As I wrote in the previous post, hubby and I visited Yamadera Risshakuji Temple on 25th October 2014. The temple is located on Mount Hoshuyama in Yamagata City of Yamagata prefecture. In the previous post I wrote that we had climbed about 215 stone steps along a paved pathway in the temple complex and reached Sanmon Gate located near the base of the mountain. We walked past Sanmon Gate and started our ascent along a trail that leads up the mountainside to the upper area of the temple grounds. This trail has about 800 stone steps and the ascent usually takes about 40-60 minutes. There are several small temple buildings, stone statues, and Buddhist structures scattered all over the mountain on the way to the top. After seeing Datsueba Hall (previous post) we climbed further up the trail.
The ascent along the trail was very interesting. The stone steps make a winding path along the trail. This trail approach is located along the mountain surrounded by nature. Since olden times, this trail is called ‘Shugyoja no Sando’ or the ‘road of practitioners’. We noted that the width of the trail varied a lot. At the narrowest place the trail is called Yonsunmichi Pass where the width of the trail is only about 14 centimeters. While walking along the trail, it felt like we were stepping in the footsteps of the founder of the temple Jikaku Daishi. Our ancestors have walked along the trail and our descendants will walk along the same trail, and so the trail is also known as ‘Oyako Michi’ or ‘filioparental road’ as well as ‘Shison Do’ or ‘descendant road’. Near Yonsunmichi Pass, we saw a board notifying us that we had climbed about 375 stone steps along the trail from the entrance area of the temple complex (and therefore 160 steps from Sanmon Gate). The trail is surrounded by a thick forest of cedar trees with greenery all around. We saw many stone lanterns, stone pagodas, moss covered small statues, wooden prayer wheels, and rocks carved with Buddhist prayers on either side of the trail. Towering in the upper left of the trail, we saw a sheer rocky cliff called Hyakujo Iwa on which three famous buildings named Kaizan Do, Nokyo Do, and Godai Do stand about which I will write in the next post.
Rocks carved with Buddhist prayers, a stone lantern, and small statues located next to Shugyoja no Sando trail
In the upper area of the same point, we can see the sheer rocky cliff Hyakujo Iwa
We climbed further along the trail, and saw a stone mound named Semizuka located to our left side near the trail. Semizuka means mound of cicadas and was built as a tribute to the famous Haiku poet Matsuo Basho. In the summer of 1689, Basho visited Yamadera Risshakuji Temple. He has described in his travel writing that he stayed at a guest house called Shukubo of the temple located at the base of the mountain. On July 13th of that year, he went to see Konpon Chudo Main Hall (previous post) of the temple but the doors of the hall were closed. So he climbed up the mountain along the trail to see other temple buildings and the surrounding views. It is said that he took rest at this place now called Semizuka and wrote a beautiful Haiku poem about the stillness and silence of the area. I have written the poem in the previous post. It is one of the most famous poems in Oku no Hosomichi. Later in 1751, his pupil visited the place and buried a Tanzaku paper strip with the phrase ‘Semi no Koe’ or ‘the cries of cicadas’ written on it by Basho. Then a mound of stone and a monument were built over that buried strip of paper. Three Kanji characters Ba, Sho, and Ou are inscribed on the stone monument. Near Semizuka, it was so quite and serene, and I felt so calm surrounded by huge ancient cedar trees of the forest. From this place, we could see the rocky cliff Hyakujo Iwa, described in the previous paragraph, more clearly. Near this place, we saw a board notifying us that we had climbed 220 stone steps along the trail from Sanmon Gate. I also saw a small stone statue nearby which intrigued me very much because it looked remarkably similar to a Hindu Goddess named Durga.
Semizuka stone mound and stone monument along with a stone stele in the front to mark the site
Rocky cliff Hyakujo Iwa looming in front of us
A small stone statue along the trail
The statue looks similar to Hindu Goddess Durga
After climbing 350 stone steps from Sanmon Gate along the trail, we saw an interesting looking huge rock called Mida Hora to our right side. It is some sort of volcanic rock and very light and porous at some places. This huge rock on the mountainside is weathered and sculpted by wind and rain for a very long time, which has resulted in creating a fantastic figure form that is shaped like Amida Nyorai. The figure is about 4.8 meters tall and is also known by the name Joroku Amida. It is said that people who can see the figure of Amida Nyorai will achieve happiness. We tried very hard but unfortunately could not make out the figure form. Many stone tablets called Iwa Toba are carved in the bosom of Amida Nyorai on the face of the rock cliff. Many Buddhist inscriptions are carved in hollow relief pattern called Inkoku on these stone tablets. We also saw many Ranto stone pagodas on the ground in front of Mida Hora Rock. In addition, there are many wooden Goshoguruma Kibashira placed near Mida Hora. These are wooden poles with a rotating wheel at the top and are used for memorial services of people who died young. We also saw many 1 yen coins on this huge rock. In fact one portion of the rock is full of such little shiny circular coins. The rock is soft and porous, so it is easy to work the coin into the surface far enough that it does not fall off. I also added one 1 Yen coin on to the rock.
Upper portion of Mida Hora Rock
Middle portion of the rock with many carved stone tablets on the face of the rock
Lower portion of the rock along with many wooden Goshoguruma Kibashira placed on the ground
Enlarged view of wooden Goshoguruma Kibashira
Lower portion of the rock along with many Ranto stone pagodas (right side of the photo) placed on the ground
I am adding one 1 Yen coin on to the porous rock
After climbing about 400 stone steps from Sanmon Gate along the trail, we reached a gate named Niomon. Niomon Gate is located exactly at the midpoint of Sando trail up the mountain from Sanmon Gate. Earlier there used to be a building named Juo Do at this location which was dedicated to Juo, the 10 judges (kings) of hell in Buddhism. In 1848, it was reconstructed as Niomon Gate by the 65th head priest named Joden of Risshakuji Temple. So it is a relatively new building in the temple complex. It is a single-storied wooden gate with gabled and hipped copper roof having Irimoya Zukuri architectural style. It is an eight legged gate and stands three bays wide with the middle bay serving as an entrance. The wooden portion of this graceful gate is fully constructed from Zelkova wood, and the ceiling and pillars have intricate ornate decorations. This gate has a pair of large guardian statues called Nio, one on either side of the entrance. These fierce looking Nio statues, one open-mouthed called Agyo and the other close-mouthed called Ungyo, are supposed to protect the temple from evil spirits. These Nio statues are reputed to be made by Hirai Genshichiro, the 13th descendant of Unkei, and were made to prevent people with wicked souls from entering the temple. Inside the gate building, 10 statues of Juo Kings are enshrined. We appreciated the architecture of the gate and then walked past the gate.
I am climbing up the stone steps leading to Niomon Gate
Statue of open mouthed Agyo Nio located to the right side (orientation with respect to us) of the gate
Statue of closed mouthed Ungyo Nio located to the left side of the gate
The gate as viewed from the backside
Past the Niomon Gate, the main ground of the upper area of the temple complex begins. The upper area is open and affords wonderful views out into the valley. Here the number of cedar trees is significantly less and the landscape is wide, which is in contrast to the lack of views along the initial ascent through the dense cedar forest. After passing through the gate, to our left side, we saw the two famous hall buildings Kaizan Do and Nokyo Do located precariously on the edge of the cliff. I will write about these two buildings in the next post. In addition, past the Niomon Gate, there are many sub-temples located at various points along the mountainside. These sub-temples are together called Sannai Shin. During Edo period there used to be 12 sub-temples where many monks used to train but now only four remain, namely Shozoin, Konjoin, Chushoin, and Kezoin. While climbing up the steps along the trail, we saw three of these sub-temples located just next to the steps to our right side. We clicked a photo of a few of these sub-temple buildings from a trail located in front of Kaizan Do Hall. We also saw several very small wooden hall buildings and many huge strangely shaped rocks, weathered and sculpted by natural forces, scattered all around us on the mountain.
I am standing on the steps just past the Niomon Gate. Kaizan Do Hall (1) and Nokyo Do Hall (2) are seen in the background
A huge strangely shaped rock located to our left side along the trail
Shozoin (1), Konjoin (2), and side view of Chushoin (3) sub-temple buildings located along the trail on the upper area of the temple complex
After passing through Niomon Gate and climbing up the steps along the trail, first we saw Shozoin sub-temple to our right side located just next to the steps. Near this place, we saw a board notifying us that we had climbed 540 stone steps from Sanmon Gate. In the olden times there used to be twelve Junishiin temples located in the upper area of the mountain, and Shozoin sub-temple is one of them. In 1868, two temples called Gokurakuin and Zengyoin (Sawanoin) of the mountain were merged to form the present sub-temple. It is a two-storied wooden building with hipped copper roof having Yosemune Zukuri architectural style. The entrance area lower roof has Mukuri and upper roof has Chidorihafu architectural style. The exterior wall of the building has Shinkabe Zukuri style with white stucco finish. A principal statue of Amida Nyorai carved by Jikaku Daishi and a statue of Bishamonten carved by Unkei are enshrined inside Shozoin. We could not see these images but saw a standing statue named Dai Fukutoku Chie Kannon of great fortune and wisdom.
Shozoin sub-temple as viewed from a trail located in front of Kaizan Do Hall
The front of Shozoin sub-temple
Standing statue of Dai Fukutoku Chie Kannon
Facial expressions of Dai Fukutoku Chie Kannon
While climbing further up the steps along the trail, to our right side we saw a small hall named Tainai Do located near a huge strangely shaped rock on the mountain cliff far away from the trail. It is a one-storied wooden building with iron roof having Kirizuma Zukuri architectural style. The building has gabled Tsumairi style with Ketayuki-niken (2 Ken or 3.64 meters long beam) Harima-niken (2 Ken or 3.64 meters long crossbeam) structure. This hall can be assessed by climbing a very dangerous rocky trail up the mountain but visitors are prohibited from climbing up that trail.
Tainai Do Hall and a huge strangely shaped rock
The hall as viewed from a trail located in front of Kaizan Do Hall
We continued climbing up the steps along the trail and next saw the sub-temple named Konjoin to our right side located just adjacent to the steps. Konjoin is one of the olden times Junishiin temples. This sub-temple was rebuilt by a person named Choumei Suhai in 1840. It is a one-storied wooden building having two half-hipped roofs with Irimoya Zukuri architectural style. The entrance area roof has Mukuri architectural style. The exterior wall of the building has Shinkabe Zukuri style with white stucco finish. The principal image enshrined inside the building is a statue of Enmei Jizobosatsu. Statues of Sentai Jizo and Fudomyo are also enshrined. In addition, Nippai mortuary tablet of Fujiwara no Hidehira is also enshrined inside.
Konjoin sub-temple as viewed from a trail located in front of Kaizan Do Hall
I am climbing up the steps along the trail leading to Konjoin sub-temple
The front of the sub-temple
While climbing further up the steps along the trail we saw a small building named ‘Taisho Tenno Toguji Yamadera Gyokei Anzaisho’ to our left side located just adjacent to the steps. This building was the temporary lodging of Emperor Taisho, then the crown prince, who rested here during his pilgrimage visit to Yamadera Risshakuji Temple on September 18th 1908. It is a one-storied wooden building with iron roof having Irimoya Zukuri architectural style. The building has Ketayuki-santengoken (3.5 Ken or 6.36 meters long beam) Harima-sanken (3 Ken or 5.46 meters long crossbeam) structure. A pine tree that was planted by the emperor and a monument that was erected afterwards have been preserved as such. We loved the architecture of the building. Standing at this point along the trail, we got wonderful landscape views out into the valley below. We also saw the roofs of several temple buildings located in the upper area of the mountain temple complex that we had passed by earlier.
Taisho Tenno Toguji Yamadera Gyokei Anzaisho
Roofs of several temple buildings located in the upper area of the temple complex
Roofs of several more temple buildings
Amazing view out into the valley as viewed from the upper area of the mountain
We climbed still further up the steps along the trail and saw the third sub-temple named Chushoin to our right side located just adjacent to the steps. Chushoin is one of the olden times Junishiin temples. In 1868, this sub-temple temple was formed by merging three mountain temples named Fudoin, Nakanoin, and Kanmyoin. It is a one-storied wooden building with copper roof having hipped Yosemune and Hirairi architectural styles. The entrance (front facade) roof is gabled and is a combination of Chidorihafu (upper) and Nokikarahafu (lower) architectural styles. The principal image enshrined inside the building is a statue of Amida Nyorai. In front of the sub-temple, we saw a seated metallic statue of Nadebotoke Obinzuru Sama who is reputed to have the gift of healing. The statue is well worn because of the custom of rubbing a part of the statue corresponding to the sick parts of our bodies.
Hubby standing in front of Chushoin sub-temple
Entrance front facade of the sub-temple
I am touching the statue of Nadebotoke Obinzuru Sama
Right in front of Chushoin sub-temple we saw a rather old looking mausoleum of feudal lord Mogami Yoshiaki. Mogami Yoshiaki was the 11th generation feudal lord of Mogami clan of Dewa province. He loved the land and people of the province immensely, and brought peace and stability to the province during the warring Sengoku period. He laid the foundation of the modern-day Yamagata city. Ihai memorial tablets of 10 vassals of Yoshiaki are also enshrined inside the mausoleum. Although the exact year of the construction of the mausoleum is unknown, it is assumed to be built between the years 1620 to 1651. It is a small wooden building with metallic roof having Hogyo Zukuri architectural style. The building has Ketayuki-niken (2 Ken or 3.64 meters long beam) Harima-niken (2 Ken or 3.64 meters long crossbeam) structure. Next to the building, we saw a stone monument marking the site.
Mausoleum of feudal lord Mogami Yoshiaki
A stone monument located next to the building marks the site
We were rather tired but steadily continued to climb up the steps along the trail, and reached in front of two halls named Okunoin and Daibutsuden located at the top of the mountain. I will write about these two halls in the next post. At the mountaintop, we saw a board notifying us that we had climbed 800 stone steps along the trail from Sanmon Gate and a total of 1015 steps from the entrance area of the temple complex. It had taken us about 75 minutes to reach the top. There are several other buildings and structures located around this area. We saw one such building named Issai Kyozo located to our left side towards the west of the trail. Issai Kyozo is a Sutra repository hall that has complete collection of Buddhist scriptures and Sutras housed inside. It was interesting to note that the symbol of Manji inscribed on the upper part of the front wall of this building is the mirror image of the Hindu symbol Swastika.
Front area of Okunoin Hall (right) and Daibutsuden Hall (left)
Issai Kyozo Hall
The front of Issai Kyozo Hall has a) intricately carved wooden patterns and b) the symbol of Manji
In the next post I will write about the remaining temple buildings and structures that we saw on the top of the mountain.