This image shows the front of the Hall for Memorial Tablets, also known as the Hall of Eternal Light. As is seen here, the structure is extended out in space on scaffolding over the steep hillside. The white pieces of paper along the lines between posts on the edge of the porch are omikuji, printed "fortunes." They have been tied to the line here with a prayer that the deity may assist in the fulfillment of the fortune. Omikuji are very commonly found at Shinto shrines and represent, perhaps, a crossing over of a practice between Shinto and Buddhism.
As one walks down the mountainside from the Hall of Eternal Light, the Hall for Memorial Tablets,when one reaches the point where stairs end on relatively level ground, one sees the five-story pagoda ahead, slightly to the left of the path, beyond a group of crytomeria trees. In the foreground on the left, next to the path are, again, a group of memorial stones marking the graves of monks from the temple community from centuries past.
This image shows the interior of the Hall for Memorial Tablets, the Hall of Eternal Light, at Muroji, built in the early 20th century. A monthly memorial service for Kukai is held here and memorial services for residents of the local village are celebrated here. -- The different traditions of Buddhism, such as esoteric Buddhism or Pure Land, as well as different schools, such as Tendai and Shingon, sometimes employ differing ritual objects in their ceremonies, objects that have grown out of differing historic traditions, some based in very ancient Indian rituals, some in Tibetan Buddhism, etc. Nonetheless, in this image we can see ritual objects that are common across various schools. These include, most basically, before the altar, an incense burner, candlesticks, and flower vases, objects found before any Buddhist altar, including home altars. Other objects seen here and common across traditions include the "bell" on the right, struck to announce the opening of services, the square area for the celebrants defined by the low railing, the canopies (often stylized lotus blossoms constructed of wood or metal) or banners over altars and images, small square tables flanking the cushion of the celebrant, tables used to hold ritual objects or offerings, a low table directly in front of the celebrant that may hold offerings and serve as sutra lectern. To the right here we see part of the rim of a taiko, a large, powerful drum, one of a variety of musical instruments often employed in ceremonies.
This image shows the center altar in the Miroku Hall at Muroji. The sculpture on the altar is a carved wooden figure of the Miroku Bosatsu, a sculpture that is perhaps 3 feet high, dating from the 8th century. Dr. Fowler points out that this sculpture almost certainly was not the original sculpture on the center altar, which would have been a figure of the Miroku Buddha, rather than a bosatsu. -- Although some of the ritual objects in Buddhist temples vary somewhat from one sect to another, some objects are used in all sects. In this image we see the cushion on which the celebrant would sit in formal Japanese sitting posture, knees bent, sitting on the ankles. The rounded bronze object to the right is a "bell," with its open end at the top; it is struck on the outside with a padded stick, which produces the rich, resonant sound that accompanies and punctuates Buddhist chants. Also evident are three items found at all Buddhists altars, namely, flowers, incense, and light (candles). Often, as here, there also are offerings of fruit.
Muroji, kondo, exterior, architectural detail The kondo at Muroji, built in the early Heian period, still reflects much of its original character and feeling, although it also has been repaired and changed many times over the past millennium since its construction. In this image of the end of the kondo, we can see clearly what was the original middle point of the end wall, with a pillar at the center of the wall. Originally the ridge of the roof would have been directly above this point but, as we can see here, the ridge of the roof is now to the right of the middle pillar of the end wall. This shift occurred during the Kamakura period, when an extra bay was added across the front of the kondo to create a worship space, and a veranda was extended off the outside of that bay. These additions disrupted the symmetry of the original structure and necessitated the addition of a curious element to the front side of the roof, shown clearly in the previous image, Muroji, 008 (ecasia000011).
This enlarged version of part of the image in file no. ecasia000001.jpg shows some of the lines engraved in the stone to depict an image of the Miroku Buddha. Again, the carving dates from 1207 or 1208, and is along the bank of the Muro River, along the approach to Muroji. The pattern of parallel curved lines in the image is stylistically interesting and might be compared with the linear pattern of the robe folds in the sculpture that is the central image in the kondo at Muroji, a sculpture that dates from the Heian period (image I.D. ecasia000007.jpg) or with the sculpture of the seated Shaka (ecasia000012.jpg), from the Mirokudo, Muroji, which dates from early Heian period.
This image shows the poster that was produced during the restoration of the five-story pagoda, which had been damaged by a typhoon in 1998.
On the right side of the image, above the woman walking on the path, may be seen the bridge that crosses the Muro River. On the far side of the river (a stream at this point) is Muro village. In the foreground is the path that leads from the bridge to the entrance gate at Muroji (to the left, out of the photo).
Detail of the central bay of the Kanjodo at Muroji, showing part of the public portion of the hall. Included in the photo are the large vessel in which one may place a stick of lighted incense, the wooden offeratory box to the right of the incense vessel, and the container of sticks for fortunes on the right (see image ecasia000035).
This sculpture of the Seated Shaka is located on an altar to the right of the center altar in the Miroku Hall at Muroji. Although it may have been brought to its present location from elsewhere as recently as the 19th century, this sculpture probably dates from the second half of the ninth century and it is regarded as an outstanding example of early Heian period sculpture. It is carved from Hinoki cypress wood and was carved almost entirely from one block of wood. A distinctive characteristic of the style of its period is the style of carving of the folds in the robe, a style known as the "rolling wave" style. Originally, the sculpture was coated with a gesso-like material and painted; only traces of that original finish remain today. Although the figure is relatively modest in size, at about 3 1/2 feet in height, it feels as if it is much larger than the actual physical dimensions, because of the small size of the space where it is viewed.
This is the Mirokudo, the Miroku Hall, also called the Maitreya Hall, at Muroji, as seen from the veranda of the kondo. The Mirokudo is a smaller hall, and later in date than the kondo, having been moved to this site from Kofukuji during the Kamakura period. It contains a main center altar and two smaller side altars. The center altar, as seen in the next image, ecasia000012, is devoted to a figure of the Miroku Bosatsu, and one of the side altars, image ecasia000013, holds the wooden carved sculpture of the Seated Shaka, an exceptional example of ninth century (early Heian) sculpture.
A view of the rectangular pool that lies in front of the Main Hall, the Kanjodo, the initiation hall, at Muroji. This is viewed with the hall at one's back, looking across the pool in the direction of the Muro River and Muro village on the other side of the river. There are orange koi in the pool and, in the spring, the surface of the pool is covered with petals of blossoms from nearby trees.
This is a view looking down the mountain path from the porch of the Hall of Eternal Light. The image conveys a sense of the quiet beauty of the temple's isolated location in a crytomeria forest, in the mountains of Nara Prefecture, southeast of Nara City.
This slide of the pagoda at Muroji was taken in the spring, 1998, before the typhoon damage of September 22, 1998, and the subsequent restoration work on the pagoda. The slide shows the first story of the five-story pagoda, which is only 8 feet square. Also shown is the detail of some of the bracketing that was used in Buddhist pagodas and other temple buildings. The bracketing is perhaps less important here, structurally, than in other temple compounds, because the roofs here, at Muroji, are covered with cedar bark, rather than the very heavy tile of other temples.
Perhaps one hundred yards to the left and behind the pagoda, one begins a steep ascent up the side of the mountain to the Hall of Eternal Light. The stone steps lead one up the side of the hill in almost a straight line, going up the side of the hill for perhaps a quarter of a mile. At one point, off to the side of the stairs leading up the mountainside, one sees this short set of stone steps leading up to a niche carved out of the hill, where there is this small group of memorial stones.
The entrance to the Hall for Memorial Tablets, at Muroji is on ground level of a small level area. Most of the hall, however, is built out over the steep hillside, supported on scaffolding, as shown in this image taken from the stone stairs as one approaches the small plateau.
This is a view of the path, the steps leading up the mountainside at Muroji to the Hall of Eternal Light, also called the Hall for Memorial Tablets. It is a very steep and long climb, consisting of 400 steps built in the 1860's. It also is a beautiful walk up the mountainside, as the steps pass through a quiet forest of giant crytomeria trees. As suggested in the description of the kondo, with its placement in a "natural" wooded site, the presence of nature at Muroji is important and points to a change in the role of nature in relation to Buddhism in Japan, compared, e.g., to the role of setting at earlier temples such as Horyuji. This use of natural setting at Muroji is, of course, consistent with the central awareness of nature in traditional Japanese culture and aesthetic values. The construction of Muroji in the forest no doubt reflects also the intent to remove the temple to the quiet of the mountain site, away from the political environment of the capital.
The interior of the kondo, the Golden Hall, at Muroji includes a central area surrounded all around by a corridor. The central area, called the moya, contains an altar with five standing statues. In front of the altar figures are smaller carvings of the twelve generals, attendants of the Yakushi Buddha. The statue shown in this image is the central figure on the altar and represents the Shaka or the Yakushi Buddha. The figure, a large wooden sculpture (perhaps 7 1/2 feet tal), l is an outstanding example of early Heian sculpture, from the mid-ninth century, with traits such as the fullness of the cheeks, the separate coils of the curls in the hair, the sharp division of chest and abdomen, the use of many repeated parallel folds in the carving of the robe, and the overall solemnity of expression. Also noteworthy here is the painted aureole behind the Shaka, which is well preserved and presents images of the seven Buddhas of the past and present world cycles.
Along the side of the steps up the side of the mountain, one sees this Jizo figure. The Jizo is a spirit that cares for the souls of children who have died and the Jizo statues are very common throughout Japan, especially in temple compounds. The offerings left with this Jizo are interesting and mildly humorous, since the offerings include a container of "One Cup Ozeki," a brand of sake that can be purchased from vending machines. Also interesting are the branches in the vases, which appear to be branches of sakaki, a plant usually associated with Shinto, although there frequently are "cross-overs" between Buddhist and Shinto practices in Japan. (Sake, likewise, is usually associated with the Shinto offerings of sake, salt, and rice, associated with purification, as seen in images from the Hachiman Shrine in Morioka.) Some excellent information in these areas may be found in the Colorado College collection dealing with Japanese religion, materials contributed by Professor David Gardiner.
As described with the image of the Nio gate at Muroji (image ecasia000004.jpg), one of the disctinctive features of the compound at Muroji is the fact that it is not laid out on a symmetrical axis, oriented along a north-south axis, and all on a level plot (for comparison, e.g., look at the plan of Yakushiji, Nara). From the level of the Nio gate at Muroji, one turns to one's left and ascends this set of stone steps to reach the next level of the compound, where there is a modest sized, open level area that is used for ceremonies. On that level, the kondo is directly ahead of one across from the top of the steps, the Mirokudo is directly to one's left, and the Haiden, an early 20th century addition, is to one's right.
This image shows a small rectangular pool, surrounded by a stone fence, and the front faÃ§ade of the Main Hall, sometimes referred to as the Initiation hall, beyond it. Both are located on a level area on the side of the hill, up a short flight of stone steps from the level of the kondo. The Kanjodo is used for initiation rites in Esoteric Buddhism. Muroji is associated with Shingon, the esoteric sect founded by the priest Kukai in the 8th century, upon his return from study in China. Shingon is the sect known as the "True Word" sect and is rooted in Tantric Buddhism. Kukai is often referred to by his posthumous name, Kobo Daishi, "Great National Teacher."
The pagoda at Muroji is located on a level carved out of the hillside perhaps thirty feet or so (vertically) above the level of the Main Hall and its pool. The stone steps shown here are to the left of the Main Hall and lead one directly up toward the pagoda, enhancing the sense of the height and floating quality of the pagoda, as one ascends the steps.
On one's left as one walks along the path just inside the Nio gate at Muroji, is a small pond with lilly pads and koi .
The rising form of a pagoda is seen as a symbolic statement of human aspiration, a path, a joining of this world and the world of the absolute. The metal spire that rises from the top roof of the pagoda is called the sorin. The shaft of the sorin is surrounded by nine rings and at the very top is the hoshu, representing the sacred jewel of Buddhist wisdom. The pagoda, often a memorial to a saintly person, is a Chinese adaptation of the Indian stupa.
This image shows the forest immediately behind the pagoda and the gravestones there, memorials to former monks and abbots of Muroji.