Located in the mountains northeast of Yamagata City is a scenic temple known as Yamadera (Mountain Temple). Founded in the year 860, the temple grounds extend up a steep mountainside offering spectacular views of the valley below.
At the base of the mountain there are several temple buildings including Konponchudo Hall, the temple’s main hall, as well as dozens of shops and restaurants. The main hall stores various Buddhist statues and a flame that is purported to have been burning since the temple’s founding. To reach the upper temple grounds, one must hike up a trail that begins after the Sanmon Gate. The journey takes approximately 30 minutes and a small admission fee is required. The path contains about 1,000 steps and there are stone lanterns and small statues in the surrounding forest along the way.
The upper temple grounds begin past the Niomon Gate where the Kaisando Hall and the Nokyodo Building are situated. Kaisando Hall is dedicated to the temple’s founder, Jikaku Daishi and the Nokyodo Building was used primarily for copying sutra texts. Beyond this point there are more stairs which lead to Godaido Hall which dates back to the 1700s and extends out over the cliff. There is an observation deck which affords the best views of the valley below and makes the climb definitely worthwhile.
The famous poet, Matsuo Basho visited Yamadera in the late 1600s and composed his most enduring haiku there:
“Ah this silence
Sinking into the rocks
Voice of cicada”
There is a statue of Basho and an inscription of his haiku in the lower area of the temple grounds. There is also a museum dedicated to the poet called the Yamadera Basho Memorial Museum which is a short walk up the hill on the opposite side of the valley.
If you would like to see the sites that inspired poetry, the temple is easily accessible via the JR Senzan Line, exit Yamadera Station. Your destination is approximately 5 minutes on foot from the station.