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Yamadera famous from Basho’s haiku! Climbers rewarded with panorama and Yamagata’s delicious food

Hana Chan
Updated Jun 12, 2017

Fall. A time to relax and enjoy the leaves, and the cooler air. One way to enjoy the splendor of autumn is hiking in Hokkaido’s Niseko Annupri. The route detailed here is about 30 to 40min each way to Kyonuma (Mirror Lake), an easy trek for beginners. Easily one of the more quiet places to enjoy the autumn leaves, as few people come here. The best time to visit would have to be the beginning of October.

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Step by step through the thick forest...

After passing the main Konponchudo Hall and the Sanmon Gate built in the end of Kamakura period, one begins to ascend a long, long stone-steps path. It takes about 30-40 minutes to the top, but the level difference between the steps is small so it feels easy to climb. It isn’t a problem for people who exercise regularly, but those who feel uncertain about their physical power can take a short rest midway at Oyasumiishi where Jikaku Daishi himself was said to have rested.

When I visited the temple, it was very crowded because of the public display of some of the treasures which happens once every 50 years. There is one narrow part of the path (Shisunmichi), so walking in the same pace as the others is a successful tactic for not getting tired. Popular sights here are Ubado, Shisunmichi, Semizuka and Hyakujoiwa.

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The impressively big Mida rock!!

A giant rock suddenly appears on the right side of the stone stairs!! Naturally shaped by nature’s influence spanning over centuries, this rock resembles Amida Buddha and is therefore called Mida rock.

It is 4.6-meter high and those who get to see the shape of Amida Buddha on it are said to be blessed with good luck. Shortly after, one sees Niomon Gate on the left. The beautiful gate made of zelkova tree is said to be constructed by disciples of the Buddhist sculptor Unkei. Two Nio guardian statues are installed on both sides to make sure that evil hearts will not go further. One can enter only with a pure heart and mind.

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Popular poet Mokichi Saito also composed poems at the top

After passing Niomon Gate and climbing some steep stairs, one sees several temple buildings surrounded by a big unusually shaped rock. The atmosphere here is solemn, as if the rock is protecting everyone. Popular poet Mokichi Saito also introduced Yamadera in his anthology “Shakko”. His tanka poem tells how he climbed all the way to the rock surface top of the mountain and wiped off his sweat. From his poem one can feel the sense of refreshment after climbing the stairs. Only those who reach the top can feel it!!

On the left in the photo you can see the small building of Nokyodo, which is Yamadera’s oldest hall and a designated cultural property of Yamagata prefecture. Underneath is Nyujokutsu where Jikaku Daishi is said to sleep eternally.

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Scenic view!! Beautiful natural panorama captivates one’s attention

The view on the picture is from Godaido Hall. Rebuilt in 1714, Godaido Hall is a place to worship the five great wisdom kings of Buddhism and Yamadera’s only observatory. One can see the remaining snow over the surrounding mountains and the nice little town. The panorama of the majestic mountains against the many fields of the town is particularly refreshing. In early summer the wind is pleasant and makes the air even better to breathe.

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After walking around Yamadera it’s time for Yamagata’s delicious food!!

When you descend from Yamadera and walk along the shopping street, what catches your attention is Yamagata’s famous “konjak” (jelly made of the rhizome of devil’s tongue). Often called “ball konjak”, its round shape distinguishes it from the typical konjak. It’s boiled in soy sauce and put on sticks, so that you can easily eat it by adding mustard. Yamagata’s consumption of konjak is the highest in Japan.

There are many other delicacies from Yamagata, such as the sakuranbo cherry, pears, the famous Yonezawa beef, dadachama beans and others which you should try on your way back from Yamadera!

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Finally

Also, as I mentioned earlier, until May 31, 2013, one of Yamadera’s treasures, the Yakushi Nyorai statue is on public display in Konponchudo! That happens only once in 50 years and is a precious opportunity to visit Yamadera for hiking together with your friends or family.

This article was originally published on Sep 23, 2015

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