Small villages and clusters of traditional farmhouses are dotted around the mountains and forests, encouraging leisurely walks and a chance to renew the spirit. Apparently the famed monk Kobo Daishi compared the area to the legendary Xanadu as the morning fog blanketed Murouji Temple and the surrounding houses.
Murouji Temple is nestled in a forest approximately 6km from the nearest train station, Muroguchi-Ono. Buses run from the station around twice an hour and take just 15 minutes, but do stop early at around 4pm. If visited in the morning, Murouji is feasible as a half-day trip and can be combined with a stop in Sakurai or a visit to Hasedera Temple, a few stops down on the same train line.
To truly appreciate the natural beauty of the area and for a more leisurely experience, it's worth setting aside a full day. Start in the morning and take the nature trail that runs from nearby Muroguchi-Ono Station. Taking roughly 2 hours, it follows a meandering river and takes in small clusters of houses before leading up to the temple and Murou Art Forest.
Located in a lush forest, a short walk from the shop-lined approach to Murouji Temple, lies Murou Art Forest, a striking contemporary sculpture park designed by Israeli sculptor Dani Karavan, in 2006.
The main attraction is Murouji Temple, a beautiful power spot, full of female energy. It was known as the "Koyasan for Women", when the famous Koyasan temple complex in Wakayama Prefecture was open only to men. Alongside an interesting collection of Buddhist carvings on display in the main hall, the temple is well-known for its beautiful pagoda, which stands 16 metres high, atop a flight of stone steps.
Throughout the year, the grounds are stunning, but especially in autumn when the maple trees blaze in a multitude of colours, and in late spring when the stone paths are lined with rhododendrons.
The street leading up to Murouji Temple is dotted with small cafes, sweet shops and a few ryokan which open their doors to visitors for lunch. Near the bridge leading to the temple, Eikichi is a pleasant spot to refresh with a beverage and light snack.
Back near Muroguchi-Ono Station, Ohnoji Temple is famous for its huge weeping cherry blossom trees in spring and its lovely all-season gardens. It also has a four-metre-tall Buddha carved into a cliff face, which is quite unusual. Don't leave without having a quick look.
The ultimate way to unwind and enjoy the serene atmosphere of Murou is to stay overnight. Sasayuri Ann is a beautifully restored farm house that you can rent out. The owners can organise activities including yoga, zazen meditation and rice planting, or even ninja shows. The nearest station is Akameguchi Station, just 5 minutes from Muroguchi-Ono Station. If you call in advance, the owners will meet you there.
For Murouji Temple, take the Kintetsu Line to Muroguchi-Ono Station. Note that you will need to change trains twice. From Muroguchi-Ono Station, you can either walk or take a bus to reach the temple.