1,015 steps of Yamadera (Risshakuji Temple), Yamagata, Japan


Not all great, treasured temples are situated in Kyoto.

The recovering tsunami/earthquake devastated Tohoku Region of Japan offers another reason why you should reconsider visiting the area, that is if you want to admire one of Japan’s ancient mountain temple (Yamadera, also known as “Risshakuji Temple”) and at the same time take a moment to reflect as you climb the temple 1,015 steps.

Arriving at Yamadera Station, on a sunny-less morning from Sendai via JR Senzan Line, I was looking forward on seeing the mountain temples as it mixed with the colorful autumn leaves. Hoping that the weather will be better later, I walked straight towards the location of the temple entrance with the help of the Buddhist monk-shaped information guides on the street.
yamadera
yamadera

Climbing the stone staircase of 1,015 steps with me are mostly elderly whom I admire dearly. With their walking sticks and digital camera hanging on their neck, you will not believe how strong they are. I wish when I reach their age, I will have the same enthusiasm as they are- to travel, to explore places and maybe continue to blog about my experiences.
yamadera
yamadera
yamadera

After few minutes, I took my first temple steps and arrived at the main hall (Konpon-Chudo, built in 1356 by the Lord of Yamagata Castle.
yamadera
yamadera

To move further up, a 300 Yen entrance fee is collected at the temple gate.
yamadera

From the entrance, the journey of 1,015 steps commence.
yamadera
yamadera
yamadera
yamadera
yamadera
yamadera

The goal is to reach the peak of this cliff, while admiring the small temples situated along the way.
yamadera

The view of greenery around and several statues along the way offers a good climbing distraction to all visitors. During summer, it is said that the sound of cicadas floats thru the temple path, another source of inspiration for haiku poet- Matsuo Basho.
“ah this silence / sinking into the rocks / voice of cicada”
yamadera
yamadera
yamadera
yamadera
yamadera
yamadera
yamadera
yamadera
yamadera

One of the parts I like the most about the mountain temple are its sharp cliffs and rock formation, particularly the part where there are writings on the wall together with 1 yen coin offering. If you look a little farther away from the rock formation, it is said that the century of weather changes has resemble an outline of a Buddhist priest meditating so long than one of his legs fell off.
yamadera
yamadera
yamadera

Continue climbing up, you will pass by a gate made up of zelkova wood.
yamadera
yamadera
yamadera

More stairs and more steps, I reached another temple on the top most part. Most people who climbed with me are taking their time to place a sotoba (wooden stick with the name of the deceased relatives) and offered a prayer at the Buddha statues nearby.
yamadera
yamadera
yamadera
yamadera
yamadera
yamadera

Here are some other small temples that you will see along the way.
yamadera
yamadera
yamadera
yamadera
yamadera
yamadera
yamadera

Finally, with the commanding view of the town below, I reached the topmost cliff where the Risshaku Nokyo-do is located. This shot is actually the classic Yamadera view.
yamadera
yamadera
yamadera

On the opposite side of Nokyo-do is Godai-do, built originally as a place to pray for peace on earth and now used mostly by tourist to view the mountain ranges and town around Yamadera.
yamadera
yamadera

There is a reason why the 1,015 steps were built. As the signage on the temple entrance explains following the Buddhist monks belief- “We have been climbing this sacred mountain’s stone stairs step-by-step since ancient times as an ascetic practice to give us faith and extinguish our worldly desires.”

Though a ropeway is surely possible to build for easy access, but true to its Buddhist teaching the temple will keep its 1,015 steps so that any visitors might find a moment of clarity along the way.
yamadera

Visit Yamadera and its 1015 steps. Visit the Tohoku Region.

48 thoughts on “1,015 steps of Yamadera (Risshakuji Temple), Yamagata, Japan

  1. I can’t believe such a place exists. Your photographs make my heart sing. Simply gorgeous! I truly hope someone is paying you for your art because you’re immensely talented.

    1. it would be awesome to get paid doing something i truly love (wishful thinking!), but for now encouraging words such as your comments are more than enough 🙂
      thank you very much gywnnem!

  2. Two stairs diverged in a wood…but I suspect Basho found more along his choice than Robert Frost might have! Fantastic journey and such wonderful photos.

  3. hello… you took a pic of every nook and corner. and you rendered them so well, as usual. you always capture the mood of the place, ahaha. btw, i can imagine, you climbed a lot, hehe. thank you for sharing. warm regards 🙂

  4. Once again, you have brought us closer to a serene place, worth of the worship. nestling between green mountains.
    Thanks you so much for letting me learn a little more about the beauty of Japan!

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