Yamadera (Risshakuji temple) [山寺 (立石寺)]

Photo by Yamagata Prefecture

Temples on the mountainside
Photo by Yamagata Prefecture

Yamadera is a Buddhist temple of Tendai sect, one of Japanese Buddhism.
It located about 12 km northeast of central Yamagata city.

"Yamadera" is the popular name, and the official name is Risshakuji.

It is said that it was established in 860 by Priest En-nin, but some scholars say that it was established in earlier time.

The original temple was destroyed by the civil war in the 14th century.
But it was also rebuilt when Yamagata Castle was completed in 1356.

In 1521, it was destoyed by a war again.
But Mogami Yoshiaki, the first lord of Yamagata domain, rebuilt the current temple.

"Yamadera" means "Mountain temple".
Literally, the temple is on a slope of mountain.

Main gate of Yamadera
Photo by Yamagata Prefecture

Statue of Basho Matsuo
Photo by Yamagata Prefecture

At the foot of the mountain, there are the main building, Konponchudou hall (根本中堂), a museum and the other buildings.
And, there is a statue of Matsuo Basho who is the famous Haiku poet.

Photo by Yamagata Prefecture

Stone steps of Yamadera
Photo by Yamagata Prefecture

There is the main gate around them.
You must go up 1,015 stone steps from here.

Photo by Yamagata Prefecture

Niomon gate
Photo by Yamagata Prefecture

Along the steps, many stone Buddhist images are dotted.
And there is Semi-zuka (せみ塚), where Basho composed a famous haiku, on the way. (It means "mound of cicadas".)

Just before the main ground of the top, there is Niomon gate (仁王門).

Noukyodou (left), Kaizandou (right)
Photo by Yamagata Prefecture

Photo by Yamagata Prefecture

On a sheer cliff to the left of the gate, there are three temples.
They are Godaidou (五大堂), Kaizandou (開山堂) and Noukyodou (納経堂).

You can get onto the terrace of Godaidou.
It is a nice observatoty, then you can see the view of Yamadera town below your eyes.

Observatory of Godaidou in winter

Photo by Yamagata Prefecture

Just up ahead from Niomon gate, we reach Okunoin (奥の院).
It is the main hall of this temple.
The altitude difference between Okunoin and the entrance gate is about 160 meters.

Around Okunoin, there are also many buildings of temple.

From the foot of mountain to Okunoin, it takes 30 to 40 minutes.

By the way, this temple is closely related to Matsuo Basho (1644?-1694), a famous Haiku poet, as above.

In the summer of 1689, he visited here, and he composed a haiku.
(Haiku has only 17 syllables. And it has three phrases with 5, 7, and 5 syllables.)

Shizukesa ya
iwa ni shimiiru
semi no koe.
(閑さや 巖にしみ入る 蝉の声)

The following is a good translation by Reginald Horace Blyth (1898-1964, an English author and devotee of Japanese culture).

What stillness!
The voices of the cicadas
Penetrate the rocks.

Cicadas in Japan sing loudly like a buzzer on a tree trunk in midsummer.
Westerners feel it as a noise, but Japanese people feel it a common feature in the summer time.

This Haiku means...
We can hear only the voices of the cicada in Yamadera.
The rocks in the temple are absorbing the voices.
Those are emphasizing the stillness without noise of human society.

Most Japanese people learn this haiku in the school.
Probably, almost all Japanese people know this Haiku.

How to get here

From Yamagata, by the rapid train on JR Senzan Line, about 20 minutes.
From Sendai, by the rapid train on JR Senzan Line, about 1 hour.

Hotels in Yamagata city

Hotels in Yamagata city

Other Tourist Attractions in Yamagata Prefecture

Yamagata city Mount Zao Yonezawa city Mogami River boat tours Sakata city Tsuruoka city Three sacred mountains of Dewa Ginzan hot spring resort

Return to Yamagata Prefecture Return to Tohoku Region