Climb the 1000 Steps to Yamagata’s Scenic Hidden Treasure, Yama-dera

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  • Yamagata City is located in a mountainous area where scenic temples can be seen. One of which is located in the city’s northeast area and is known as Yama-dera Temple. It is a Buddhist temple founded over a thousand years ago and has been considered as a nationally-designated Place of Scenic Beauty and Historic Site.

    The Temple’s History

    The name Yama-dera, literally, means “mountain temple” in Japanese. Owing to its accessibility and beautiful views, there is no doubt that it is a popular tourist destination in Japan. The temple was built in a complex and has plenty of history to learn about. The area’s name has been derived from the first temple, Risshaku-ji. It was founded by Ennin, a priest who is more popularly known by his honorary name, Jikaku Daishi. However, most of the temple was destroyed during the local wars but was rebuilt in 1543 where it was considered a powerful institution during the Edo Period.

    The Beauty of Yama-dera

    Visiting Yama-dera will lead you to many important cultural assets such as Hiho-kan. This is a treasure hall which houses the treasures of the temple. You can also find standing wooden images of Shaka Nyorai, Yakushi Nyorai and Amida Nyorai. These are historical Buddhas which are deemed significant in Japanese culture.

    Yama-dera is also known for its visits in the past from a haiku poet named Matsuo Basho, the most popular poet during the Edo Period. Upon his visit to the area, he was able to compose short poems regarding the silence and stillness of the place. His writings and paintings have been collected in the Yamadera Basho Memorial Museum, a beloved sacred site for many. You can also find his statue at the bottom of the lower area’s temple grounds.

    If you want to start your journey at the base of the mountain, it’ll take you 5 minutes on foot from the Yama-dera train station. There are about 1,000 steps to take before reaching the summit which offers a real reward. It usually takes about 45 minutes climbing to the top but can take longer if you want to stroll around and enjoy the magnificent sights!

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