Muro-ji temple 室生寺
A temple for women
Built at the end of the 8th century in Uda, northern Nara Prefecture, Muro-ji is home to Japan's smallest 5-storey pagoda. It is also one of the few Shingon Buddhist temples to have always accepted women.
According to legend, Muro-ji was founded in the forest where the monk Kenkei came to pray for the health of Prince Yamabe. After Kenkei's death his disciple, Shu-en, chose the placement of the various buildings, scattered on the mountain.
The temple, located in the forest of Muro-yama mountain, is not particularly popular with tourists. Nevertheless, it remains famous for having always welcomed women, which is rare in Shingon Buddhism, the school of Buddhism founded by the monk Kukai. This is why it's sometimes called the "Mount Koya for women", referring to the main temple of the Shingon School (once for men only), located in Koyasan, Wakayama prefecture, a hundred kilometers away.
The four national treasures
Several elements of the site have been classified as "national treasures", starting with the kondo (main building). This building - the oldest of Muro-ji (ninth century) - has was renovated during the Edo period (1603-1868).
The kondo houses another treasure: a statue of Shaka-Nyorai, dating from the Heian period (794-1185). This wooden statue, more than 2.30 meters high, represents the founder of Buddhism, Shakyamuni, in a state of profound meditation.
The Shaka-Nyorai statue, representing the founder of Buddhism Shakyamuni
The kondo, main building of Muro-ji
The statue of Nyoirin-Kannon, goddess of compassion, also dates from the Heian period. The nyoirin are actually the objects that the goddess holds in her hands: a precious gemstone and a wheel, which grant her a particular power of longevity.
The last national treasure is the famous 5-storey pagoda, renowned for its beauty... and its small size! It's just 16 meters high (and less than 3 meters wide) make it the smallest pagoda in Japan. Damaged by a fallen tree during a typhoon in 1998, the pagoda was renovated over the following 2 years.
A statue visible once a month
The bravest will climb the 700 steps adorned with rhododendrons of the staircase nicknamed yoroizaka ("slope of the armor") to the oku-no-in. This building, located at the top of the steps, is dedicated to Kukai, the founder of Shingon Buddhism. A sacred statue of him, built at the end of the Kamakura period (1185-1333) is visible on the 21st of each month. It has been classified as an Important Cultural Property.
There are two times of year particularly suitable for visiting Muro-ji: between April and May, when the thousands of rhododendrons are in bloom or in the fall, when the maple leaves turn a vibrant red.