If you are expecting just another mundane temple, you will certainly be surprised. Yamadera is like something conjured out of the ethereal mists of an ancient Japanese charcoal painting. Built in the year 860, Yamadera's ambitious complex of temples is perched high on the upper slopes of Mt. Hoju (Hoju-san), from where you can enjoy divine vistas. Belonging to the Tendai Buddhists, who believe in the existence of "Buddha-nature" within all living things, Yamadera attracts a steady stream of pilgrims. Just inside the temple-complex entrance is Konpon Chudo, the temple where the sacred Flame of Belief has burned constantly for 1,100 years. Near Konpon Chudo is a statue of the Japanese poet Matsuo Basho (1644–94), whose pithy and colorful haiku related his extensive wanderings throughout Japan. During a visit to the temple, he wrote, "Stillness ... the sound of cicadas sinks into the rocks" and buried the poem on the spot.
The path continues up many steps—nearly 1,100 of them,
well tended though they be. At the summit is Oku no In, the hall dedicated to the temple founder, Jikaku Daishi. But if you've come this far, keep going. Of all the temples hanging out over the valley, the view from Godaido is the best. The path becomes crowded in summer and slippery in winter.
To get to the temple complex from Yamadera's JR Station, walk through the village, cross the bridge, and turn right. Allow 1 to 1½ hours for a leisurely climb up and a careful tramp down.