Conquering Yamadera in Winter

Yamagata prefecture's mountain temple

By Brian Takahashi    - 3 min read

Near the border of Yamagata prefecture and Miyagi prefecture sits a small town called Yamadera. The town is small and out of the way from any major cities or roads, but therein lies its own uniqueness. The characters “yama (山)” and “tera(寺)” translate to “mountain temple”, and that is exactly what this place is. From the foot of the mountain, until you reach the main temple Risshakuji, there are many temples, shrines, graves, and halls that line the path when you climb the mountain. Risshakuji was originally created in 860, but was destroyed in the early 1500s and then rebuilt in 1554.

Near the foot is a place called “The Turtle’s Back (Shell)”. It is a place with great spiritual power and very interesting I might add. There is what seems to be a flat stone sticking out of the ground in a circular shape much like that of a turtle’s shell. Now according to the legend, you are supposed to throw a coin onto the rock. (There was no specification as to how much, but there were a lot of 10 yen coins.) If the coin lands on the rock, it is supposed to bring you longevity.

Now the temples are all accessible year round, so you don’t have to worry about coming in a certain season to see the temples. However with that said, Yamagata Prefecture’s winter is not mild by no means and does get snow in large quantities. Some of the stairs even turn to ice from the constant traffic and compacted snow. (I found that out Feb 2014, I wouldn’t recommend western boots either.) There are plenty of walkways near the top, but some don’t have handrails with very steep cliffs.

When fog descends over the mountain it can give an eerie or mystical view. A lot of Japanese folklore revolving around ghosts, shapeshifters, demons, and monsters have a common troupe. Japanese stories of the supernatural tend, to begin with, creatures coming out of or appearing in the fog. What makes it even more interesting is the fact that there was a funeral ceremony in progress at Risshakuji (the main temple).

Entry Prices

  • 300 yen for high school age or older.(age 14+)
  • 200 yen for junior high school students (age 12 - 14)
  • 100 yen for elementary school students (age 5 - 12)

Not recommended for children under 5 years old.

They also have a 20% discount for groups of more than 30 people. (Does not count towards 100 yen tickets.)

If you are a little unsure, don’t worry. You can use the video below to help you and give you a little insight.

Yamadera is definitely an adventure, and one that I would recommend that you visit while in Tohoku. Just remember that it is “Hard Mode” in winter. It is equally beautiful in summer and autumn.

Getting there

Those traveling by car, from Sendai, get on Highway 48 and drive for about an hour, then turn left onto Highway 13 when you get to Tendo and follow Highway 13 for about 10 minutes. Turn left onto Highway 24 and follow it until it comes to a “T”. Then turn left onto Highway 19 and it will take you all the way to Yamadera Station. There are a lot of one-time-fee parking places in town and they are all around 500 yen. Keep in mind that on your return trip to Sendai that Sendai’s rush hour lasts from 3pm-7pm and you may have to sit in traffic a long time.

For those traveling by train, it’s a little more simple. Get your ticket at Sendai Station for 840 yen. Then get on the Senzan Line(仙山線) on track 7 or 8 and take the train all the way to Yamadera Station. It’s about 1 hour and 15 minutes.

More info

Find out more about Yamadera Temple

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Brian Takahashi

Brian Takahashi @brian.takahashi

Hi there, I'm an ALT in the Tohoku area and have been here for 5+ years. I got a BA Asian Language and Literature at the University of Minnesota in the United States. I just love Japanese traditional culture and I am kind of a junkie for it. I run a YouTube channel, Gwedo TTJ, that goes around to different locations inside Tohoku. I give a synopsis, directions, costs, and fun information about the different locations. Usually, after finishing a video, I write an article, embed the video, and add pictures. Facebook is where I do live updates and other Tohoku/Japan-related themes. Stay tuned for some of my new articles!

Join the discussion

Amanda Ho a year ago
Hi Brian, do you know if there is public transport on 31st night? There seems to be a light up event to welcome the new year, but nothing is written on transport after the event on their websites.
Elena Lisina 2 years ago
It looks like a chellenge, indeed! I'd prefer autumn rather than winter climb! :) Well done!
Brian Takahashi Author 2 years ago
If you look up near the Entrance of Risshakuji, there is a pile of runoff snow. If you want lots of snow, I recommend going at the end of January to mid February.
Justin Velgus 2 years ago
So, I want to try "HARD MODE" challenge, I think!
Brian Takahashi Author 2 years ago
You should, but go in groups or with a buddy. I was lucky to have one when I went. We kept each other from slipping.