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Tea Leaves

Yamagata's lesson in post-pandemic tourism

Neglected Japanese prefecture rebrands to reach out to the world

An “Asiatic Arcadia”: The city of Kaminoyama, in Yamagata prefecture, as seen from a nearby mountainside in July 2020. (Photo by Alice French)

When British explorer Isabella Bird visited Yamagata prefecture, northwest Japan, in summer 1878, the capital, Yamagata city, was "a thriving town of 21,000" people. Japan had only recently reopened to visitors after more than 200 years of strict isolationism, and Bird was one of the first foreigners allowed to tour the archipelago unsupervised.

On a mission to discover Japan's roads less traveled, Bird would venture as far north as Hokkaido and as far south as Kobe, recording every destination and experience in meticulous detail in her diary, which was published as a popular book, "Unbeaten Tracks in Japan," in 1880.

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