Risshaku-ji, better known as Yamadera, is a Buddhist complex built on a mountain near Yamagata city. It is one of the main attractions of the Yamagata Prefecture.
The History of Yamadera
The Buddhist temple Risshaku-ji, better known as Yamadera, was founded in the 9th century by the Tendai school. After several centuries of prosperity, it was partially destroyed during the Sengoku era, a phase during which Japan is in the grip of chaos.
In 1543, the temple was rebuilt. But it acquired its fame only in 1689, when Matsuo Basho, the famous haiku master, stayed in this remote place that will give him inspiration.
The characteristic cicadas song of this mountain inspires this famous haiku:
You can translate it by:
the song of the cicadas
penetrates the rocks”
The visit of Yamadera
In this part, I will give you a guided tour of the route that will take you to the top of the sacred mountain.
The city at the foot of the mountain
A small village lies at the foot of the mountain that houses the Risshaku-ji. This small village is charming with these typical houses along a river dug in the valley.
If you have luggage with you, do not hesitate to leave them in the restaurant located just in front of the station exit. It is a free service that aims to attract customers. The town is so small that you can not miss this place.
You will only have to cross a bridge, then a street where all the souvenir shops are gathered. The place is very touristy, but do not worry, you will not have to jostle buses of Chinese tourists to reach the top of Yamadera.
Entrance to the complex
At this point, you will not have climbed a meter, but you will already be satisfied. You will have a good feeling by visiting the first buildings of the complex at the foot of the mountain.
For me, the place reminded me a little of the entrance of the Kyoto’s Fushimi Inari. Except that this sacred mountain in the former imperial capital is free… Not Yamadera!
I was a little surprised to see that there is a wicket through which one must pass in order to penetrate into the most interesting part of this sacred place. The entrance is only 300 yen, you will survive. But this is quite surprising in a country where most places of worship are free.
The ascension is truly accessible to all. You will ascend without any trouble, but that does not mean you will be bored. Especially if you come in autumn when the trees are colored.
In addition to the nature and cicadas song, many buildings dot the path leading to the summit. Indeed, the religious complex is composed of about forty structures.
The summit and its temples
Like on any respectable sacred mountain, the main temples of the complex are located at the top of the mountain. The largest buildings are the Daibutuden, Okunoin and Kaizando temples. But it is the small red building Nokyodo that attracts the flashes of tourists. Indeed, Yamadera is best known for its impressive view over the valley it overlooks.
The Nokyodo is perfectly positioned to appear on the pictures of this splendid landscape. It therefore squats most of the photos of the complex. Besides, it is this view that illustrates the article you are currently reading. Originality is my watchword.
In addition, it is possible to admire the view from an observatory posted only about fifty meters from Nokyodo. It is in this place, in my opinion, that you can take the most beautiful pictures of the valley. Do not miss out!
What we thought about Yamadera
Yamadera is a good half-day stroll. You can easily make it from Sendai or Yamagata, since this place is between these two Tohoku cities.
The ascension is not difficult, so do not be afraid to go there. You can count two small hours to climb, visit the temples and come down.
The place is perfect to admire the koyo, the autumn leaves. Unfortunately, I went there a little late to see all the colored trees, since half had already lost their leaves. Nevertheless, the trip was outstanding, because the view from the summit is magnificent.
The big downside of this place is the train line that stops there. Indeed, you can only count on one train per hour, whether you come from Sendai or Yamagata. It will therefore be necessary to stall your visit with the railway timetable if you do not want to wait long minutes in the station.
How to get to Yamadera?
Getting to Yamadera is not very complicated if you have enough free time. You also need to be ready to synchronize your visit with the train schedules. Because with only one train per hour, you can very easily spend more time on public transport than visiting the mountain itself.
In terms of accessibility, we can not do better. A train station is at the foot of the mountain. Yamadera station is served by the Senzan line, which connects the cities of Yamagata and Sendai. There is a 20-minute train journey from Yamagata main station to Yamadera, and 45 minutes between Sendai and the sacred mountain.
The paying part of is open daily from 8 am to 5 pm.