Central Yamagata occupies a grid of streets lying northeast of the train station. Its southern boundary is Ekimae-dōri, a broad avenue leading straight from the station as far as the Hotel Castle, from where the main shopping street, Nanokamachi-dōri, strikes north to the former Prefectural Office (文翔館), about twenty minutes’ walk from the station. This imposing, European-style building of stone and ornate stucco dominates the north end of Nanokamachi-dōri. Originally built in 1911, the interior has been magnificently restored, particularly the third floor with its parquet-floored dining room and elegant Assembly Hall.

From the Prefectural Office, head west to the Yamagata Art Museum beside the castle walls. This modern museum boasts a small collection of major European names, such as Picasso, Chagall, Renoir and Monet, but unless there’s a special exhibition of interest it’s not really worth the entrance fee. Instead, cross the train tracks to enter Kajō-kōen (霞城公園) by its beautifully restored East Gate, the only remnant of the former castle. The City Museum, or Kyōdokan (郷土館), occupies a delightful, multicoloured clapboard building in the park’s southeast corner. Erected in 1878, this museum originally served as the town’s main hospital, and its exhibits include a fearsome array of early medical equipment and anatomical drawings, including a guide to pregnancy rendered as woodblock prints.

On the city’s southeastern outskirts, the pretty little pottery village of Hirashimizu (平清水) has a surprisingly rural atmosphere. There’s just one main street and a small river running down from the hills, which provides local potters with their distinctive, speckled clay. If you explore a little, you’ll find several family potteries with showrooms (daily 9am–5/6pm), such as Shichiemon-gama (七右衛門窯), which offers visitors the chance to throw a pot or two.

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