Yamagata, Dewasan-zen, Yamadera, Zao-san

In a few weeks time, many ALTs whom won’t be re-contracting will be departing to different parts of the world. Before they all disappear, Warrick and I opted to go off on a last bit of adventure. Warrick, being the world traveler, we took off on Saturday for Yamagata (山形). A neighbouring prefecture to Niigata. After a few hours of driving, and just when our legs were starting to feel a bit stiff, we were off climbing up some steps up to Yamadera (山寺). Yamadera is located just outside of Yamagata City, and Yamadera which literally means, “mountain temple” is a tourist spot where a few temples are built high up on a hill/mountain and offers a great view down to the valley below. Eventhough this is Japan, my mind wandered off at times, recalled cheesy films and telly shows about Shaolin temples (China) and how pupils had to make their way up to a temple up high. Yeah, I know… I’ve been watching too many old cheesy kung-fu flicks, but hey… you need cheese once in a while.

As we were leaving, rain started to fall, so instead of heading outdoors, we opted to check out 天童 (Tendo), a town just north of Yamagata City. This town/city of 62,000 is famous for producing 95% of all “shogi” (Japanese Chess) pieces in Japan. Amazingly, Warrick and I spend quite a bit of time there, whereas most tourists would simply walk in and walk out in a few minutes. In most touristy shops in Yamagata, you’ll mostly likely find some kinda 将棋 “shogi” or こけし “kokeshi” gift. Wood, being the keep word here.

Before the sun fell, we made a quick stop at the 秋保大滝(Akiu-Otaki) waterfall. A waterfall with the height of 55m, and width of 6m and also apparently in Japan’s top 10 most beautiful waterfall.

Anyways, as the darkness was now all around us, we made our way to Zao, got cleaned up at one of many onsens (hot springs) by the foot of Mt. Zao. And as for the rest of the evening. Warrick and I simply parked by the local Familymart, had a few beers and slept in the back of my van. It was a race to see who can go to sleep first, or else you’d have to fight through another person’s snoring…

The next day, we took off bright and early to check out the Okama crater, which we’ve seen in many photographs. And alas, how were we rewarded with our visit? Check out the photos down below for a view of what we saw of the Okama crater and a post card of what it should’ve actually looked like for us.
Well, from the Zao region, we headed west towards the Sea of Japan, and spend our afternoon by one of the Dewa-Sanzan mountains. Haguro-san is a very unique area in which there’s a beautiful red bridge that certainly stands out from the deep lushious greenery of the forest canopy, and a darn brown wooden 5 pagoda structure (五重塔 – Gojyunoto, built 600years ago) that seems to blend into the whole natural surroundings. A wee shrine which sits just at the foot of a skinny yet high waterfall, and long meandering steps (2446steps to be exact) that occasionally share secrets of the past. Those secrets being, carvings of letters that left behind from hundreds of years ago. If you don’t look for them, you’ll never even realize that they’re there since many of them had been worn down from all the pilgrims hiking up the steps.

And finally up on top, a large shrine awaits you for your pilgrimage and offerings. And, when we were there, there were schools of pilgrims there awaiting their turn to enter the temple.
On the way back home, instead of taking the main roads, we ventured off into the back roads, and were also rewarded with the great remoteness of Japan. All in all a busy weekend of both Warrick and I.

A few more photos of the weekend:

Close up sample of a big Shogi piece.

The view of Okama which Warrick & I got

A postcard view of what it should’ve looked like
A wooden 5-stories pagoda by Mt. Haguro-san
The many prayer sticks around the temples…

Plenty of stairs to climb
Weird little symbols carved into the steps along the way


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