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.
While the people of Yamagata are considered shy, they can easily be drawn into a conversation and once invited to chat, are extremely appreciative of the engagement. We’ve encountered groups of school children that giggle with delight when they hear a simple “hello” is spoken to them.
Last Sunday we were guests of our Yamagata City Government Tourism Team’s imonikai (imoni get-togethers) a festival celebration of Autumn in beautiful park along the banks of the Mamigasaki River. There we discovered hundreds of local Yamagata City residents gathered around their “Imoni pots” creating a delicious stew for their friends and families. The citizens invited us to share in their celebration sharing special treats, fresh fruits, local vegetables and local beer and sake. We helped light the fires and stir the pots. On our way home that afternoon, we all shared the special feeling we had about the friendliness of the local people.
These are just a few examples of the friendly people we are meeting in Yagamata City. We meet them daily in our travels. Restaurant works and owners, business men and women who own various attractions large and small. They have all shown their willingness to communicate the beauty of the City and the welcome the tourist.