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.
In 1117, Fujiwara Motohira was granted permission to construct a major temple, Motsuji, at Hiraizumi, in Iwate Prefecture. Motsuji burned in the late 12th century and was not rebuilt, although the foundation stones are still visible and the garden pond that was built in front of the temple is still there. The pond had been silted up over the millennium since its building, but it has been cleared over the past several decades and restored to a very close approximation of its original appearance. The garden pond is fairly large, measuring nearly 200 yards long along the east-west axis, and nearly 100 yards wide north to south, in front of the temple, which was south facing at the northwestern side of the pond. This image shows a formation of craggy rocks that jut into the pond in its southeastern corner, with the vertical rock creating a strong contrast with the pond, itself.
Again, the Amida figure in the Hoodo, Byodoin, as seen at eye level. This image shows some of the apsara figures, high relief wood carvings, that are on the walls above and around the Amida figure. Also, in the lower left, the altar in front ot the Amida, with its symbolic offerings to the Buddha.
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.
The so-called Phoenix Hall at the temple, Byodoin, in Uji. Built in 1053 by Fujiwara Yorimichi, the Phoenix Hall contains the Amida sculpture carved by Jocho, and the compound attempts to represent on earth the western paradise of Pure Land Buddhism. This image shows the Amida Hall as seen from directly across the pond directly in front of the hall. Because of the placement of the pond, the hall cannot be approached directly from the front, perhaps a physical assertion of the Heian aesthetic preference for indirection.
Standing on the veranda on the left side of the Initiation Hall, looking up, back, and to the left of the Initiation Hall, one sees the five-story pagoda that rises through the trees behind the Initiation Hall. This image gives a clear sense of the location of the pagoda in relation to the Initiation Hall and also a clear indication of the lack of symmetry of the positioning of the various elements of the compound at Muroji.
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.
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.
Seated Amida Nyorai. Wood with gold leaf. From the temple, Horyuji.
The Amida figure in the Hoodo, the so-called Phoenix Hall, at Byodoin was created by the master sculptor, Jocho. Expressive of the spirit ofthe Pure Land sect and the spirit of its time, it is quiet, meditative, approachable sculpture, just as the Hoodo, itself, is approachable because it was built on a human scale. -- The sculpture is carved wood with gold leaf. It was carved from several blocks of wood joined together, a revolutionary and very important technique developed by Jocho and his studio. -- Behind the figure of the contemplative Amida is a large, flowing aureole, flame-like, with apsaras floating on clouds. Overhead is an elaborate canopy of carved lattice work. -- The dimensions of the hall containing the figure are relatively small, which brings the viewer into close proximity with the Amida sculpture, engendering a sense of an intimate environment, rather than a sense of the deity figure being far removed from us and our aspirations. -- Note that this image of the Byodoin Amida (and view 2, as well) were photographed at eye level, as one experiences them in the Phoenix Hall. Many art history texts present an image from an excellent but different point of view, that of being several feet above the floor on a ladder or platform, which is not how the Amida would be seen by a worshipper.
Pond garden at Ryoanji. Said to date from the original Heian period estate at site.
This image of the five-story pagoda shows it in its environment, which is set into the forest, on the level above the Initiation Hall. Because it is not next to another structure, which would provide a sense of scale, one is not aware of the fact that this pagoda is, in fact, perhaps the shortest pagoda in Japan, at a height of about one half of that of many other pagodas. Despite that relatively diminutive scale, it is an exceptionally graceful creation and it has been designated as a National Treasure. The pagoda, along with the kondo, is one of the two oldest buildings extant at MurÃµji and it probably is the older of the two, with recently discovered evidence indicating that it probably was built c. 800. Unlike the kondo, it probably has undergone little change over the millennium since its erection, and when we look at it we may well be seeing what it looked like when completed around 1,200 years ago. This particular image of the pagoda was taken in the summer of 2000, after the restoration of late 1998 - 1999. Another image, ecasia000026, was taken in 1998, before the restoration, as evidenced by the age of the painted surface. In late September, 1998, between the time of the making of those two images, a typhoon uprooted some of the massive Japanese cedars, the crytomeria trees, near the pagoda and one of the falling giants struck the roofs at the rear of the pagoda, seriously damaging them. Funds were raised immediately for a careful rebuilding, restoration of the damaged portion and the work was completed almost immediately. Image ecasia000022 shows a poster that was produced at the time of the restoration effort and image ecasia000043 shows a detail from the bottom of the poster, which includes photos of the damage and of the restoration work in progress.
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.
A detail photograph of the roof of the Phoenix Hall, the Hoodo, at Byodoin, Uji. It shows one of the phoenix figures, but is, mainly, a dramatic photograph...
View across the pond of the garden at the site of the Heian temple at Hiraizumi, Motsuji. All that remains of the original temple at Motsuji are its foundation stones, but the pond is essentially as it was when built. During the last half of the 20th c., centuries of silt build-up were removed from the pond and from the stream bed feeding the pond, returning the pond to its original form. This view is from the northeastern bank of the pond, looking to the east. Recent research suggests that the stones that are layered along the bank of the pond here were brought a great distance to be placed here, perhaps from the shore of the Inland Sea.
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.
The kondo at Muroji is one of the original structures remaining from the early Heian period, although it has, of course, undergone numerous repairs and reconstructions since then. Nonetheless, it retains some distinctive characteristics. It is one story in height and has a sense of horizontal balance, rather than the vertical movement of, e.g., the kondo at Horyuji. The roof is cedar bark, rather than the tile of other temples. Rather than being situated in a level compound, surrounded by the defining and containing cloister wall of that compound, the kondo at Muroji stands alone and is fitted with sensitivity into the natural surrounding of the mountainside forest. Hence, in scale, proportion, use of materials, and setting, the kondo at Muroji might be viewed as being perhaps a re-assertion of some indigenous Japanese aesthetic preferences. Interestingly, that suggestion is based entirely upon visual elements, but if we study some of the religious history of Muroji and Mt. Muro, we find some intertwining of Buddhist and Shinto rituals, which might make the suggested aesthetic blending of elements even more plausible. -- BRIEF INTRODUCTORY NOTE RE: MUROJI'S HISTORY: The compound at Muroji is the result of a long history of shift and change, architecturally, artistically, and in terms of religious history. It is a fascinating history and one explored in great richness in the recent landmark work of scholarship, Sherry D. Fowler's Muroji: Rearranging Art and History at a Japanese Buddhist Temple (Honolulu: University of Hawai'I Press, 2005). -- E.g., although we think of Muroji as being a Shingon temple, over its history, at various times, it was aligned closely with other schools of Buddhism, as well. At one point it became a court case whether Muroji should be classified as a Shingon temple or as a sub-temple of Kofukuji, associated with Hossoo school. Shingon advocates constructed a history of Muroji that inserted Kukai to assert the Shingon tradition of the temple and he was, no doubt, very important in the history of Muroji, while the temple was, in fact, founded by Kengyoo, a Hossoo monk from Kofukuji. Dr. Fowler comments, "ninth-century Murooji might be considered a site for monks specializing in ascetic training who followed teachings associated with Hossoo, Tendai, and Shingon." (p.53) -- Adding to this richness of religious history are several other elements that deserve mention here. Mt. Muro was regarded as a sacred space in Shinto tradition, one associated with the dragon believed to reside there, to whom annual rituals were dedicated. That sense of the sacred may be part of why this was chosen as the site for the temple, Muroji, and there continue to be festivals intertwining elements of Shinto and Buddhism. The sacredness of this spot has been enhanced by the legends that Kukai returned from his time in China with relics that he buried at a secret location on Mt. Muro. Still, today, the mountain beyond the Founder's Hall is regarded as a space too sacred to be entered by laity.
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).
View across the pond of the garden at the site of the Heian temple at Hiraizumi, Motsuji. This view is from the east - southeast bank of the pond, looking across the spit of land that curls out into the pond. The pond is, of course, artificial, i.e., it is a manmade construction. From that point of view, this peninsula of earth reaching out into the pond becomes as an interesting, deliberate sculptural form and, perhaps, invites comparison with other forms of earthworks created by artists at various times and places in human history.
View across the pond of the garden at the site of the Heian temple at Hiraizumi, Motsuji This view is from the north side of the pond, looking south across the pond. Across the pond, on the south side, is the group of rocks seen in view 1., including the small island with its strong vertical rock element.
This photo of the Phoenix Hall at Byodoin shows the front of the hall, seen from across the pond in front of the hall. A gray day in early December with a light drizzle falling, the photo may not reveal much of the architectural detail on the hall, but it does capture a sense of the feeling of time and place in late autumn. On the right side on the photo is a bridge painted with brilliant vermillion, in stark constrast to the weathered paint of the Hoodo, proper. The bridge was, at the time of the photograph (December, 2000), a very recent construction, having been completed sometime during the fall, 2000, part of an attempt to reconstruct all elements of the compound with historical accuracy.. The Hoodo was completed in 1053, during the Heian period. It was built by Fujiwara Yorimichi, a major figure in the powerful Fujiwara clan.
Woodblock print in ink on paper; 17.5" x 12". This remarkable object from Jōruriji temple, Kyoto Prefecture, represents multiple stamped woodblock images of Amida, the Buddha of the Western Paradise, whose popularity as an object of devotion in Japan had begun to surge from around the year 1000. It so closely resembles other sheets of similar images that were found inside the central Buddha statue at the temple of Jōruriji, in the mountains between Kyoto and Nara, that it must also come from that group. The statue has been recently dated to the second half of the 11th century and the prints are generally considered to have been made at that time. The sheets were discovered when the statue was restored early in the twentieth century. Many were sold off. They all contain images in ten horizontal rows of ten column length. In this one, although there are only nine rows, the edges of a damaged left column of images are visible. Most, like this one, are made from a single block of nearly identical images. This repetition of images allowed the sheets to be filled faster, and it was believed that the more sheets a devotee filled, the more spiritual merit s/he received. Although the execution of the printing is unsophisticated, compositionally the images create an elegant religious aura. For a discussion of this set and pictures of other, very similar prints from this set, see: John M. Rosenfield and Shūjirō Shimada, Traditions of Japanese Art: Selections from the Kimiko and John Powers Collection. Cambridge, MA: Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, 1970, plate 28, pp. 68-69. See also Miyeko Murase, ed. The Written Image: Japanese Calligraphy and Painting from the Sylvan Barnet and William Burto Collection. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art and New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002, pp. 84-85.