Sakata, Japan

The bustling seaport of Sakata sits along the northwest coast of Honshu, Japan’s largest island. Sakata grew prosperous during the 17th century as the main shipping hub for “Shonai rice,” the high-quality grain grown in the surrounding Shonai Plain. The local Honma clan came to dominate the rice trade here during the Edo Period (1603–1867); you can visit the merchants’ former residence, as well as their lavish holiday villa and landscaped gardens showcased in the Honma Museum of Art complex. Also explore the Sankyo Warehouses, a row of 15 wooden rice storehouses that now contain a historical museum. Head south of the city to the Kamo Aquarium, famous for its jellyfish collection and farm; or make a pilgrimage to Dewa Sanzan (Three Mountains of Dewa), which represent the three phases of reincarnation. Only 1,358-foot-high Mt. Haguro (birth) is accessible year-round; follow the 2,446 stone steps up through old-growth cedar forest to the Sanjingosaiden Shrine, which venerates the gods of all three sacred peaks.