Muroji is my favourite temple in the whole of Japan. It is located to the south east of Nara City within Uda City. If you like quiet, calming ancient buildings surrounded by lush woodlands, you may love it as well.
To reach Muroji temple, most people take the train to Muroguchiono station, and then take a bus to to the temple. However you can make a day of it, by hiking to the temple past an ancient carved cliff face to Muro dam, then through a pretty gorge, past a waterfall. Once you make it to Muroji you can wander up hundreds of steps, deep into the forest to see all the temple buildings.
Muroji Temple Hike – Getting started
Take a train to Muroguchiono station (use hyperdia to plan your route)
There is a map outside the station which shows the route I am about to describe (the route is written as 龍鎮渓谷ハイキングコース on the map.) The route starts by going straight forward through Muro village.
I have added links to google maps to the sights mentioned in this post, so hopefully that will help you find them if/when you visit.
Onoji Temple – Magaibutsu Carving
As you walk through the village, after a few minutes you will arrive at Onoji Temple. Opposite the temple is Japan’s largest stone Buddha, which is carved directly onto a cliff, next to the Uda river. This carving is thought to be 800 years old, but it is actually pretty well defined. It is slightly less clear in my photos, but if you click on the larger image and zoom in, you can see it.
Onoji Temple is the other side of the river. There is a gorgeous (300 year old) sakura tree within the grounds. It is lovely, so you should definitely pop in and visit this temple on your way past.
Next, you need to walk through Muro Village, up to Muro Dam.
The huge concrete Dam is not particularly pretty from below, but once you have climbed up as high as the dam, there are some gorgeous views of the lush countryside.
Turn left and hike along the edge of the dam. You need to turn off at a small path (the sign says 竜鎮渓谷) We found a hat sitting on the sign post, so I posed before we kept walking. Marc also spotted some movement at the side of the path, so we met this cute little tortoise.
Quite soon after the dam’s turn off, you can visit the lovely Ryuchin Shrine, located on the river. On hot days this is the perfect place to dunk your toes. The water is always cold, and crystal clear.
Ryuchin Shrine has a small structure with offerings on one side of the river, and a torii gate on the other side.
There is the small, but pretty Ryuchin Waterfall slightly further down the river from the shrine.
After you have visited the shrine, climb back up to the main path, and continue to follow the river. We found lots of interesting rock formations and summer flowers along the path.
You’ll need to cross the river a few times. There are a few steep moments when you climb up small hills. Just stay on the path the whole way, (at one point there is a junction, keep left) and it will lead you to a country road.
The road emerges into this beautiful, agricultural village of Muro, with houses lined up along the rice terraces. I really love these old houses with their angular roofs.
If you visit in spring or early summer, when the rice paddies are full of water, have a peek into them to see what wildlife you can spot. These fields grow food for humans, but long before the the rice is ready, they are home to a whole range of critters!
Once you’ve walked to the main village, there may be some shops selling tasty red-bean cakes and snacks. I find these businesses close at random times. So, if you are peckish and they are open, buy your snacks right away, rather than waiting until later! Muroji Temple itself is pretty massive, so it’s good to stop and rest before you explore further.
Pretty Red bridge
To reach Muroji, you need to cross the red bridge.
The best part of this hike – Muroji Temple
Muroji is spread over a large area, but you need to start by walking through the Niomon gate. The temple’s guardians are brightly coloured here; It makes me wonder if the Todaiji guardians used to be covered in paint too. If you stop and look carefully, people leave various charms, hanging from the wire fences. Pay the ¥600 entrance fee, and head inside.
Now, you’ll see why I love Muroji. It is just so green, lush and relaxing. This temple was originally built in the 8th century, and it is very important historically, but it never seems to be particularly busy. Even at the end of May, when the rhododendrons that surround the temple buildings are in full bloom, it was still serene.
In between the dense forest, you’ll find beautiful wooden buildings. This Miroku Hall houses images of Miroku Bosatsu and Shaka Nyorai; They are both national treasures. It is pretty impressive that they are so well preserved after 1200 years. I don’t have particularly good photos of them, but you can see better versions here or here.
You can head up some steps to the beautiful Kondou, the main hall. This houses another national treasure, the eleven-faced goddess of mercy, which is carved from one large piece of wood. This is so precious that it is only on display occasionally.
Next, keep wandering up the steps to see the lovely five storied pagoda. This is Japan’s teeniest five storied pagoda. It is the second oldest pagoda in Japan. BUT a tree fell and damaged it during a typhoon in 1998, so it has recently been restored.
It is a really beautiful pagoda.
Muroji’s Jizo statues
I always seem to take photos of Jizo statues. I guess I love that each statue has a different face, and how their aprons change each time I visit.
How could you not love these dudes!?
Keep climbing to Okunoin
If you would like to visit the highest point of the temple, the Okunoin, you need to climb up about 700 steps. It’s around 400 steps once you reach the little red bridge below. Just take it slowly, and you’ll manage it easily. I LOVE this part of the walk. The trees are huge, so it’s nice to stand under them looking up, it’ll make you feel small.
The Okunoin building is build on a huge platform, a bit like Kiyomizudera in Kyoto, but without the crowds.
So, that is my favourite temple in Japan, with a bonus hike to reach it. What do you think? If you visit Japan, would you be interested in taking a detour down to visit this gorgeous area in Uda City? Or, do you prefer to visit the more obvious sights in Kyoto?
Getting back to Muroguchiono station
Just to be really honest; We normally plan to take the bus back to the train station, but so far, I have never managed it. There are fewer than 1 buses per hour, so if you’ve missed it, you may have to hike back. The last couple of times I visited here, we missed the bus, so hitchhiked with incredibly friendly locals.
Hitchhiking is not a particularly normal thing to do in Japan. The bloke that picked Marc and I up last time, drove past us to the bus stop, checked that there was no bus for several hours, and then he drove back and picked us up!