The Tsubasa or Yamagata Shinkansen travels from Tokyo to Shinjo in 3 hrs. and 39 minutes. Starting from Tokyo the stations are as follows: Ueno, Omiya, Utsunomiya, Koriyama, Fukushima, Yonezawa, Takahata, Akayu, Kaminoyama-Onsen, Yamagata, Tendo, Sakurambohigashine, Murayama, Oishida, and finally Shinjo.
There are several things I absolutely love about Yamagata: great sake, delicious food, therapeutic onsen, cherries, and its signature rice called Hainuki. When not using the Tsubasa, the local JR lines are just as nice because you get a chance to take in the views of all the rural farm lands as well as the seasons.
But, allowed me to list up my favorite stops along this line.
After you reach Yonezawa station, which connects you to two major lines; the Ou Line and the Yunesaka Line. Yonezawa is a city famed for its Beef. You can also enjoy a delicious Yamagata style station bento lunch replete with local favorites from this area. The station is small, but accommodating. On the second floor you can shop for souvenirs and clothes. There's a bento & deli on the first floor selling some of the coolest bento boxes around.
I wouldn't spend too much time there though because if you exit the station and cross the main intersection, there's only one, you will come to a brown traditional looking building which makes the bentos that are sold in the station.
Once you exit that store just across the street on your left hand side you'll see a steak shop on the corner that specializes in Yonezawa style beef. If you are around there during lunch I highly recommend stopping through for a gorgeous lunch with some beer.
Next stop worthy of mention after Takahata is Akayu Station, which connects you to the Yamagata Tetsudo. Now this city doesn't have much to offer, but what it does have is good good spicy ramen. People from far and wide come here just for the ramen and then leave. A lot of locals visit this place year round and the lines are always ridiculously long.
After we pass Kaminoyama-Onsen we head to the main JR Yamagata station, and from here you can transfer to three lines; Ou Line, Aterazawa Line, and Senzan Line. These are very rural lines that take you deep into the backbone of Yamagata. The real reason, however, for choosing this station is because the volcanic formations around this volcanic area and majestic mountains stretching 36 km. This place is called the Zao Mountain Range, and it is here that you can enjoy some of the best skiing in Japan from mid-January to late February. In addition to great skiing you can enjoy the snow monsters.
Next up is Tendo station, and it is here you can enjoy some authentic style soba, Yamagata style. People in this region of Japan occasionally take trips down to this area to eat traditional hand rolled soba. Not like you can’t find this anywhere else in Japan, it’s just that up here it feels different because this is what people do everyday day in and day out for 30 or 40 years or so.
The stop next is Sakurambohigashine Station, and if you come between early June and early July you can sample world class premium cherries that look like bright red rubies! Cherry Orchards abound in this part of Japan and is well known by many food geeks like myself. By the way, the Ou Line connects to all of these station starting from Yonezawa to Shinjo, so if you want to take a slower route so that you can enjoy the sights then I recommend the Ou Line.
Riding all the way up past two minor station, Murayama and Oishida, we reach are final destination, Shinjo, and here’s the place that’s regarded in the top 5 best soba shops in all of Japan Nezameya-Hannbe!
Sake of choice chosen for me with this soba, and came highly recommended was this Shonai Homare nama!
I could probably go on and on about more recommendation, but these are the basic ones.