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Historical City Developed by Respected Leaders

President John F. Kennedy was known to admire feudal lord Yozan Uesugi, who governed the Yonezawa region––now Yonezawa City––in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Kennedy respected Yozan’s view of governance and self-discipline, a view echoed in the famous quote from the president’s inaugural speech: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” Although Kennedy’s admiration did not spur a rush of foreign trips to Yonezawa City, this historic city is well worth a visit. 

Yonezawa City is a castle town with more than 800 years of history. In its early years (during a period of multiple wars in Japan) Yonezawa was controlled by the Date clan for a total of 212 years. During the Edo period (1603–1868), the Uesugi clan was assigned to the Yonezawa area by the Tokugawa shogunate. The clan was originally rooted in Niigata Prefecture and was forced to move to the Aizu domain and then to Yonezawa. The clan needed to establish the town under its governance from the beginning. The first lord of the Yonezawa domain, Kagekatsu Uesugi, and his right-hand man, Kanetsugu Naoe, built the city’s foundation in the early seventeenth century by supporting civil engineering and developing local industries. The aforementioned Yozan, the ninth lord of the Yonezawa domain, was particularly respected because of his governing strategy.

Today, all this history has been dutifully preserved in museums, shrines, and landmarks. Some of the must-visit places are: Uesugi Shrine, which honors Kenshin Uesugi, a legendary warlord and the stepfather of Kagekatsu; Matsugasaki Shrine, where notable figures of Yonezawa history are enshrined, including Yozan, Kagekatsu, and Kanetsugu; Hosenji Temple, which was built by Kanetsugu Naoe and used as an academy for the children of samurai; and Keishoden, which houses the treasures of the Uesugi clan, with more than 1,000 items on display, including Kenshin’s personal possessions.

Those who are new to the local history can enjoy (and learn) at Uesugi Memorial Hall (Uesugi Kinenkan). An exact replica of Uesugi’s mansion, Uesugi Memorial Hall allows people to view the historical grounds, gardens, and mansion while having some coffee, tea, or local cuisine. This historical site/restaurant offers Yonezawa beef, sukiyaki, and more. Another place to visit, Yonezawa City Uesugi Museum, is situated on the ruins of Yonezawa Castle. It houses the historical and cultural heritage of the city, including the Rakuchu Rakugai-zu Byobu, a painted screen that is an officially designated national treasure.

Yonezawa embraces its fantastic history and shares it with all who visit. Visitors to the city of Yonezawa can experience the life of these historic clans and their samurai through workshops, tours, performances, festivals, and much more.

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Yonezawa City is located at the southern tip of Yamagata Prefecture, bordering Fukushima Prefecture. Deep in the mountain, the region is known for wooden products, fabrics, and unique agricultural produce, including famous Yonezawa beef.

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Uesugi Shrine was originally built on the ruins of Yonezawa Castle in 1876. Most of the building was destroyed by a fire in 1919, but it was rebuilt four years later. It is the spiritual center of the people of Yonezawa.

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Yozan Uesugi, local hero who saved the city from its financial risk in the late 18th Century.

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What to Eat in Yonezawa

Yonezawa City’s long history has allowed its residents to continue ancient family traditions and businesses, including farms and foods. Yonezawa has been cultivating apples for longer than any other area in its prefecture, and it has such high-quality, delicious beef that the city holds a beef festival once a year. Yonezawa also has the perfect streams for carp. Yamagata Prefecture’s most famous fruit is the Yonezawa cherry, and the edible bamboo shoots that grow in the mountains are delightfully tasty and crunchy. Many foreigners find Yonezawa’s edible chrysanthemums fascinating, but the list of delicious foods goes on and on. Also, there are four sake breweries that use underground water from the Ou Mountains.

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Yonezawa-gyu is one of the premium wagyu beef produced in the region. Steak, sukiyaki, shabu shabu…, regardless of the preparation styles, this beautifully marbled beef melts in your mouth.
 
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Using locally sourced water and sake rice, Gasanryu is a series of sake from Shindo Brewing Co., Ltd. in Yonezawa City.