Note: this post was originally written in 2012. However, I am reposting it as a record of my adventures in Japan.
We bold adventurers travelled to Yamadera in Yamagata prefecture. Here is where we start to get off the beaten track and into ‘real Japan’.
Yamadera means literally ‘mountain temple’, and you can see why. This temple precariously looms over the edge of a cliff.
We were met on our trail not only by a copious amount of Buddhist symbolism, but also cats. Oh, I love you, Japanese cats. I learnt early on, however, that there was one thing about Yamadera that I intensely disliked.
Konnyaku, also known as ‘Devil’s tongue’, is some kind of root vegetable commonly jellified into rubbery nastiness. Tama konnyaku is a speciality in Yamagata; balls of konnyaku cooked in soy sauce on a skewer, usually served with hot mustard.
Old women selling these can be found all over Yamadera; it is said to give you the stamina needed to reach the top of the mountain. Me and Sophie purchased one skewer each. After the first bite we realised our mistakes, but begrudgingly consumed them in entirety, hoping that the boost to our fortitude would be worth it.
It did take a lot of effort to reach the top, and the weather wasn’t helping. We had assumed that it would be mild in October, and packed mostly warmer clothes. Trekking up a mountain in scorching heat was not what we had envisioned! But, we succeeded and were rewarded with glorious views over the valley and Fuga no Kuni below.
After some time spent in admiration, we headed back down for some food. We stopped at a tea shop in Fuga no Kuni after spying various delectable treats on the menu. The waitress on duty set us at a table, disappeared off and returned momentarily with none other than a small sampling of the dreaded tama-kon, setting it down on the table, exclaiming “It’s free!”. Smiling, we thanked her and, when she was out of sight, quietly slipped them into our bags.
Apart from the tama-kon, Yamadera was lovely. There was very little information in English, and my Japanese isn’t quite good enough to understand walls of text on history and/or religion, but you really get an impression of what each of the stone statues, cliff faces, gates and temple buildings mean to Japanese visitors. We spotted toys, strings of colourful paper cranes, pieces of fabric, bells, and coins jammed into any crevice of any tree or rock that would take it.
We browsed the shops for souvenirs before catching a train to Yamagata city to spend the night. After being in relative isolation for the past few days we were glad to be in a bustling urban centre complete with 100 yen stores.