To experience Basho’s world, summer season is best recommended (though weather is very hot).
Correct name of the temple is “Houjusan Rissyakuji”, though it’s commonly called “Yamadera”, which generally means a temple in a mountain.
Established in AD860, Basho’s haiku
“How still it is here—
Stinging into the stones,
The locusts’ trill.”(translated by Donald L Keene)
made this temple popular in all over Japan.
Physically, climbing up 1,000 stone steps is a bit hard, but the view from Godaidou is worth seeing after paying such a hard work.
Japanese temples are generally assembly of small temples of the same Buddhism sect gathering in a mountain.
Rissyakuji is no exception.
When you look up the mountain, you can find temples here and there through the woods on rocky mountain.
It’s a climbing rather than a visit to worship. About 2 hours for a round trip.
Start the tour from Konponchudo, the main temple of Rissyaku-ji, which was built in 1356 by Shiba Kaneyori, the first master of Yamagata castle.
This Konponchudo is the oldest ever existing building made of beech and designated National important cultural property.
The style is called Irimoya-zukuri which is regarded as one of most authentic Japanese construction methods.
The scenery is really majestic. This place is 258m above sea level, by the way.
After visiting this temple, you go left through the gate and all the way up into the mountain.
Before starting to climb, do not forget to eat Chikara-konnyaku at the shop.
I know konnyaku has few calories and doesn’t help much for supplying energy for the climbing.
But eating konnyaku here is a kind of tradition.
You may know that killing is forbidden in temples, so konnyaku is popular food for Syojin-ryori (vegetable diet).
It tastes sweet soy-source base flavor.
In majestic scenery, Semizuka reminds of Basho
At the gate, pay the entrance fee of \300. Stone steps are rather steep.
You have to wear suitable clothes and shoes. Water or something to drink is indispensable in summer.
Go up the steps at your own pace. It will take 2 hours for a round trip.
Tall Japanese cedars are standing straight up along the steps.
And you can see rocky surfaces of the mountain which makes you feel full of majestic atmosphere of the mountain.
There is Semizuka about 15minutes from the gate.
Semizuka was set by pupils of Basho for commemoration of Basho’s famous haiku [閑さや岩にしみ入る蝉の声].
You stop and listen to cicadas in summer. Then you will be surrounded by the haiku’s real world.
In my own interpretation by the way, this haiku expresses the majestic tranquility of the temple which makes
even the extremely loud shrilling of cicadas diminished for a while.
This place is 320m above sea level.
To the stunning view from Godaido which will take your mind off the fatigue
Climbing up another quarter of an hour from there, we finally reach Kaizaido/Godaido.
You can enjoy the finest view from the hall which is built as if sticking up on the rock.
Godaido is 386m above sea level.
There is nothing blocking the panoramic view, so you feel like the hall itself is floating in the air.
Breeze will comfortably stroke your skin and the view will never let you down.
Finaly it's goal of Yamadera
Now, if you make it to this level, I strongly recommend you hold out one more steps to 417m above sea level.
The difference in elevation is about 30m. It takes 5 minutes.
At the top, there is Daibutsuden building, containing Amidanyorai (5m high), Shakanyorai and Tahounyorai.
The latter two are said to be carried by Jikakudaishi during his training in china.
This is the end of the route!
The place is physically hard to visit but the atmosphere created by rocks and Buddhism architectures are worth seeing.