Yama-dera is a historical site located North east of Yamagata city. It is a small mountain climb with steep steps which reach the peak where you can overlook the amazing mountainous landscape from a small open temple at the mountains edge.
On our arrival to Yama-dera we first crossed a red bridge that lead onto a small hill where souvenir shops were on either side of the road. The shops sold things such as sandogasa hats, dango and other local cuisine as well as a few fruit markets which had a delicious selection of apples. As you reach the near top of the hill we turned left to reach a small temple named konponchudo temple and a pot of burning incense.
Continuing down, you will eventually come across the temple gate after passing a few other shrines and smaller temples. You will have to pay a small entry fee to begin your climb up Yamadera to Risshakuji temple.
The climb up is interesting but beware as the stairs can be a little narrow. The climb goes through a forest with amazing cedar and various other large trees, you will pass many wooden temples and there are interesting stops along the way. Oyamiishi is a cliff face and engraved into it is a something which is difficult to discern but many people had stuck coins into the crevasses for good luck and making wishes. This is a common occurrence up yamadera and you will see coins that have been placed into various trees, shrines and sculptures along the way. Nearer the mountain peak you will go through niomon gate where the ni-yo guardians ‘a’ and ‘un’ (which mean the beginning and the end of all things) stand at either side of the entrance.
Near the mountain peak there is a small cluster of wooden temples and houses and is quite a site to see. You are able to walk along the mountain paths and look down at the steep valley below or continue up the path to open temple viewing point, I was recommended to come here either in the early summer or winter when the skies are clearer to be able to see further into the valley. Along the right hand path if you look across the valley you will see a small wooden house on the mountain cliff edge which is an amazing sight to see and for me was a highlight of visiting yama-dera. At Risshakuji temple I bought a fortune slip and picked up a ‘moderate fortune’.
Unfortunately I cannot read kanji and had trouble making sense of what my fortune was, but overall it was telling me to ‘enjoy and not to rush my work and be careful when travelling from west to east’, this was both coincidentally accurate to my current situation and had be feeling rather apprehensive. But overall was great fun to translate with the help of my friends. Many people tie their paper fortunes to the wooden beams or trees in the area but I decided to take mine along with me because of the small but nice illustrations that are on the slip.
On the way down it began to get very busy but there are a few hidden paths and shortcuts in the amongst the forest to look out for to avoid the crowds.
Back at the base of Yamadera we came across a small shop selling many hand made ceramics and stone carved sculptures such as the roundish ‘o-jizo’ figures. They also had a kokeshi doll workshop where the daughter of a local kokeshi painter was running the workshop. Just outside of the shop was a small vendor selling freshly made dango. This is highly recommend after you finish your climb up yamadera as konjac is a healthy and filling snack.
written by Shana L.