Translated by Shinji Takaramura
3 Renovated Cafes In Yamagata: Discover The Charm Of Local Architecture
Written by Kunihisa
Yamagata is well-known for its scenic nature spots, but the local cuisine is another great charm of the area. Cafes housed in renovated traditional buildings are drawing visitors from all over the world. Learn about three such charming cafes in Yamagata.
Experience Local Culture in Stylish Spaces
Yamagata Prefecture is famous for its photogenic scenic spots, most notably the snow-covered trees in Zao, Yamadera ("Mountain Temple"), and Mt. Haguro. It is also known for stylish cafes housed in renovated buildings.
These cafes serve up delectable dishes and the old-style buildings convey a sense of the local culture. This article introduces three cafes where visitors can enjoy local products and regional cuisine inside a charming atmosphere.
1. Restaurant 0053 - Located inside a New Concept Shopping Facility
GEA is a shopping mall that opened in 2015. Originally constructed for a brewery, the stone building later housed Sato Seni—a knitwear manufacturer based in Yamagata's Sagae City—so a spinning mill could be used at the present site.
The renovated building is divided into three sections: GEA 1 (fashion), GEA 2 (kitchenware/handmade goods), and GEA 3 (food/restaurants).
Michelle Obama, the former First Lady of the United States, wore a cardigan by Sato Seni weaved from mohair yarn on her husband's Inauguration Day and at the Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony. The company is currently collaborating with well-known fashion brands while operating six original brands.
At GEA 1, customers can see these renowned products with their own eyes.
GEA 2 exhibits elaborate handicrafts and miscellaneous goods by artists residing in Yamagata. Here, you'll find intricately crafted wooden rings, earrings, and lacquered teacups that make for perfect souvenirs.
Restaurant 0053, located inside GEA 3, is a renovated cafe. The restaurant serves lunch, afternoon tea, and dinner using ingredients grown in Yamagata.
We sampled the spaghetti bolognese lunch set (1,620 yen with tax) that features various mushrooms, seasonal vegetables, and Yamagata beef. This superb dish allows diners to appreciate locally sourced products.
Gengetsu-an, a Japanese-style tavern featuring local brews and creative cuisine, is located next to Restaurant 0053. Both restaurants offer a charming and comfortable setting inside the former brewery.
2. Kura Obihachi Akarigura - Feel as if You've Slipped through Time
Located near Yamagata Station, Kura Obihachi Akarigura is a cafe brimming with a retro atmosphere. The building—a former millet warehouse—was renovated by Ojima Trading Company, a local company handling agricultural supplies.
The reason for renovating the warehouse into a cafe dates back to 2003 when Tohoku University of Art and Design (TUAD) launched the Yamagata Kura Project.
This project aimed to renovate a number of remaining kura (warehouses) in Yamagata City and utilize them into buildings with various functions. The TUAD students worked with Ojima Trading Co. in transforming the kuras into a space for events, live music, and cafes.
Although the duration of the project only lasted a month, it quickly garnered a lot of attention in the area. Afterward, Ojima Trading Co. continued the renovation endeavor by creating Kura Obihachi Akarigura. This cafe is decorated with old signs and clocks that were used during its warehouse days.
A large wooden box, which previously contained yome-iri dogu (*1), is currently used as a desk. Because of the building's rich history, visitors may feel as if they have traveled back in time.
*1 Yome-iri dogu: the Japanese word for a trousseau. Traditionally, the bride would move into the groom's household and bring along her belongings.
The popular menu is the "Kura Curry" cooked with twenty types of spices such as turmeric, cumin, and cinnamon. The meal comes with a salad and the rice is mixed with various grains. Its aromatic fragrance paired with the curry's deep flavor and slight spiciness all add up to make this an excellent dish.
Customers can also add a drink to the curry set (1,200 yen total, with tax) or choose the drink and dessert set (1,500 yen with tax).
Be sure to order a drink if you're planning on having dessert. The ginger and sesame cake, made from home-grown ginger boiled in kanro-ni style (*2) and roasted sesame, has a soft and delicate texture. A whiff of the aroma of ginger and sesame will make your mouth water.
The red perilla juice is also popular among cafe-goers. This refreshingly tart, sweet drink is said to have a beautification effect as well.
*2 Kanro-ni: a Japanese style of cooking and stewing various ingredients in sugar, honey, soy sauce, and sweet sake.
3. icho cafe - A Cafe that May Answer Your Prayers for Love?!
Icho cafe is located on the grounds of Kumano-taisha—a famous shrine for answering prayers of romance. The name comes from the fact the cafe stands next to a gingko ("icho" in Japanese) tree. In November, the gingko leaves turn gold, transforming the area into a great viewing spot for one week.
The building, which used to be a kiosk run by the shrine, was later renovated into a cafe. The wooden architecture and interior gives off a nostalgic atmosphere. The windows offer a clear view of the path leading to the shrine, leaving customers feeling as if the indoor cafe space is connected with the outdoors.
The cafe is operated by Waku Waku, a town development group hoping to create a meeting place for local residents. Various events, including a presentation of newly-produced Yamagata sake and wine, are held here.
The owner used to work at a cafe in Tokyo, where he learned to make pancakes. The cafe's signature French toast (500 yen including tax) came to fruition from this former experience. It's made using fresh milk produced by the local Iitoyo Nagameyama Farm and baked on copper sheets. The toast is crispy on the outside while delicately soft on the inside.
The coffee (450 yen with tax) is brewed in the pour-over style using lightly roasted beans from Washi Coffee—a famous speciality coffee bean shop in Yamagata. One sip of this brew will leave the flavor lingering on your taste buds.
Another specialty is the "Smoothie of the Day" (600 yen with tax). On the day of MATCHA's visit, the seasonal flavor featured Yamagata-grown peaches. This refreshing drink was packed with natural sweetness and the intoxicating aroma of ripe peach at the height of summer.
A Taste of Rich History and Regional Cuisine Inside Renovated Cafes
Cafes emerging from renovated buildings both exhibit and retain the charm of old Japanese architecture that is deeply rooted in local history. They also offer unique regional dishes that creatively use local products, allowing visitors to look forward to a one-of-a-kind experience. Savor a meal at one of the cafes mentioned above and take in the atmosphere enveloped in nostalgia.
If you would like to learn more about traveling in Yamagata, please check our special feature: Yamagata and Niigata Travel Tips.
Written by Chen
Sponsored by Yamagata Prefecture.