One thousand steps to Yamagata’s most iconic spot.
Built over 1,000 years ago, Yamadera Temple is one of northern Japan’s most picturesque spots and a must-visit destination in the Tohoku region.
The mountain temple
Yamagata’s “mountain temple” as it translates to, can be best enjoyed during the winter when the nearby mountains are submerged in a sea of white, or during Autumn, when the area bursts into color. However, the temple is a photographer’s dream at any time of the year.
From Yamadera Station, it’s only a five-minute walk to reach the base of the temple, where you can begin your ascent. The quiet atmosphere makes Yamadera a spiritual escape.
The ascent up the mountain’s 1,000 steps typically takes between 20 and 30 minutes. It’s not a difficult climb, but the journey through the forest is half the adventure. Eye-catching shrines and amusing statues placed carefully along the route compliment stone lanterns leading the way.
Along the path, you’ll see many temples and landmarks such as the Mida Hora stone carved walls, or the Niomon Gate standing a bit further away. At the very top of the hike is the Kaisando Hall which is dedicated to the temple founder, Jikaku Daishi.
Quite the view
Once you arrive at Yamadera Temple midway up, the reward is a stunning view overlooking the Tachiya River, with its verdant mountains and vast neighboring valley.
Take the path on the right of Kaisando Hall, which will take you to the Godaido, an observatory deck with the best view of Yamagata City’s south valley.
On the way back, stop in at any of the souvenir shops lining the street from the temple to Yamadera Station for unique ice cream flavors like pineapple and cherry (which Yamagata is known for), a much-needed refreshment after your climb.
Dig Japanese history? Read more on where to find historic gems.