Muro-ji Temple (室生寺)

Sango (sango (literally, "mountain name"), which is the title prefixed to the name of a Buddhist temple): Benichisan
Religious school: Shingon sect Muro-ji school
Status of the temple: head temple of the sect
The principal image: Shaka Nyorai (Buddha Shakamuni) (national treasure)
Building year: 770-781
Founder: Kenkyo
Official name
Another name: Nyonin Koya
Fudasho (temple where amulets are collected) etc.: The 18th temple of the 18 Historical Temples with Pagodas (Holy Places of Butto-koji), the eighth temple of Saigoku Yakushi 49 sacred places, En no Gyoja Reiseki Fudasho (Sacred Site for pilgrimage), the 36th temple on the pilgrimage to sacred places for Gods or Buddha
Cultural properties: The golden hall, The five-storied pagoda, the wooden standing statue of Shaka Nyorai and so on (national treasure); Mirokudo hall, the wooden standing statue of Manjusri (Bodhisattva) and so on (important cultural property)

Muro-ji Temple is a temple located in Uda City, Nara Prefecture, which is the head temple of Shingon sect Muro-ji school. Its Sango is Benichisan. Its founder was Kenkyo, and the principal image is Shaka Nyorai. It's a mountain temple located in Muro near the border of Mie Prefecture, the east of Nara Basin. The temple buildings are scattered between the foot and middle of Mt. Muro located in the north bank of Muro-gawa River which is a branch of Uda-gawa River. With early Heian period buildings and Buddha statues, its precinct is famous for rhododendrons. In contrast to Mt. Koya which prohibited women, Muro-ji Temple allowed women to visit, so it was also called 'Nyonin Koya,' which means Koya for women.
Its Sango, Benichi written as '宀一' is said to be a shortened form of '室生.'
It's the 18th temple of the 18 Historical Temples with Pagodas (Holy Places of Butto-koji).

History

Although there is a legend that Muro-ji Temple was opened by EN no Ozunu (or EN no Gyoja) in 680 and revived by Kukai, as far as records tell, it began in the end of the Nara period. There is Muroryuketsu-jinja Shrine, which enshrines a dragon god, located about a kilometer to the east of Muro-ji Temple, the dragon god is related to the origin of Muro-ji Temple.

"Shoku Nihongi" (Chronicle of Japan Continued) and "Benichisan nenbundosha sojo" say that in the late Nara period (770-781), a ceremony to cure the disease of the crown prince, Imperial Prince Yamanobe (later Emperor Kanmu), was held in Muro, after which he recovered thanks to the power of the dragon god, so Imperial Court ordered a priest of Kofuku-ji Temple: Kenkyo to build a temple on the site. Kenkyo died in 793, so his disciple named Shuen: a priest of the same Kofuku-ji Temple took over construction of Muro-ji Temple. Shuen died in 835, and the five-storied pagoda is the only building which dates back to his time (the first half of the ninth century) among the present buildings of Muro-ji Temple, it must have taken a considerable number of years to complete the buildings as they are now.

Because two founders were priests from Kofuku-ji Temple, Muro-ji Temple had a close relationship with Kofuku-ji Temple; however, it left the Hosso sect to become a temple of the Shingon sect later, in 1698 during the Edo period.
Since it allowed women to enter the mountain, it was called 'Nyonin Koya.'

During early modern times, the temple buildings were repaired with a donation by Keishoin who was the mother of the fifth Tokugawa shogun, Tsunayoshi TOKUGAWA.

Temple layout

The precincts of the temple stretch from the foot to the middle of Mt. Muro. It is a typical mountain temple, and going up the steps, the next building comes into view. After going through a Deva Gate (rebuilt in modern times) and going up the first steep stone steps (named Yoroizaka), the golden hall (built in the Heian period, national treasure) appears in the center and Mirokudo hall (built in the Kamakura period, important cultural property) is on the left. While going up the stone steps, there is the main hall (Kanjodo) (built in the Kamakura period, national treasure) whose principal image is Nyoirin Kannon and, above it, the five-storied pagoda (built in the early Heian period, national treasure), and the stone steps lead to the inner temple: Miedo hall (built in the first half of the Muromachi period, important cultural property) which enshrines Kukai.

The golden hall

The golden hall's roof is yosemune-zukuri (hipped) and covered with shingles. The hall stands on a different ground level and its front is propped up with long posts sticking out from the slope. This style of building is called 'kake-zukuri' and is common in mountain temples. The scale of the hall is 5 by 5 Ken (an architectural term representing the number of columns that could fit between two columns), with 5 by 4 Ken Shodo (or Naijin, an inner sanctuary) and 5 by 1 Ken Raido (a worship hall) attached to its front. Shodo was built in the first half of the Heian period (the latter half of the ninth century), and was repaired considerably to change many members in the end of the Kamakura period. Raido was built in 1672. In the hall, there is the standing statue of Eleven-faced Kannon (national treasure); the standing statue of Manjusri (important cultural property); the principal image, the standing statue of Shaka Nyorai (national treasure); the standing statue of Yakushi Nyorai (important cultural property); and the standing statue of Jizo Bosatsu (important cultural property), which all stand in a row from the left, and the standing statues of twelve protective deities (important cultural property) stand in front of them.

Mirokudo hall

Mirokudo hall was built in the Kamakura period, but remodeled drastically later. The principal image: the standing statue of Miroku Bosatsu (important cultural property) is enshrined in Zushi (a cupboard-like case with double doors) placed in the center of the hall, and the sitting statue of Shaka Nyorai (national treasure) is on the right.

The main hall (Kanjodo)

The main hall was built in 1308 in the latter half of the Kamakura period when Muro-ji Temple started to transition into being Esoteric Buddhism. Its roof is Irimoya-zukuri (half-hipped) and covered with cypress bark shingles. The sitting statue of Nyoirin Kannon (important cultural property) is enshrined in Zushi placed in the center of the hall, and in front of it, Ryokai mandala (Mandalas of the two Realms): Vajradhatu Mandala and Garbhadhatu Mandala hang on either side of the wall facing each other. This hall is also called Kanjodo and is a hall for performing rituals of Esoteric Buddhism named Kanjo.

The five-storied pagoda

The five-storied pagoda was built around 800, and its wooden parts were painted in red. It is the second oldest outdoor wooden five-storied pagoda after the pagoda of Horyu-ji Temple, and the smallest outdoor wooden five-storied pagoda among national treasures and important cultural properties. It's a small pagoda that is a little over 16 meters high, which is one third the height of the five-storied pagoda of Kofuku-ji Temple, and its first story is 2.5 meters wide on each side. A five-storied pagoda's eaves usually become smaller from the first story to the top fifth story; however, this pagoda's roof reduction rate is small and the size of the first story and the fifth story are about the same. Its characteristics are its wide and thick eaves, gentle sloping roof, and thick pillar for its small scale. Its features aim to impress onlookers from the view on the stone steps. An ornament named Suien (the Water Flame) is generally attached on the top of Kurin (nine vertically stacked rings) on the fifth story, but this pagoda unusually has a pot-shaped ornament named Hobyo instead of Suien. According to a temple legend, the founder priest: Shuen confined the dragon god of Muro in the Hobyo.

This five-storied pagoda was seriously damaged when a 50 meter high cedar close to the pagoda was blown over and hit the roof due to strong winds from the season's seventh typhoon on September 22, 1998. The eaves of all stories on the northwest side were broken and were left dangling. Fortunately, the bases of the pagoda including the central pillar were safe, so the pagoda was restored from 1999 to 2000 and returned to its former appearance. During the repair, the Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties examined members of the pagoda using dendrochronology and found they were cut down around 794. Moreover, its original roof was found not to have been a cypress bark roof but a shingle roof.

National treasures

The golden hall (above mentioned)

The main hall (above mentioned)

The five-storied pagoda (above mentioned)

The wooden standing statue of Shaka Nyorai - the principal image of the golden hall, was carved from a single tree trunk in the first half of the Heian period. Judging from the Yakushi-butsu drawn on the halo and the statues of twelve protective deities (messengers of Yakushi Nyorai) enshrined in the hall, it was originally made as Yakushi Nyorai. It is also a peculiarity that each statue in the hall including this one has 'itakohai,' which is a halo with a design drawn with paints on a flat wooden board, on its back. These halos contain important information about the art of the Heian period.

The wooden standing statue of Eleven-faced Kannon – built in the first half of the Heian period. It is positioned on the left end in the golden hall: Naijin. It has a unique style named 'Muro-ji Temple style' along with the wooden statue of Shaka Nyorai.

The wooden sitting statue of Shaka Nyorai - positioned to the right of the main statue. Its introduction and origin are not known at all, but judging from its style, it seems to have been created in the first half of the Heian period. Although Honpashiki emon (rippling drapery), in which thick rounded curves regularly alternate with thin ridged curves, is a feature of the first half of the Heian period's sculpture, drapery carved on the whole surface of this statue is rare.

Itaechakushoku Dentaishakuten mandara - a chromatic picture drawn on the wall behind the principal image in the golden hall. Its theme is unknown, but the temple legend says that its principal image is Taishakuten (Sakra devanam Indra). It's a rare Buddhist paintings from the first half of the Heian period.

Important cultural properties

Mirokudo hall - built in the Kamakura period

Miedo hall (the inner temple) - built in the first half of the Muromachi period

Nokyoto pagoda (stone two-storied pagoda) - built in the latter half of the Heian period

A Gorinto (a gravestone composed of five pieces piled up one upon another) with two small Gorinto and stylobate (allegedly Chikafusa KITABATAKE's grave)- built in the first half of the Muromachi period, designated as an important cultural property on March 23, 1961

The wooden standing statue of Manjusri - enshrined in the golden hall, made in the Heian period

The wooden standing statue of Yakushi Nyorai - enshrined in the golden hall, made in the Heian period

The wooden standing statue of Jizo Bosatsu - enshrined in the golden hall, made in the Heian period

The wooden standing statues of twelve protective deities - enshrined in the golden hall, made in the Kamakura period
The statue of dragon god and 1 out of 12 sheep gods are entrusted to Nara National Museum.

The wooden standing statue of Miroku Bosatsu - enshrined in Mirokudo hall, made in the Heian period

The wooden sitting statue of Nyoirin Kannon - enshrined in the main hall, made in the Heian period

Ryobuodangu en suite

Daijingumishotai

Access

Take the Muro line bus from the Nara Kotsu Haibara office from Muroguchiono Station of Kintetsu Railways, get off at Muroji-mae bus stop and walk.