Close your eyes. Take a deep breath and feel the cool air at the top of Yamadera fill your lungs. Now open your eyes and be rewarded.
The Buddhist temples of Yamadera feature a viewing deck, called Godaido Hall, built in to the side of the steep Hōshū-yama, that in any season offers sweeping majestic views of the surrounding valleys and mountains. Whether fall, spring, summer or winter, the views from Godaido and Risshaku-ji are some of the best in Japan.
The Matsuo Bashō haiku above was inspired by Yamadera. The first temple was founded in 860A.D., by the Tendai sect of Buddhism, Risshaku-ji has become a major attraction for Japanese people in the Tohoku region of Japan. Only one hour from the largest city in Tohoku (Sendai) via train combined with the beautiful views, it is easy to understand why Yamadera is so popular.
The 1,000 stairs of Yamadera start at the base of Hōshū-yama. The winding stairway twists through a cedar forest that obstructs the view of the valley from your perch, but the climb does offer numerous places to rest and enjoy the quiet serenity of the mountain and its environs. Locals can be seen praying and leaving money in small hollows in the rocks, and there are several temples, caves, shrines, and breaks in the trees that will all warrant a snapshot or two.
The real reward of Yamadera is at the top. Perched like an eagle on the edge of a sheer cliff, you will reach Nokyodo and Kaisando. These two buildings offer the most cinematic of views before going on to Godaido at the very highest peak.
It takes a minimum of forty-five minutes to climb to the top but plan to take more time than that to truly enjoy the magnificent landscape - a fantastic photo can be taken at just about every step. Yamadera is rightfully a favorite of Japanese tourists who come to the Tohoku region, so on a busy holiday weekend don’t expect to be alone on your climb up the stairs. However a crowd will never diminish just how beautiful and amazing this place is.
Know Before You Go
Sendai is the closest major city in Tohoku. From Sendai take the Senzan line to Yamagata City. It is a direct train. No transfers are required but only runs about once an hour.
There is limited parking in Yamadera and the station is only a 10 minute walk from the entrance to the temple complex.