Ascent to Nirvana
For over a thousand years, Yamadera temple has been a center of worship: perched high in the mountains, it is an important place of pilgrimage.
The official name of Yamadera temple in Yamagata Prefecture is Risshaku-ji. Founded in 860 by Jikakudaishi (794-864) of the Tendai Buddhist school, it still stands today on its mountainside.
It is on this sacred mountain where the monks live. It is has many natural caves, cliffs and isolated rocks where they practise their long meditation to reach a certain stage of asceticism: the sadhana.
Worth the climb
To get to Yamadera temple you need to climb 1015 steps of a stone staircase through the quiet forest, a difficult exercise that the monks practice regularly.
They say that climbing that amount of the steps makes evil spirits and suffering disappear in everyone.
Located at the top of the stairs is Godaido, one of the temple buildings built on the edge of the cliff, that offers a magnificent panorama.
The famous haiku poet Basho Matsuo visited the temple on a journey. He wrote about the temple in his major work "Oku no hosomichi" (The Narrow Road to the north) in 1689.
In it, he wrote a short poem of contemplation:
« 閑さや - 巖にしみ入る - 蝉の声 »
« Silence - the sound of cicadas - penetrates the rocks »
Getting there is easy, as there is a station at the foot of the mountain: JR Yamadera station. If you have luggage with you there are some lockers available at the train station, otherwise there are shops who will look after it for few hundred yen.
You should wear appropriate and sensible footwear and take supplies, such as water, to climb the steep stairs, and be careful - they are often slippery in wet weather.