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.
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 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.
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.
This image shows the forest immediately behind the pagoda and the gravestones there, memorials to former monks and abbots of Muroji.
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.
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 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."
This is a view of the front of theMain Hall, the Initiation Hall at Muroji. Like the kondo, it is quite modest in size and is set into its natural setting on the side of the mountain, feeling integrated with its surroundings, rather than feeling imposed upon the setting or apart from it. The hall is symmetrical, being five bays wide and also five bays deep. The front portion of the hall is open, but the rear portion is only to initiates. This edifice has been designated as a National Treasure.
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 .