Muroji Temple, the “Women’s Koyasan”

On the broader between Nara and Mie prefecture, is an abundance of beautiful natural landscapes. There are many mountains and beautiful gorges that attract people from all over the Kansai region. In between those mountains, there the famous and beautiful Muroji Temple. Located in Mt. Muro, Muroji is one of the most famous temples in Nara and has many precious ancient buildings and Buddha statues throughout its temple grounds. 

 

The History Muroji Temple

According to the temple legend, one day, Emperor Kanmu [桓武天皇]became very ill and a monk from Kofuku-ji in Nara prayed for his recovery. The emperor quickly recovered from his illness, and ordered the construction of Muroji Temple. 

Soon after the completion of Muroji Temple, Shingon Buddhism came to Japan. The Shingon monk quite liked Muroji because it is located deep in the forest and was appropriate for their practice. Because of this, Muroji became a part of the Shingon sect too.  

Family crest of Keisho-in at Muroji temple
Family crest of Keisho-in at Muroji Temple

Around the Edo Period, the mother of Tokugawa Tsunayoshi, Keisho-in [桂昌院] a firm believer of Buddhism, donated a large sum of money to Muroji. Her generosity prompted Muroji to allow women to enter their temple. It is important to note that meanwhile other temples throughout Japan, including Koya-san the home of Shingon sect, strictly prohibited women from entering their temples. For this reason, Muroji became known as Nyonin-Koya, literally means “Women’s Koyasan”, and naturally, was very popular among women. 

 

Getting to Muroji Temple

Getting to Muroji might seem a little complicated but in reality, it’s not that bad. From Namba Station in Osaka, take the Kintetsu Nara Line to either Uehonmachi or Tsuruhashi Station. After that, change trains to a Kintetsu Osaka Line bound for Matsusaka or Aoyamacho. Get off at Muroguchi-Ono Station [室生口大野].

From Muroguchi-Ono Station the temple is about five kilometers away, so the simplest thing to do is take a bus.

Nara Kotsu bus with service to Muroji Temple
This bus will take you to Muroji. It is right next to the station.

Board a Kotsu Bus bound for Muroji and sit back; you will be there in a few minutes. Once you get off the bus, follow the road for a few minutes and the bridge to the temple will be on your left.

Japanese country mountainside road with a wall of blooming wildflowers
Street leading to temple. Just ahead on left.

Additional Info and Tips

Transportation time: If you take the Rapid-Express from Uehonmachi, you will reach Muroguchi-Ono Station in about an hour and half.

Buses: Buses run only once an hour during the off season, so make sure to check the bus schedule.

In the spring and fall, there is additional bus service to Muroji twice an hour from Muroguchi-Ono Station. During the same season, there are buses to Muroji from Hase-dera on the weekends.

Food and Drink: There is no supermarket or convenience stores near Muroguchi-Ono Station or Muroji Temple. Once you are near the temple, there are souvenir stores and restaurants, but you will save more money if you buy drinks and snacks ahead of time.

bright red taiki bashi over a rocky river leading to muroji temple
Taiki Bashi, bridge to Muroji Temple

Temple Grounds

niomon gate of muro-ji temple with large stone marker denoting temple name in kanji
Niomon Gate: constructed in 1965

After you pass through Niomon Gate you will climb a flight of stairs called Yoroizaka. “Yoroi” literally means armor and the pattern of the neatly aligned stones certainly does look like armor. After Yoroi zaka, you will be in the main temple grounds where there are many national treasure buildings.  

Yoroizaka staircase at muri-ji temple lined with blooming rhododendron
Yoroizaka

Muroji Temple is also very famous for its hundreds of flowers. In Muroji, there are as many as 3,000 rhododendrons throughout the temple ground. When we came here just before Golden Week, the rhododendron were in full bloom and very pretty. 

flowering rhododendron at Muro-ji temple

Pink rhododendron and jizo statues at Muro-ji temple

Kondo

Right after the Yoroizaka, you will see the, main temple building, the kondo. Not only is this unique building national treasure, but also many precious Buddha statues mainly made in Heian Period are enshrined in kondo.

kondo of muro-ji temple surrounded by rich green foliage
Kondo

If you get close to the building, you can see that half of the kondo sticks out from the hillside. The temple added this extra part was in the Edo Period to pray for the Buddha statues. 

side of kondo that clearly shows how part of the building protrudes from the hillside

In the kondo you can see many Buddha statues such as Juuichimen Kannon [十一面観音像] and Shaka Nyorai Ryuuzo [釈迦如来立像], both of which are Japanese National Treasures also made in the Heian Period.  

Hondo

Another national treasure is Muro-ji’s hondo, built in 1308.

Hondo of Muro-ji temple with tourists standing around and pink rhododendron blossoms
Hondo

The hondo is also called the Kanjo-do [灌頂堂] because a ceremony called kanjo [灌頂] used to take place here. A kanjo is somewhat similar to baptizing and an important ceremony in the Shingon-sect.

The hondo enshrines Nyoirin Kannon [如意輪観音像]. Although it is not a national treasure, it is one of the top three most famous Nyoirin Kannon statues in Japan.  

Pagoda

Muroji’s five story pagoda is without a doubt the most famous structure in the entire temple.

stone staircase lined with pink rhododendron leading up to Muro-ji famous 5-story pagoda

Built around 800 C.E. this five story pagoda is the second oldest pagoda in Japan, erected only a few decades after the pagoda in Horyu-ji. In addition, this pagoda is the smallest in Japan (only 16m!) and each story stays roughly the same size.

Okuno-in

Just beyond the pagoda is a bridge and after that a path leading to the Okuno-in. 

Path to Okunoin
long stone stair case lined with tall Japanese cedar trees and the okuno-in
Almost there! It takes roughly 20 minutes to Okunoin

After about 300 steps, you will reach the Okunoin and the Miei-do, which enshrines Kukai. 

Mieido at Okunoin, enshrining Kukai.

Muroji Temple

Address 78 Murou, Uda, Nara Prefecture 〒633-0421
Website  http://www.murouji.or.jp/
Hours of Operation Apr-Nov: 8:30-17:00
Dec-Mar: 9:00-16:00
Entrance Fee Adults: 600 yen
Children: 400 yen

While somewhat remote, Muroji Temple is an excellent spot. Of course, the temple is beautiful year-round, but I think it excels in the spring when all the flowers are blooming. It is especially a treat if you also go to nearby Hase-dera. 

Coming next time,
Osaka’s most famous temple: Shitenno-ji

The adventure continues…

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