Rissaku-ji was founded in the year 860 by Ennin, the chief priest of the Tendai sect, as a branch temple of the Enryaku-ji in Kyoto. Most of the temple's buildings were destroyed by local wars during the 14th and early 16th century, but were rebuilt in 1543. The Konpon-chudo is Yamadera's oldest construction, dating from 1356, and the temple's main hall. In it, a sacred flame carried from Enryaku-ji has been kept burning for over a thousand years, since the day it was founded.
The temple is a complex formed by around forty buildings, which are scattered through a deep cedar forest on the rocky hills of Hoshu yama. A steep and winding stairway starting at the base of the mountain, leads the way to the topmost cliff and connects all of Yamadera's constructions through more than 1000 stone steps. The ascension can take more than 40 minutes to complete, but several resting places can be found along the way.
Yamadera's most famous sight is the Nokyo-do, a small red colored pavilion built on the edge of a rocky cliff and set against an impressive valley surrounded by mountains. Opposite to it stands the Godai-do, a wooden observatory perched on the cliff-face which offers panoramic views of the valley. Although the temple's highlights are located towards the top of the mountain the whole climb is worth of attention, featuring several gates, statues, lanterns and unique sculpted stones on the mountainside.