On my second day of sightseeing from Sendai I started with a visit to Yamadera Temple. From Sendai Station there are hourly trains heading west and it takes about an hour to get to Yamadera Station. On the ride I ended up talking to a Japanese guy who asked me about my travels across his country. He only spoke a bit of English but I think he was able to understand the basics of what I was saying. I tried using Google Translate’s microphone functionality during our chat but it wasn’t working properly. Later I would discover that I had merely been pushing the wrong button (face palm).
From Yamadera Station you can see some of the temple buildings that are on the mountain high above the town. Yamadera Temple was founded around 860 and its official name is Risshakuji but everyone calls it Yamadera because Yamadera translates to “mountain temple.” It only takes about five minutes on foot to get from the station to the shrines at the base of the mountain and if you’re not sure where to go, just follow the other tourists.
At the base of the mountain are a few temple buildings where people oftentimes pray before starting their ascent up the mountain. To get on the trail to the upper area of the temple there’s an entry fee of 300 yen.
There are about 1,000 stairs to climb to get from the bottom of the mountain to the temple buildings at the top of the trail. It was a sunny but cool day when I visited Yamadera and although there are a lot of stairs I didn’t find the climb to be particularly difficult. That said, I’d be nervous to attempt this hike in the winter, since I’m guessing the stone steps would be slippery when they get snow and ice on them. The path up the mountain is lined with stone statues and lanterns and the thick cedar forest keeps hikers out of the sun for most of the climb. When you reach the Niomon Gate you’ll know you’ve arrived at the upper temple area.
The upper temple area is a good place to take break from the hike to the top and check out some of the buildings that are spread out across the mountainside. For most people the highlight of this area will be Godaido Hall with its observation deck that looks out on the valley below the mountain. It was late summer when I visited Yamadera and the land was still very green with some clouds moving across the sky. I’ve seen photos online of Yamadera in the autumn and it looks like the temple gets some good colors at that time of year, so if I’m ever able to return to Japan I might try to revisit Yamadera around then.
A bit more climbing leads to the top of Yamadera Temple. This part of the temple is called the Okunoin area and the temple hall at the end of the trail has a large statue of Amida Buddha. I couldn’t go any higher up the mountain from here, so after taking some photos and looking around a bit I started the trek down the mountain.
Back down at the base of the mountain I returned to Yamadera Station to catch the next train back to Sendai. While waiting for the train I talked with a pair of guys from New Zealand who were on their own journey across Japan. I’ve met tons of Australians while traveling across Europe and Asia, but not too many New Zealanders. When my train arrived we parted ways and I began the ride back to Sendai. I wouldn’t be stopping in Sendai, however. My plan was to get to Sendai Station and then immediately get on a train to Matsushima, which will be the subject of my next post.