Our Smarter Cities Challenge team did not become ambassadors of Yamagata City over night. When we first arrived, the six IBM team members, three Japanese, two Americans and one from the United Kingdom, were all strangers to this area of Japan. We arrived in Yamagata City together from Tokyo on one of Japan’s high speed shinkansen trains which planted us right in the middle of the center of the city. We did not know it at the time, but this station would become our home and gateway to becoming ambassadors. Since our hotel was connected to the station, we began and ended our three weeks adventures there.
We discovered that Yamagata City, located in the center of Yamagata Prefecture, is a former castle town that has developed since the middle of the 15th century. In Kajo Castle Park, noted for its cherry blossoms, are moats and stone walls recalling scenes of life at that time. We can see the Kajo Castle and many of the mountains that surround the city from our hotel windows.
So how did we become Ambassadors? The Yamagata Smarter Cities Challenge team was very fortunate to work on a project that would require us to visit all the amazing attractions that make up the cultural, spiritual and vibrancy of this rural city. Day by day we began to discover why people want to live, work and spend time in this City.
On our daily walks we meet the young high school students in the station who quickly break out in smiles and laughs when we simply say “hello” and then engage in a short conversation using our smartphone app for translation from English to Japanese and back. We’re also found that useful in restaurants, shops and attractions. The single major attribute of a Yamagata Citizen is friendly.
Best Imonikai in Japan!
We were lucky enough to be here in Yamagata City to experience “Imoni-kai,” a seasonal celebration. As autumn arrives in Yamagata, family and friends gather at the riverbed and put cobbles together to make a furnace; then enjoy outdoor one-pod cooking “Imoni-kai” with taro, beef, konnyaku, and green onion. While there were hundreds of people there, the entire event felt like a back yard fall party with many ““Imoni-kai” plots with people of all ages gathered around their pots. Sharing fire making skills and recipes. We felt right at home since it was very easy to walk about and start a chat with just about anyone.