji for “ki” (tree:木), right? Well, there’s actually another kanji for tree(樹). When you combine that with the kanji for ice (氷), you get “juhyo”(樹氷). Juhyo are just frost covered trees, but it’s said they look like huge snow monsters. You can see them in my hometown, at Zao. There’s a ski resort there, and with all that snow there’s a lot of juhyo. 

Juhyou, Snow Monters at Zao. (Photo by 姐夫 吳 – DSC_2284 (2013)   / CC BY 2.0)

Juhyo are pretty cool. They even became inspiration for one of Yamagata’s mascots, Jukki. It’s not a cute mascot, though.

Any famous Yamagata events or festivals?

There’s the yearly imoni (芋煮) event that’s popular. It isn’t the biggest festival but most people get pumped to go. I usually attend, too, when my vacation days line up. 

For this event, around the fall I believe, there’s a giant metal pot set up outside where they make imoni, a type of soup with taro, beef, konnyaku, and green onion. It’s really, really tasty.

Imoni Event. (Photo by punimoe – P9070023 (2008)   / CC BY 2.0)

The pot they make it in is so large, I think over 6 feet in diameter, that they have to use a building crane to add the ingredients and stir it. No joke. And, of course, for the crane to move, it needs oil, right? Well, since you can’t eat “engine oil,” they coat the entire machine in cooking oils.

Outside of that, there’s the biggest festival called the Hanagasa Matsuri. This is a festival where various groups, from 50 to 100, all line up, one after the other, and dance down the street. It runs through the city, in front of the city office. Everyone dances, tens of thousands of people, and it just stretches out and out.

Hanagasa Matsuri. (Photo by f_a_r_e_w_e_l_l – YAMAGATA HANAGASA MATSURI 2008 Day3 (2008)   / CC BY SA 2.0)

I once participated in the festival, too. I wore a yukata and carried this type of hat called kasa. To tell the truth, it’s not the easiest dance. You have to turn the kasa with your fingers like so, and if you don’t, it won’t move correctly. Although all people in Yamagata City learn the dance, Hanagasa Odori, in elementary school as part of the program, I still couldn’t do it at first. Other dances, like Yosakoi, might tire you out because they're strenuous. The Hanagasa Odori is meant to go on for a long time, though, and is more technique focused. So, I definitely had to practice. 

What about food? I hear a lot of good things about Yamagata food.

Yamagata is famous for its cherries (sakaranbo). And its rice. Also, nashi pear called La France (西洋ナシ・ラフランス). Soba, too, is quite famous…Now that I think about it, there’s probably too many "famous foods" in Yamagata, haha.  

Do-san’s photo of sakaranbo

When I came to Tokyo, though, that’s something that pained me. The food here…whatever I eat, the flavors just don't match up to my hometown. It might be the freshness, or it might be that Tokyo relies so much on heavy seasoning. I’m not sure, but an important something is missing. A something that makes food in Yamagata just taste good.

Yamagata Local Bento. (Photo by 克年 三沢 – 2014-06-13 11.55.38 (2014)   / CC BY 2.0)

Oh, I forgot to mention ramen! Ramen in Yamagata is a big deal. I feel like most people don’t realize how much they eat ramen, but statistically we consume the most in all of Japan. Ramen is just part of daily life for Yamagata people. It might differ from region to region, but “RyuShanhai” (龍上海) is probably the most well-known chain. Their miso is celebrated in some outer areas. 

ChukaSoba in Yamagata (Photo by Jun K – DSC_2951 (2016)   / CC BY SA 2.0)

When you come into the city, though, there’s a lot of Chinese-noodle (chukasoba; 中華そば) ramen. That’s where KenChan (ケンチャン), my favorite chain, comes in. There’s a stronger fish taste with Chinese-noodle ramen, and of course the noodles themselves differ. I prefer it, and highly recommend it if you’re in the area. I probably ate it every day back home.

Speaking of “back home”, do you ever go back to visit? Haven't you ever thought about going back like others do? 

I do go back to visit a lot, about 3 or 4 times a year. It takes only about 3 hours on the bullet train, so when I feel a longing, I hop a train home. And, as I said, I don’t think I’m a rare case. Many people from Yamagata love their hometown and head back. I think it has to do with lifestyle. Some people can’t get used to places like Tokyo, the food, having to ride trains…Most people use cars in Yamagata. And in Tokyo, it doesn’t really snow. Yamagata has some pretty extreme temperatures, so winter gets cold. I like snow myself, so being here…sometimes it feels like winter never comes or that the seasons don’t really change.  

Do-san near Ginzan Onsen, amongst banks of Yamagata snow.

Even saying that, and although I love Yamagata, I haven’t thought seriously about going back to work and live. For someone like me who wants to work in advertising and be involved with the music scene, there’s no place better to be right now than Tokyo. Maybe, one day, if my hobbies change, I might think differently.

There’s no hobbies of yours that fit better in Yamagata?

Sake! Music and sake are my hobbies, and Yamagata-ken does fit well with the latter. In Yamagata, there’s a strong tradition of going to small bars, osakeya or izakaya, and getting close with the people there. The “share a glass” culture is strong, so people quickly become regulars of certain places, and make friends with bar owners and other customers. It’s an open and boisterous sort of environment. Of course, the Japanese sake (nihonshu; 日本酒) is really good. Yamagata’s is some of Japan’s most famous. Whenever I head home, I make sure to take a backpack with me so I can pack it full of liquor to bring back.

My favorite liquor is probably “okiteyaburi” (掟やぶり). It’s a cost performance sake, that is, it’s really affordable for its strength. It's only produced twice a year, but you can sometimes get it in Tokyo. With my friends, maybe 3 of us, we can finish off a bottle in a sitting because it's goes down so smoothly. There might be hangovers to contend with later, but it’s all about making good memories. For me, there’s just something about coming together with people who really appreciate quality-made sake.

What about favorite places?

Okama, at Zao Area.

Zao! The place I mentioned earlier with the juhyou. Other than that, there's Ginzan Onsen, which is really very beautiful. Do you know the movie, "Spirited Away"? Well, there were many real places that became models for the movie setting. This is said to be one of them. 

Ginzan Onsen. Inspiration for Spirited Away?

It’s a little far out there, but you take a mountain road and then, suddenly, it’s like you’re in another world. It’s amazing. I think you would call it Taisho Roman (大正ロマン) style, with a river that runs through the middle and its structure designs. A place to experience tradition, I guess you could say. 

Ginzan Onsen at night.

And last but not least, my favorite question: What about souvenirs?

A souvenir from Yamagata? Sakaranbo shaped sweets, something that’ll keep. Or, even just sakaranbo themselves if they’re in season. Or, sembei, rice cakes, from Yamagata rice. Or, Rusk? Oh, I know! Milk Cake (ミルクケーキ). It’s like this bar, and it’s…not like anything else, so you can’t really compare it to something like, say, chocolate. But it has a yogurt, milk kind of flavor. It’s hard to explain, but it’s quite well known. I mean, it may not look like much, but Yamagata has a lot of foods that don’t look very good. It just guarantees that they’re delicious.

Well, Do-san might be right about one thing, this “Milk Cake” did not look, well, entirely impressive.


But, as he promised, it was quite an experience in taste. 

Harder, sweet-cheesier,

and more contemplation-inducing than I expected. A strangely satisfying snack, indeed. One I cannot deny is curiously hard to describe. 

Also, in strange sort of timing, an OG of Bigbeat, Harada-san, also sent us fresh cherries from Yamagata today!

I hope someone else decides to surprise us with other goodies from Yamagata. From what I hear, there's still plenty of delicious, "famous foods" yet to choose from.  

Produced by Bigbeat,Inc.
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