If you like your temples with a view, then Yamadera Temple is right up your alley. Perched on a mountainside to the near east of Yamagata City, the steep climb to the upper temple complex is rewarded with some excellent views onto the valley below.
The temple started its life in the mid-9th century by a highly-renowned priest who was sent up to the wild northern reaches of the country. It’s believed that the flame which burns in the Konpochu-do altar hall has been burning ever since the priest inaugurated Yamadera all those years ago. Whether that’s true or not, the impressive beech wood hall itself is certainly among the oldest in Japan.
This hall lies at the bottom part of the temple, where you’ll also find shops and restaurants where you can prepare yourself for the climb. And what a climb it is: a trail lined with stone lanterns which leads up 1000 steps through ancient cedar woods. All in all, the walk takes somewhere short of half an hour.
At the top, the main temple complex awaits, as with designated viewpoints which offer the best aspects over the Tachiya Valley and surrounding mountains. Although the climb may be a little tougher during the winter months, it's highly recommended to visit then, as you’ll get a great view of the winter wonderland of Yamagata decked out in its finest white attire.