Mibu-dera is famous as the temple that once served as the headquarters to the illustrious/infamous Shinsengumi, a special police force organized by the shogunate to protect their interests in Kyoto during a time of political turmoil between forces supporting the military government and those who wished to return to imperial rule. Several graves of Shinsengumi members lay within the temple grounds, as well as a statue of leader Kondō Isami. Mibu-dera is also home to a large main hall, stupa, and sub-shrines. One of Kyoto’s oldest temples, Mibu-dera is a prime example of a temple that has remained relevant in the modern age, now operating many community services out of the temple grounds such as a daycare and retirement home.
Mibu-dera is also famous for its Mibu Kyōgen, earning the moniker “Temple of Plays”.
Graveyard of Patriots
Often visited by fans of the pro-shogunate Shinsengumi squad, Mibu-dera has a graveyard called the Mibu-zuka situated behind their Amida Hall and Benten Hall that is home to the graves of eleven Shinsengumi members, including their controversial first leader Serizawa Kamo, who was reportedly assassinated by his own subordinates.
A statue of the Shinsengumi’s second leader, Kondō Isami, can also be found in this area. Fans of various media in which the Shinsengumi appear, such as anime and manga comics, sometimes draw colorful illustrations on their votive tablets (ema) here.
Guardian of Children
The principle object of worship at Mibu-dera is Jizō Bosatsu (Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva), most commonly revered as a guardian of children. One of the incarnations present on the grounds is the stone statue of “Yonaki Jizō”, who is said to cure illness in children and help prevent crying through the night for those who make offerings. Another Jizō on the precincts is the “Mizukake Jizō”, which is a type of ritual statuary found across Japan that involves pouring water on a Buddhist figure. While making a single wish, use the ladles provided in the small open hall to splash water on the Jizō statue, and hopefully it shall come true.
Temple of Plays
When it comes to the arts, Mibu-dera is famous for its Mibu Kyōgen, farcical short plays that usually are performed in between the longer, more somber nō plays. Utilizing masks for characters as well as elaborate costumes, audience members can be entertained by the same plays that amused people hundreds of years ago. An ogre being chased around by a woman wielding soybeans, a demon spider casting his web out towards the crowd, a band of thieves who can only seem to steal clothes, and guards who get drunk on the very stock of alcohol they were supposed to protect… all of these stories and more await at a famous performance of Mibu Kyōgen, held in February, April, May, and October.
Temple records state that Mibu-dera was originally established for the Chinese monk Jianzhen (688-763), known as Ganjin in Japan. Jianzhen was delayed by the difficulty of the sea crossing from China, though he eventually did reach Japan on the sixth attempt. Rendered blind by age and illness, Jianzhen spent five years presiding over Tōdai-ji in Nara before retiring to a temple of his own founding called Tōshōdai-ji, making a name for himself by bringing the teachings of Ritsu Sect Buddhism to Japan. In his stead Kaiken, a monk in the Mibu district, became the founder of Mibu-dera when he built a chapel dedicated to Jizō Bosatsu in 991 at the site of Ganjin’s former residence. Completed in 1005, this chapel contained statuary carved by Jōchō, the most skilled sculptor of the Heian Period- though the statuary has not survived.
In 1077, Emperor Shirakawa bestowed Mibu-dera with the status of chokugan-ji, those temples where prayers were said for the health of the imperial family and the safety of the country. Destroyed by fire in 1257, Mibu-dera was moved slightly to its current location and restored by Taira no Munehira. In order to collect funds to rebuild the temple, Dogyo, also known as Saint Engaku, conducted rituals at Mibu-dera and other temples to lead worshippers in the invocation of the Amida Buddha. These rituals, called Yūzū Dainenbutsu-e, became the base of the later Mibu Kyōgen performances.
By the Muromachi period (1338-1573) Mibu-dera had become famous for its Mibu Kyōgen, earning the moniker “Temple of Plays” and featured in guide books from the period. Its principle object of worship, Jizō Bosatsu, was also renowned as one of the six most famous Jizō statues.
In 1788, the entire temple was lost to fire, restored in 1825, and then burned again in 1962 when the Main Hall was destroyed. Thanks to donations from parishioners, it was rebuilt in 1967, and Tōshōdai-ji in Nara sent a Jizō statue to be enshrined.
February 2nd – 3rd
|Setsubun Mibu Kyōgen|
April 29th – May 5th
3-Day Weekend in October
- General Admission: Free (Mibu-zuka: ¥200)
- General Admission: 8:00 – 16:30
- Closed: No closing days