Sunday, 14 June 2009

Discover Japan #5: Yamagata Prefecture (THE EAST Campaign in Association with Japan National Tourist Organization London Office)

When the British travel writer Isabella Bird visited Yamagata many years ago, she called it the “arcadia of the east,” in admiration of its natural abundance and beauty. Former U.S. ambassador to Japan, Edwin Reischauer, also praised the healthy balance between people and nature in Yamagata, calling it “another Japan, on the other side of the mountain.”
Yamagata Prefecture is located about 300 km to the north of Tokyo. It has a population of 1.23 million, and an area of about 9,300 square kilometers. The Prefectural Government Headquarters are located in Yamagata City. Its latitude is 38 degrees, 15 minutes north, about the same as Washington, DC and San Francisco, USA, Lisbon, Portugal and Athens, Greece.
The major industries are agriculture and manufacturing. The electronics industry is particularly concentrated here. Yamagata is striving toward the development of new enterprises based around Organic Electro-Luminescence technology, and the catchphrase of this effort is “Lighting up the World with Organic Light!”

There are two sides to Yamagata. In the central cities of the different regions, the concentration of various metropolitan functions continues to develop. In the surrounding areas, beautiful natural features such as mountains and rivers offer the blessings of the four seasons and are the source of many of our greatest resources.

Yamagata, a prefecture blessed by bountiful nature, is highly evaluated for its rice, as well as for the top-quality Sake produced from the rice. Yamagata is also a great producer of fruit; production of cherries and pears is the highest in the nation. Yamagata is also famous for its delicious beef. Yamagata is a place with four distinct seasons. In the spring, the melting of the snow brings a fresh green to the trees, and the cherry blossoms bloom. One enjoyable pastime is to watch the cherry blossoms at their peak. In Tendo city, people dress up as Shogi (Japanese chess) pieces and have games of “Human Shogi.” Many people visit Yamagata in June, when the cherries are harvested. During the hot summer, there are festivals throughout the prefecture, and the main attraction in Yamagata City is the “Hanagasa Festival.” During the abundant autumn season, the prefecture is busy with the harvest of delicious fruits such as grapes, apples and pears, as well as rice. A picturesque world emerges as the color of the trees change to red and yellow. In the winter, the hot springs and ski resorts are lively. There are many hot springs throughout the prefecture, and tourists come to visit them throughout the year.

Yamagata is proud of its tradition of craft-making. In addition to the cutting-edge technology introduced in the previous pages, the abundant nature, history and culture of the prefecture has also given birth to masterful and refined methods for the production of handmade crafts. Many varieties of traditional crafts, exemplified by “Yamagata Cast-Metal”, have been carefully produced making full use of these techniques. In the modern era full of machines, mass-produced goods and disposable goods, these products form an enriching part of our daily lives. Each of them is a creation worthy of passing on to the next generation. The tradition of cast-metal crafts has a 900-year history in Yamagata, and has been evaluated highly, producing many “Living National Treasures.” In particular, Yamagata produces more tea urns than any other prefecture. Recently, long-established cast-metal craft companies have been striving to create teapots with lively colors such as blue, green and red, which have become popular in Europe, where interest in Japanese culture is growing. In addition, because of the design and beauty of the materials, these crafts have come to be used in monuments, street lights, bronze statues and signs, playing an important role in the effort to make culture and history more tangible in our towns.

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