Yamadera’s sub-temples dot the slopes of Mt. Hoshu northeast of Yamagata City. A 1,000-step ascent through a mystical forest brings you to a mountaintop temple complex—Yamadera—with a view considered among the best in northern Japan.
Yamadera’s lower temples are a 7-minute walk from JR Yamadera Station.
Taking the Hayabusa Shinkansen from Tokyo and changing for the Yamagata-bound train at Sendai will get you to Yamadera Station in just over three hours.
Risshakuji Temple is the official name for Yamadera, which literally means “mountain temple”
The temple was founded in 860
The renowned haiku poet Bassho composed one of his most famous poems here
Yamadera is especially popular with photographers. Every season has something to offer but autumn, when the forests burst into color and winter, when the region is submerged in a sea of winter white, are particularly noteworthy.
Konponchudo Hall, located at the foot of the mountain, houses a ritual flame that’s said to have been burning since the temple’s founding in 860. The hall is made of sturdy beech wood and is widely considered to be the oldest of its kind in Japan.
Nearby, Hiko Hall, the temple’s treasure house, was built in the 12th century and preserves Yamadera’s most precious works of Buddhist art and literature.
The climb up the mountain ascends a flight of over 1,000 stone steps, with eye-catching shrines and enchanting stone lanterns dotting the way through an atmospheric cedar forest.
Passing through the intricately carved Niomon gate brings you into the temple precincts near the top. There are numerous temple buildings in this area, including Kaisando Hall, dedicated to the temple’s founder. The climb to the top usually takes 20-30 minutes.
Once you arrive at the upper complex you’ll be rewarded with an unforgettable view overlooking the Tachiya River Valley. Take the path to the right of Kaisando Hall and follow it to Godaido Hall. The observation deck offers the best view on the mountain.
After the long climb back down, you might be in need of refreshment. The souvenir stores around the temple entrance stock local ice cream and there are also a number of restaurants serving light meals.