Why does Murouji Temple attract women?
There are many holy places in Japan that women are prohibited from accessing for various reasons, such as the road was considered too difficult, or because the goddess of the mountain might possess them. For instance, women were forbidden to enter the Japanese Buddhist holy site of Mount Koya up until modern times.
However, there was also a holy site nearby that accepted women. At Murouji Temple, records of worship by women survived from the Muromachi period (1336 to 1573), and It was called Nyonin Koya (the women’s Koya) as a place where women could venerate Mount Koya.
While there are fewer and fewer areas that women are prohibited from going to nowadays, many women still visit Murouji Temple where they have long prayed. It is said that 70% of worshipers at Murouji Temple are women, and that many come here more than once. Why is the temple so captivating for the hearts of women?
One site we recommend within the quietude of the temple grounds is the soft pink of rhododendron flowers that stands out against the background. Perhaps it is the sight of these flowers that has long healed the heart of female visitors. Nearly 3,000 bulbs are planted, and blossoming between late April and early May.
The warm gaze of the Buddha softens the heart
There are various theories about when Murouji Temple was established, but it is said to have happened at some point between the years 670 and 780. Another reason for visiting is to meet the ancient Buddhist statues created at the time of the temple’s founding. Their warm gaze, having watched over the people for centuries, continues to embrace viewers even now.
The majority of the statues are designated as National Treasures or Important Cultural Properties.They are considered masterpieces not just for their historical value, but also for being important examples of Buddhist art. If one stares long enough, one will perhaps feel the effects of a compelling attraction above and beyond the aesthetic beauty.
Atsuo Yamaoka, manager of Murouji Temple suggests, “Perhaps their expression became placid over time by listening to the many prayers of women.” These words seem convincing, and it is not difficult to imagine that many visitors might spend an entire day here watching the statues, drawn in by their strange fascination.
On the top level there is a statue of Miroku Bosatsu (Maitreya), designated as an Important Cultural Property. The details of the sculpture are still clearly visible as though the statue did not date from over 1,100 years ago.
The statue of Shakanyorai (Gautama Buddha after he reached Buddhahood) on the lower level is designated as a National Treasure. It is known for the characteristic beauty of the ample drape of his robe. The colorful aureola behind him is also worth a look.
While Buddhist statues of such importance are normally kept in carefully controlled conditions under glass cases, these are maintained at Murouji Temple in an environment that is as natural as possible. Above there is the inner temple of the Golden Hall, where the door is open 365 days a year, allowing worshipers to view the Buddhist statues considered National Treasures and Important Cultural Assets up close from the perimeter.
Walk through the temple grounds in harmony with verdant nature
Murouji Temple is a mountain temple comprised of several buildings at the peak of Mount Murou. The temple grounds are perfect for a stimulating walk surrounded in nature, wrapped in deep greenery and filled with refreshing air. Cross the arched bridge that spans the Murou River, pass through the red painted main gate, and climb the stone steps up the hill to reach the hall and its beautiful Buddhist statues. Further along the stone staircase, there is the 5 storied pagoda which is the symbol of Murouji Temple, the smallest outdoor pagoda among the many in Japan designated as National Treasures.
The charming pagoda, at a height of 16.2 meters, is the symbol of Nyonin Koya. It is enriched by a grove of large trees of wild beauty creating a space seemingly surrounded in boundless nature. From the rhododendrons of spring, through the fresh summery greenery, the autumn leaves, and the snow of winter, the scenery surrounding the pagoda changes constantly through the seasons. Photographers from near and far have long since been captivated by beauty.
A leisurely walk from the arched bridge to the pagoda takes approximately 30 minutes, but if you have the time, it is also worth visiting the other temple buildings located even further along the path. The stairs surrounded in cedar forest are rich with an atmosphere of the deep mountains. The surrounding area, home to several rare species of ferns, is also designated as a Natural Monument. Walk a further 30 minutes to pray at the Mieido (Founder’s Hall) before heading back.