Muro-ji temple is one of Nara's best temples, an absolute gem. Yet due to its location it is one that very few foreign visitors to Nara have the opportunity to see. If you have the chance to visit - grasp it! Located in Muro village in the Uda district of Nara Prefecture. Constructed in the Enryaku-era (780 - 805), Muro-ji stands in a mountain valley, buried in the midst of large cryptomeria groves.
This temple has a strong connection with the Shingon sect (Esoteric Buddhism). At that time, a Buddhist monk named Kenkyo, practiced religious austerities here to pray for the recovery of the Crown Prince. It was his disciple Shuen, who made the plan of the temple. Ever since the late Nara-era, the temple has been famous for welcoming women, and is therefore known as "Female Koya" as the other Shingon Temples (especially Mt. Koya) were traditionally exclusively for men.
Muro-ji's five-storied pagoda is the smallest outdoor pagoda in Japan. This pagoda has been designated a National Treasure, along with the Golden Hall and the Main Hall. Badly damaged by a typhoon in 1998, it has been painstakingly repaired and visitors can see now see the original form as the scaffolding has finally been removed.
Depending on the season, the Kondo (Main Hall) which stands at the top of Muroji's long stone stairway presents the visitor with a variety of elegant and graceful expressions, set against a backdrop of vivid greens in spring and summer, or blazing reds and yellows in autumn. The Mirokudo Hall houses such works as the seated Shaka Nyorai figure, an absolute masterpiece exemplifying the distinctive flavor of early 9th-century Buddhist art. Instead of bronze statues that were common in the Asuka and Nara-era, the statues in Muro-ji were carved beuatifully from wood.
The early Heian-era marked an era in which temples relocated into the mountains from the plains. There is also evidence that the architecture was beginning to return to a more traditional style of construction. Lack of open spaces compared to the Asuka and Nara-eras not only discouraged large symmetrical plans, but also made the buildings themselves smaller. Muroji exhibits a main hall that is decidedly smaller in scale compared to anything from the previous eras. It is believed that the original structure was even smaller because the enclosed porch appears to be a later addition. The pagoda itself is of a smaller scale yet is perfecct in its proportions. The base is a slender eight feet by 2.5 m (eight feet) square, and a mere 16 m (43 feet) high.
In the flower season of April, this temple has many blooming rhododendrons. The unique atmosphere of the "Female Koya" - brings many visitors, especially in May, when rhododendrons are in full bloom. Another popular season is in October and November, when the autumn leaves of the enormous and beautiful canopy overhead start changing color. In this season Muroji is uncommonly beautiful.
Muroji possesses a fine collection of early Heian-era art works. The wooden sedentary statue of Buddha is considered to be the most outstanding among the number of Buddhist images kept at the temple. This statue of Shaka-Nyorai is said to be a excellent representative of 9th Century sculpture.
There are also sculptures of Avalokiteshvra Ekadashamukha, or Kan'non (Goddess of Mercy) with Eleven Faces, and Yakushi-nyorai, Nyoirin-Kan'non. In the Miroku-do, there is sculpture of a sitting Buddha Shakyamuni. Many other buildings are distributed around the mountain.