A Buddhist world established on a precipitous mountainside
The official name of the temple is Risshaku-ji Temple on Mt. Hoju but because of the image of the temple becoming part of the mountain, it has been affectionately called Yama-dera (mountain temple). In the year 860, the priest Jikaku Daishi established the temple as a part of the Tendai sect for the Imperial family in which there are 5 nationally-designated Important Cultural Properties including the main temple building, and nationally-designated Places of Scenic Beauty and Historic Sites. The group of historic sites located there that enhances the natural scenery that is a feature of Yama-dera is filled with an atmosphere that evokes the feeling of a holy place. Due to that mystique, it is part of a pilgrimage course known as the Shiji Kairo which includes Yama-dera, and three other ancient temples of the Tohoku region, Hiraizumi Chuson-ji, Motsu-ji and Matsushima Zuigan-ji.
Many historic sites built atop a mountainside of strangely-shaped rocks
To visit the group of temple buildings that makes up Yama-dera on the rock face, you must go up 800 stone steps as part of a climbing trail. In winter, since the snow makes climbing somewhat treacherous, wearing the appropriate footwear is important. It’s not easy to climb but any fatigue you feel will melt away once you see the beautiful scenery created from nature and the old buildings such as the temple and the historic sites right at the top of the steps. From the Godaido Hall where the Five Great Wisdom Kings are enshrined and where great peace is prayed for, a grand and scenic beauty can be seen below which will impress you.
Basho Matsuo and Yama-dera
With Japanese haiku increasing in popularity in the world, Yama-dera is famous as the place where modern haiku poet Basho Matsuo wrote his poetry. His famous poem, “The Narrow Road to the Deep North” which he had written while he was traveling all over the Tohoku region, was the masterpiece that he left at Yama-dera. With his “Semizuka” which is engraved onto a stone slab, you can fully enjoy Matsuo’s world view. Also, there is the Yama-dera Basho Museum which is an 8-minute walk from JR Yama-dera Station with its exhibits of the works of the poet.