Omoshiroyama Kogen 面白山高原

by Daniel Simmons

Still reeling and recovering from March’s double natural disaster, the Tohoku region nevertheless continues to offer an abundance of natural and cultural treasures. Not least of these is the leafy, mountainous temple retreat of Risshakuji (more well-known by its popular moniker Yamadera). Less than an hour west of the stricken Sendai coastline, this cliff-hugging complex dates back to the year 860, when it was founded as a temple of the Tendai sect. The area features gravity-defying wooden gates, temple buildings, and lookouts that enjoy towering views of the surrounding mountains. The scenery is spectacular in any season but especially so in autumn, when throngs of daytrippers crowd the 1,000-step ascent from the entryway.

Our advice, then, is to give Yamadera a quick once-over in the early morning, before the tour buses arrive in droves, and then backtrack one stop on the JR Senzan line toward Sendai in order to visit the magnificent (and decidedly less touristy) Omoshiroyama Kogen. Step off the train and into an autumnal wonderland of maples and beeches. Because access is so easy, this is a perfect place for a fall picnic, but more adventurous visitors will find plenty else to satisfy them. Trails wind up the hillsides in several directions. From the 1225m peak of Minami-omoshiroyama, reachable in about 2 hours, you can see the Gas-san volcano on a clear day.

From the station you can also clamber down into a narrow ravine, where a many-bouldered stream is fed by beautiful cataracts on both sides. Be careful skipping among the pools and weirs, as the rocks can be deceptively slippery. Forty-five minutes of walking will bring you to a road; here you can turn back toward Omoshiroyama Kogen or continue another 45 minutes to Yamadera, where you’ll find plenty of souvenir shops and food stalls to satisfy your hunger pangs before heading home.

This area is also popular among Tohoku locals for skiing. In the winter, a ski lift carries train passengers from the station to the slopes. The season starts in late December and a day pass costs ¥3500.

Getting There: If you are taking public transportation, Yamadera can be reached in 47 minutes from Sendai (or alternatively, 21 minutes from Yamagata) via the JR Senzan line. Omoshiroyama-kogen station is one stop away from Yamadera.






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