Yamadera – Tohoku’s Mountain Treasure

Yamadera Station

By Cole Lubchenko

Just a short train ride from Sendai Station, Yamadera is quite easily the most beautiful temple I have seen so far in Japan. The temple, which has existed since 860, is located at the top of 1000 stairs. The stairs wind up a mountain in Yamagata prefecture through tall and ancient trees. This path up the mountain winds its way around many small shrines and statues, the walk was easier than expected, perhaps due to the beautiful nature and fresh forest air.

The walk isn’t a solid set of 1000 steps up to a main sight, but is instead a winding path of many smaller sets of stairs, again making the walk easier. This is also broken up by interesting carvings into the mountain face, a beautifully detailed wooden shrine with carvings of dragons and many animals, and countless small shrines and temples.

The temple complex at the top of the mountain isn’t quite as beautiful as the journey to the temple, but it is still exceptional. The location of the temple is certainly what makes it special. It is beautiful and fresh, and the view is without parallel. Part of the temple sits with a backdrop of mountains and a beautiful valley.

While the journey from Sendai does take about one hour, it is certainly worth it. This temple is famous throughout Japan and is even the setting of one of Japan’s most famous poems by Basho. The bright lights of Tokyo might be the archetypal image of contemporary Japan, but to me, this is the archetypal view of traditional Japan.

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