Date: 25th November 2018
I had planned to visit Muroji when I was in Sakurai back in 2017 however due to the train / bus timing factor (for spending a longer time than intended in Hasedera), I changed my plans. This time, I made sure that Muroji was the first stop in my itinerary for the day.
Muroji (室生寺) is a Shingon Buddhism temple located on Mount Muro in Uda, Nara Prefecture. Mount Muro has historically been linked to a dragon spirit or ryujin which leads to the belief that the area is rich with mystical powers. Based on the temple’s records, several priests from Kofukuji were sent to Mount Muro to perform rituals in the attempt to cure Prince Yamabe (later Emperor Kanmu) who was ill at that time. The ritual was a success as the Prince’s health improved and one of the priests, Kenkyo was ordered to built Muroji on the mountain. Kenkyo did not live to see the temple completed, thus his disciple Shuen saw through the completion of the temple.
Muroji is also known as Nyonin-Koya (women’s Koyasan) as it accepted female worshippers in contrast to the men-only temple in Koyasan back in the days.
There are a number of national treasures in Muroji including the kondo, a 2.3m wooden statue of Shaka Nyorai dating back to the Heian Period, a statue of the eleven-faced Kannon, and a five-story pagoda which is the smallest of its kind, dating back to the 8th century. The pagoda suffered a typhoon damage in 1998 but was restored years later. During the Edo period, Keishouin, mother of Tokugawa Tsunayoshi, the 5th Shogun of the Tokugawa Shogunate donated to the repairs of the temple.
Getting to the main hall requires you to go up the yoroizaka (armour slope). The kondo enshrines the Shaka Nyorai statue and the eleven-faced Kannon. Next to it is the Mirokudo which enshrines Miroku Bosatsu and a seated statue of Shaka Nyorai. Finally further up is the main hall, Kanjodo enshrining the Nyoirin Kannon.
Proceeding further into the back of the temple is the 700 steps of stairs which leads to the Okunoin (inner sanctuary) which is dedicated to Kukai (Kobo Daishi), the founder of Shingon Buddishm. Before reaching the Okunoin you will see the Ihaido hall which may remind you of Kyoto’s Kiyomizu-dera due to their similar structures. The Miedo Hall or Daishido hall enshrines a statue of Kukai which is only visible once a month on the 21st.
Muroji is famous for its thousand pink rhododendrons which blooms between mid April to early May and is also a popular autumn spot with its fiery red maple leaves. In autumn, a special night illumination is also held.
Also, check-out the kaitenyaki mixed with yomogi (mugwort) when you are in this area.
If you are interested to see more of the dragon spirit related sites, a shrine dedicated to the dragon spirit, Ryuketsu Shrine is just a 15-mins, 1km walk away from Muroji.
- 1st Apr to 30th Nov: 08:30 – 17:00 (up to 20:00 during autumn light-up)
- 1st Dec to 31st Mar: 09:00 – 16:00
No closing days
Admission fee: 600 yen
Take the hourly Nara Kotsu bus from Muroguchi-Ono Station (15 mins, 430 yen). Note that the bus frequency increases during autumn up to the light-up time as well. There were also bus connections directly between Muroji and Hasedera. Muroguchi-Ono Station is served by the Kintetsu Railway – Osaka Line which is reachable from Yamato-Yagi Station in 22 mins (440 yen) and Nabari Station in 10 mins (260 yen).