Yamadera in Yamagata Prefecture

As part of my Golden Week Vaction 2012 I spent some time in Yamagata Prefecture.
After exploring Yamagata Kajou Park and Kaminoyama on my first day, I was off to the famous Yamadera on my second day.

Visited: April 30th 2012

JR Yamadera Station Tama Chikara Konyaku Yamagata

JR Yamadera Station can be easily accessed by the “JR Senzan Line” from JR Yamagata Station. It only takes about 15 minutes to go there.


Exploring Yamadera

In front of the station I already saw the first food stand that sold “Tama Konyaku“. Yamadera is famous for “Chikara (strength) Konyaku” (力こんにやく).

Tama Chikara Konyaku Yamagata

Of course I also had to try them. You can eat them with mustard to give them more flavor. They’re hot and as it was pretty cold outside – it was just the right snack!

JR Yamadera Station

In front of Yamadera Station.
From there it’s just a short walk to the entrance of the actual temple complex.

Yamadera in Yamagata

The area around the river is really beautiful.

Yamadera in Yamagata

Yamadera’s Main Hall

After leaving a narrow street with small shops on both sides, you’ll have to climb a few stairs until you finally arrive at the Yamadera Temple Complex.
The first thing you’ll see is the Konpon-chudo (根本中堂). It’s the main hall of Yamadera.

Hojusan Risshakuji Temple (宝珠立石) is the original name of Yamadera. Everybody just keeps calling it “Yamadera” (山寺, lit.: mountain temple) because it’s easier, I guess.
Risshakuji was established by Jikaku-daishi in 860 and it’s one of the leading sacred places in the Tohoku District. An eternal flame brought over from Kyoto’s Mt. Hiei has been secured at this temple for more than 1100 years!

Yamadera in Yamagata

Some of the ema I spotted there.

nadebotoke, rubbing Buddha statue

This is a so-called nadebotoke (撫で仏, lit.: rubbing Buddha statue). People rub it for good health.
You rub the body part of the statue that you want to be cured in your own body.
The one in Yamadera is a “招福布袋尊” (Shou-fuku-hotei-son) which could be roughly translated as “good-luck-clothes-statue”…

Yamadera in Yamagata

Besides that big “nadebotoke” statue there were tons of other statues in various kinds of shapes and sizes.

Yamadera in Yamagata Yamadera in Yamagata

These tiny statues are called Onegai Jizou (お願い地蔵, lit.: asking-for-a-favor jizou). People can purchase them and then put them around the main Jizou statue.

Yamadera in Yamagata Yamadera in Yamagata

On the left photo you can see the view you get when standing in the Konpon-chudo Hall.

Yamadera in Yamagata Yamadera in Yamagata

On the right you see a statue of “Matsuo Basho” (松尾 芭蕉), a haiku poet, who stayed in Yamadera for a while and composed a famous haiku there:

“The stillness – soaking into stones cicada’s cry.”

I also went to the Yamadera Basho Memorial Center after visiting Yamadera, but more about that later.

Next to the statue was a great treasure house called “Jigoku Enma Treasure House”.
It only costs 200 yen and it was VERY impressive in there. Unfortunately photos were not allowed.

Yamadera in Yamagata

Yamadera’s Upper Area

Then it was finally time to enter Yamadera’s upper area.

I suggest getting some snacks, something to drink and using the toilet before you enter the area you have to pay for because beyond that point is no food stand or toilet anymore!

After entering you’ll have a steep hike ahead of you with about 1000 stone steps, so it might be tough for a few people.
Don’t worry, it won’t get boring, though! And you also won’t have to worry about your stamina! I stopped every few seconds to take photos!

Yamadera in Yamagata

On your way up you’ll run into many smaller temple buildings like the one above.
All of them are printed on a map that you’ll receive after paying the admission fee. This is the Uba-do (姥堂).

Yamadera in Yamagata

Don’t just pass by, but have a closer look!
You’ll find all sorts of toys, dolls and other things for children. This is to pray for lost children.
The red “thing” hanging down from the top is a “Sarubobo” from Gifu Prefecture, so I was surprised to see it there!

Yamadera in Yamagata

The stone steps that you have to climb up are surrounded by a forest. A truly mystical and beautiful sight!

Yamadera in Yamagata Yamadera in Yamagata

People leave coins behind after their prayers.

Yamadera in Yamagata Yamadera in Yamagata

After some time you’ll reach the “Niomon Gate” (仁王門). Once you walk through that you’ll reach the top area of Yamadera.
Well, … only if those two dudes won’t scare you away!

Yamadera in Yamagata

The top part of Yamadera

This is probably the most popular and most photographed scenery when visiting Yamadera!
The bigger building is the Kaisando Hall (開山堂) and is dedicated to the temple’s founder, Jikaku Daishi.
The smaller one is the Nokyodo Hall (納経堂 = hall for copying sutra).

Yamadera in Yamagata Yamadera in Yamagata

From up there you can access the Godaido Hall (五大堂) that offers an awesome view.
The hall is quite old as it dates back to early 1700s.

Yamadera in Yamagata

You’ll have a great overview over the valley below. You can also see “Fuga no Kuni” (風雅の国) from up there which is an entertainment complex, also including the Basho Museum that I visited later that day.

Yamadera in Yamagata

A close-up of the entrance area of one of the temple facilities.

Yamadera in Yamagata

And upon climbing up some more you’ll finally reach the “Okunoin” (奥之院).

There are so many tiny temple facilities to discover and it’s really all up to you if you want to explore all of them or not.
I guess it also depends on your schedule.

After checking out almost all of the buildings (not all of them were accessible at that time) I went back down.

Yamadera in Yamagata Yamadera in Yamagata
Actually the path you climb up and the one you will go back down in the lower (free!) area is not the same, so you’ll run into a few more things!

Yamadera in Yamagata

And then it was finally time for lunch!
Yamagata Prefecture is not only famous for soba (buckwheat noodles), but also for stewed potatoes (‘imoni’, 芋煮), so I got a set that had both and it was really delicious!

japan food yamagata

I also tried these. They were available with pumpkin or “青葉” (green leaves?!) filling, but as pumpkin wasn’t in season I tried the other one and .. to be honest .. I didn’t like it very much!! (^-^;)


Yamadera in Yamagata

Basho Memorial Hall

I went back towards the station and from there to the “Fuga no Kuni” area where the Basho Memorial Center was located.
You have to walk up a steep slope, but from there you’ll have an awesome view. You can see all the way to Yamadera!

cherry blossoms in Yamagata Cherry blossoms in Japan

There were a lot of cherry blossom trees. Beautiful!

Basho Memorial Hall Yamagata

The area is also good for a nice and pleasant afternoon walk.

Basho Memorial Hall Yamagata Yamadera in Yamagata

Besides the Basho Center there were gift shops, art museums, cafés and restaurants.

Basho Memorial Hall Yamagata

Photos weren’t allowed inside the “Yamadera Basho Memorial Hall“.
I guess it’s only worth visiting if you’re interested in haiku poems.

cherry blossoms in Yamagata

And then it was time for me to leave. It was still early afternoon, so I decided to go back to Yamagata and explore the city a bit more.


  • Very interesting. The climb reminds me of the one to Haguro-san [I cheated and only went down, as there are over 2400 steps] in its atmosphere. The view is indeed gorgeous. I would like to see Yamadera. I will have to add it to my list.

    I am not fascinated by haiku, however I read Basho’s ” The long Road to the far North” and really liked it. I also love some of his poems, so no doubt it would be interesting to see that museum.

    • Most “mountain temples” I’ve been to so far are great in their own way and all of them are worth a visit! Unfortunately some of them are difficult to access. Not Yamadera, though! :D

      I was totally fascinated by the haikus and their creator when they were presented to me by a great volunteer guide. Unfortunately it’s been 3 or 4 years and I can’t exactly remember where it was. I think it was in Ehime’s Matsuyama City. I have to look through my travel notes some time! *g*
      Haiku can be fun when you understand them properly. However, understanding them can be even difficult for Japense people! :sweatdrop2:

  • Interessting, I heard so much about Yamadera, but it did not look that impressive. Somehow my image of a mountain temple is Nachi-san in Wakayama prefecture. I was soooo close, but never made it there :)

    • Gawd, I’ve been wanting to travel to the Kumano region for the longest time!
      Last year in fall I finally made plans to go but due to a strong typhoon in September (2011) the roads weren’t accessible for a long time. Now it’s ok again and it’s still on my list! ^-^
      Can’t wait to go!
      Maybe I’ll have a chance this fall! :D

      I guess a mountain temple on an isolated, but beautiful Japanese island would be paradise for you?! ;P

  • Yamadera is Tohoku’s most sacred temple complex and high up on my list of places to visit in Japan. The view from the mountain must be magnificent and worth the effort of getting there and climbing to the top.

    • Compared to other “mountain temples” I’ve visited so far, I felt that Yamadera was rather easy to access. Everything feels so compact and yet it’s very interesting and beautiful up there! :thumbup:

    • Glad you like it there! ^__^
      I hope you’ll find some more places in my future posts you’d like to add to your list, so you can explore Tohoku some more! :D
      Recently I run into these small jizo very often. I have the feeling that they’re more common in Kanto and eastern regions such as Tohoku, but it could just be my imagination! ^-^;

    • Hi Mike!
      Thanks for the great travel tip! :D
      I’ve been to Tohoku in winter, but unfortunately not in Yamagata Prefecture.
      There’s so much snow everywhere. It’s cold, but the landscape is so beautiful then.

  • thing about Japanese temples is they are so sacred and you feel so relaxed and peaceful.

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