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.
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).
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!
In front of Yamadera Station.
From there it’s just a short walk to the entrance of the actual temple complex.
The area around the river is really beautiful.
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 (宝珠山立石寺) 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!
Some of the ema I spotted there.
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”…
Besides that big “nadebotoke” statue there were tons of other statues in various kinds of shapes and sizes.
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.
On the left photo you can see the view you get when standing in the Konpon-chudo Hall.
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’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!
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).
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!
The stone steps that you have to climb up are surrounded by a forest. A truly mystical and beautiful sight!
People leave coins behind after their prayers.
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!
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).
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.
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.
A close-up of the entrance area of one of the temple facilities.
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.
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!
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!
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!! (^-^;)
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!
There were a lot of cherry blossom trees. Beautiful!
The area is also good for a nice and pleasant afternoon walk.
Besides the Basho Center there were gift shops, art museums, cafés and restaurants.
Photos weren’t allowed inside the “Yamadera Basho Memorial Hall“.
I guess it’s only worth visiting if you’re interested in haiku poems.
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.