Panoramas and picnics under the Sakura: Mt. Kitayama

Mt. Kitayama is the perfect spot for a picnic amongst the Sakura that offers panoramic views over the rice fields and mountains of inland Yamagata Prefecture.

A stroll through the Sakura of Mt. Kitayama in Murayama City, in inland Yamagata Prefecture.

On the surface it may be hard to believe, but the tiny 188m-high (616. ft.) Mt. Kitayama on the outskirts of Murayama City is indeed one of the 100 Famous Mountains of Yamagata. The five different kinds of Sakura, and Nikkokisuge flowers alone couldn’t possibly be enough to make the list, could it? Not only that, the shortest route to the summit takes a mere 8 minutes. 8 minutes! It’s so short I was able to film my whole stroll there for you.

How could Mt. Kitayama make the 100 Famous Mountains of Yamagata list?

The view from Mt. Kitayama in Murayama City with Mt. Koshikidake and Mt. Okina in the background, and sakura in the foreground.
Expansive views of the surrounding mountains, such as Mt. Okina (far left between the cherry blossoms) and Mt. Koshikidake (tallest peak in the picture) await from the summit of Mt. Kitayama.

So, how could such a small peak make it on a list of 100 Famous Mountains?The answer is, of course, that the criteria for the 100 Famous Mountains of Yamagata is not what you’d typically expect. If you’d read my page about this project, you would know that the mountains were first chosen according to the following criteria:

  • Number of visitors to the mountains, starting with locals
  • Mountains that have played a huge role in the lives of locals
  • Mountains with great views or other special appeal that makes you want to share the place with others

How did Mt. Kitayama come to be?

A path lined with daffodils waves through the Sakura of Mt. Kitayama
The paths up Mt. Kitayama are lined with daffodils that bloom in the spring with the cherry blossoms

The truth is, Mt. Kitayama scores very high on all three of these points. In the past Mt. Kitayama was known as a place for hanging out with mulberry trees and a ski field. However, these went out of fashion with the passing of time.

Then in 2004, the whole local Okubo community got together to clear the 4ha of grass and plant one whole side with some 600 Prunus × yedoensis and weeping sakura cherry blossom trees.

The small hut at the summit of Mt. Kitayama with its distinctive red roof stands out above the cherry blossoms
Carpark in foreground, summit in background. Yes, Mt. Kitayama’s summit is that close.

Ever since, it has been a very popular location for locals, and the locals have also invested a lot into the mountain too. The community has worked hard together to help maintain the mountain by cutting the grass, covering the trees in winter to protect them from heavy snow, and keeping the paths clear. In 2012 the mountain was renamed the Kitayama Sakura Park.

Mt. Kitayama Climbing Season

The hut at the summit of Mt. Kitayama with its distinctive red roof, and view of inland Yamagata Prefecture.
The hut at the summit of Mt. Kitayama with its distinctive red roof. The rope for the Happiness Bell is also visible.

Mt. Kitayama is open year-round, but the panoramic views and gazebo at the summit, complete with ‘bell of happiness’, and the ‘couples’ pines’ are best accessed when there is no snow, any time from April to November.

The Kitayama Sakura Festival is usually held at the end of April. The orange-yellow day lily Nikko Kisuge flowers bloom in June. If you go during Sakura season (mid to late April), you will also be greeted with a line of daffodils to guide your path.

Getting to Mt. Kitayama

A map of Mt. Kitayama showing the paths that weave up the mountain through the Sakura
The map of Mt. Kitayama you can pick up from the bottom. Notice the winding routes through the Sakura.

Mt. Kitayama has two main trails, the ‘Casual Stroll’ Trail (40min return), and the ‘A little bit of effort and you make it to the Gazebo’ trail (16 minutes return).

The ‘Casual Stroll’ Trail (40min return)

A sign stopping cars from entering hangs across the entrance from the base of Mt. Kitayama, cars aren’t allowed past there, but people certainly are.
The entrance from the base of Mt. Kitayama, cars aren’t allowed past there, but people certainly are.

From the Mt. Hayama Police Station along Route 347, take a left at the Murayama City Kinro Seishonen Home. Right next to the field there is a car park from where the path starts Casual Stroll Trail starts and weaves through the Sakura. Since there’s basically only one path from here to the summit it’s very easy to follow.

The ‘A little bit of effort and you make it to the Gazebo’ trail (16 minutes return)

The Bell of Happiness at the summit of Mt. Kitayama.
The Bell of Happiness at the summit of Mt. Kitayama.

Keep going past the car park for the other trail, and follow the path to the right at the farm. Head 50m up the road and there is some space to park your car. From here you can see the gazebo and its characteristic red roof. The path from here is steep, but not very long at all.

Mt. Kitayama: In conclusion

The view of Murayama City and inland Yamagata Prefecture from the Bell of Happiness at the summit of Mt. Kitayama.
The view of Murayama City and inland Yamagata Prefecture from the Bell of Happiness at the summit of Mt. Kitayama.

Although I feel a bit like a cheat for only spending about an hour on this tiny peak, but Mt. Kitayama truly deserves its place on the list due to the sheer influence it has had on the lives of the locals. If you’re looking for a place to hike, this is not the peak for you, but if you just want a nice time amongst the flowers with a great view that isn’t very hard to get to, Mt. Kitayama is the place for you.

Nearby locations worth checking out

Green Wood Coffee

I haven’t actually been there, but I have heard good things of this nearby cafe.

Hayashizaki Iai Shrine

An Iai Master wields a sword at the Hayashizaki Iai Shrine in Murayama City.
An Iai Master at Hayashizaki Iai Shrine in Murayama City.

Murayama City is home to the Hayashizaki Iai shrine, where the sword-wielding art of Iaido originated.

Mt. Hayama (Murayama)

Mt. Hayama is a former Dewa Sanzan peak that is home to the Buddha Yakushi Nyorai.

Mt. Taruishiyama

Mt. Taruishiyama is a part of Mt. Hayama connected to the Taruishi hamlet of Murayama City.

Mt. Kitayama in Murayama City | 北山 (村山)| きたやま(村山)

Mt. Kitayama is Known for:

  • Hill covered in Sakura, perfect for a stroll
  • Panoramic views over Murayama City, inland Yamagata Prefecture, and the surrounding mountains‌‌

Mt. Kitayama (北山きたやま) is a 188m (616. ft.) peak in the Murayama region of Yamagata prefecture. Mt. Kitayama is open from April to November. Mt. Kitayama is a level 1 in terms of physical demand, which means it is easy to hike, has a A technical grade, which means it requires little expertise, and you want to allow at least 15 minutes for a climb.

Mountain Range: Mt. Kitayama

Region: Murayama

Elevation: 188m (616. ft.)

Technical Demand: A (requires very little expertise)

Physical Demand: 1 (easiest)

Trails: Two) 1) The ‘Casual Stroll’ Trail (40min return), and 2) The ‘A little bit of effort and you make it to the Gazebo’ trail (16 minutes return)

Climbing Season: April to June is the best season for the flowers, but the mountain is open until November

Day trip possible? Yes

Minimum Time Required: 16 minutes on foot

Mt. Kitayama Map

100 Famous Mountains of Yamagata Peaks

  1. Exploring The Yamabushi Trails of Kinbo-zan
  2. Sakura Mountain: Arakura-yama
  3. Whetting your appetite for wetlands on Takadate-yama
  4. The Hidden Side of Haguro-san (Haguro Kodo)
  5. The Shogun and the Falcon, How I “Conquered” Japan: Nihon-koku
  6. Dancing in the Dawn Lillies: Shoga-dake and The Fuji of The North
  7. Bananas and Cokes, Leaches and Pit Vipers: Kumanonaga-mine
  8. Reaching Peak Tranquility on Atsumi-dake
  9. Sanze’s Little Helper: Fujikura-yama
  10. The Dewa Sanzan’s “Mountain of Death” — Gas-san
  11. The Dewa Sanzan’s “Mountain of Rebirth” — Yudono-san
  12. Womb Passes and Monkey Crossings: Kyogakura-yama — The Shugendo Peak of Sutras
  13. Mythical Beasts, Buddha’s Mother and Buried Yamabushi Treasure? Welcome to Maya-san
  14. The Widow’s Peak: Ubaga-take
  15. The Epitome of Autumn Leaves in North Japan: Taizo-san
  16. Mother. Hunter. Mountain. Hokari-yama
  17. Homer Simpson’s Heaven in North Japan: The Donut-shaped Yonetaihei-zan
  18. The Medieval Castle and Mighty River of Yamuki-yama
  19. Panoramas and picnics under the Sakura: Kita-yama
  20. Yozo-san: White Snakes, White Monkeys and Slimy Salamanders
  21. Abandoned Ski Field and Phantom Forest of Tsuchiyu-yama (Mt. Tsuchiyu)
  22. Turtles, Tigers, and a Legendary Japanese Character: Kamewari-yama
  23. Zao-san and Why We Climb Mountains
  24. Japan Has Pyramids? — Yakushi-san and The OG Japan content creator
  25. Venerable Old Man Mountain — The Mist and Mystery of Okina-san

References

Yamagatayama Page (Japanese)

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