Culture and History

In the Uetsu area, you can experience historical Hansei period castle towns of Tsuruoka and Murakami, to the port city of Sakata, which grew from the cargo ships that sailed the Sea of Japan in the Edo period, and even the Mogami River, where you can take a long-historied boat ride that feels like a time machine to the past. While the area has many natural areas and scenery, it also has a rich history and culture that draws in and fascinates visitors from all over.

Kitamaebune Culture

~The land whose culture thrived on trade and commerce~

Spiritual Culture

~Sangaku Shinko: Connecting People and Nature~

Oku no Hosomichi

~Visit the site of Matsuo Basho’s famous haiku~

Saigo Takamori Related Areas

~The Story of Feudal Warriors’ New Land Development~

Castle Town Culture

~Townscapes that breathe history and culture~

Kitamaebune Culture

~The land whose culture thrived on trade and commerce~

In 1672, due to the rising population in Edo at the time and the increasing demand of rice, the shogunate appointed merchant Zuiken Kawamura to start the “Nishimawarikouro” (west circuit sea route )which ran from the Sea of Japan to the Seto Inland Sea. The Sakata harbor quickly developed and became a keypoint in the route which sent ships to Osaka and Edo. Due to this, the port quickly grew as a merchant town, and culture from areas like Kyoto came flooding in.

Besides rice, other goods traded to the Kyoto area from the Mogami River boats included safflower and ramie (a perennial plant in the nettle family used in high class weaving, samurai costumes, and wealthy class kimonos).

Through the coastlines and the Nishimawarikouro route, the Mogami River became the heart of the spread of culture through the prefectures specialty products, as well as other trade goods. The marine culture in this area also gave birth to many wealthy farmers and merchants. Through this flourishment, the area became a place of diverse and unique culture.

Spiritual Culture

~Sangaku Shinko: Connecting People and Nature~

From ancient times Japan has believed that gods gave birth to the mountains and trees and dwell within them. The Sangaku Shinko mountain religion beliefs and culture’s roots come from ancient times, and the area is dotted with famous mountains that are connected to these beliefs and draw in shrine visitors and tourists from all over the country. It is here where you can experience these breathtaking mountains and everliving beliefs and history throughout all four beautiful seasons.

Oku no Hosomichi: The Narrow Road to the Deep North

~Visit the site of Matsuo Basho’s famous haiku~

Famous poet Matsuo Basho once visited this area on his “Oku no Hosomichi” journey, arriving on a boat at the Mogami River and visiting Yamagata’s Mt. Haguro and Gassan, castle town Tsuruoka, harbor town Sakata, Fukura, and the most northern areas of his trip, Akita’s Kisakata and Murakami.

After doing so, he left behind a series of haiku that wonderfully describe the sights, natural beauty, depth of culture, and warmth of humanity that still live on in the area today.

Saigo Takamori Related Areas

~The Story of Feudal Warriors’ New Land Development~

The Shonai Domain was the location of the Boshin War. With the wealthy merchant Honma family’s backing, the war against the new government was violently fought with the latest weaponry. Shonai was able to get through the war without losing, but as other areas were surrendering one by one, the undefeated Shonai Domain had no choice but to surrender as well. Prepared for severe punishment, feudal lord Sakai Tadazumi met with new government army officer Kiyotaka Kuroda, but due to Saigo Takamori’s orders, that punishment was surprisingly light. The deeply impressed feudal Shonai warriors followed the teachings of Saigo, which were later recorded as the “Nanshu Ouikun” document.

After the Boshin War, Sanehide Suge, a former key person of the Shonai domain, formed a friendship with Saigo and received help with developing new land and sericulture industries. Since silk was the best way to receive foreign trade for the fast building modern nation of Japan, the Matsugaoka wilderness was cleared to make room for the development of silk. After that, Shonai became a top silk exporting area in Japan.

Even now, Shonai is the only place where the process from silk to products is all concentrated into one area. Ever since the first silk cocoon was spun by a silkworm here many years ago, products with the brand name ”kibiso” have been made in Tsuruoka, and Tsuruoka’s silk history continues to this day.

Castle Town Culture

~Townscapes that breathe history and culture~

Tsuruoka, Yamagata Prefecture

Unchanged domain atmosphere and townscapes with Meiji and Taisho period roman vibes

Tsuruoka is the historic castle town of the Shonai Domain. There are many historical buildings near Tsuruoka Park, such as Tsurugaoka Castle, the feudal lord Sakai clan castle for 250 years. The Former Nishitagawa District Office, Chido Museum, the Shonai Domain Chidokan, Kazama Family Former Residence Heishindo, Taihokan, Catholic Tsuruoka Church, and other buildings from the Edo, Meiji, and Taisho eras can all be seen on foot within a two to three hour long walk. Enjoy the Meiji, Taisho, and Roman styles as you walk through this castle town filled with wonderful architecture.

Murakami, Niigata Prefecture

~A castle town with black walls and a plenty of character~

Murakami is known as Niigata’s old castle town. The castle site, samurai district, merchant district, and temple district are all nearly unchanged from the past. The excellent and rare preservation is all thanks to a citizen project The most fascinating thing about the buildings is the interior design that includes fireplaces and dirt floors. A conversation with the locals that live here will make you feel what made old time Japan so great. In recent years, efforts to change the towns fences to black make it feel as if you have just stepped out of a time machine to the past.

Japan Heritage

Japan’s tangible and intangible cultural properties have been preserved through narratives based on unique regional histories and traditions. The Agency for Cultural Affairs recognizes these stories as Japan Heritage. In this area, the following three stories are recognized as Japan Heritage.

Area map