Mibu-dera Temple (壬生寺)

Mibu-dera Temple is the grand head temple of the Ritsu Sect located in Mibu, Nakagyo-ku Ward, Kyoto City. The temple was founded by Kaiken, a priest of Enjo-ji Temple (Mii-dera Temple), and its principal image is Ksitigarbha. It is the temple featured in the Yuzu Nenbutsu (reciting the name of Amida Buddha) Kyogen (farce played during a No play cycle) 'Mibu-dera Mibu Kyogen' that was written by the monk Engaku Shonin who restored the temple during the medieval period, and is also known for its connection to the Shinsengumi (a group who guarded Kyoto during the end of Tokugawa Shogunate). Since Mibu-dera is common name, the temple's name is Hodozanmai-ji Temple and the honorific Buddhist title Shinjoko-in.

Origin and History
Mibu-dera Temple is said to be founded by Kaiken priest of Enjo-ji Temple (Mii-dera Temple) for his mother in 991. It belongs to the Ritsu Sect (General Head Temple is Toshodai-ji Temple in Nara) - a denomination not common in Kyoto.

The temple was restored in the medieval period by Engaku Shonin of Yuzu Nenbutsu practitioner. Engaku Shonin is said to have begun the Mibu 'Dainenbutsu Kyogen' which originated from the Yuzu Nenbutsu and has since been designated an Important Intangible Cultural Property.

During the late Edo period, the Shinsengumi (initially called Mibu-roshi) was founded with the aim of maintaining public order in Kyoto, and based in the home of the Yagi family in Mibu-mura Village. It is for this reason that the temple precinct includes a bronze statue of Shinsengumi head Isami KONDO and Mibuzuka, a burial mound of Shinsengumi members (other graves thought to be that of Isami KONDO also exist in locations including Aizuwakamatsu City and Mitaka City).

The temple's former principal image statue of Ksitigarbha seated in the half-lotus position (created during the latter half of the Kamakura period) was known as 'Mibu Jizo' and widely worshipped, but was destroyed by fire along with the main hall by an act of arson committed on July 25, 1962. The current principal image is a standing statue of Ksitigarbha, which was relocated to Mibu-dera Temple from Toshodai-ji Temple of the head temple after the fire.

The previous main hall was completely destroyed by arson in 1962 and the current one was rebuilt in 1970. The temple grounds also include Dai Nenbutsu-do (housing a stage for Kyogen, designated an Important Cultural Property), a bronze statue of Isami KONDO and the Mibu burial mound.

Cultural Properties
Important Cultural Properties
Wooden standing statue of Ksitigarbha (previously kept at Toshodai-ji Temple, the Heian period)
Shakuji (a monk's staff)
Pair of six-fold screens depicting Taoist Xian figures.
Dai Nenbutsu-do (housing a Kyogen stage)

In the fire of 1962, temple treasures including the former principal image statue of Ksitigarbha seated in the half-lotus position (Kamakura period), a standing statue of the four heavenly kings (Kamakura Period), a metal gong ('waniguchi', which hangs at the front temple halls) inscription of the year of 1257 (the Ksitigarbha statue, four heavenly kings statue and metal gong were all Important Cultural Properties), were destroyed.

The Mibu Kyogen and Mibu Rokusai Nenbutsu Odori performed at Mibu-dera Temple are both designated Important Intangible Folk Cultural Properties.

Mibu Kyogen

Mibu Kyogen is a silent play performed on Setsubun, in April and in October at Mibu-dera Temple in Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto City.
It is also known as 'Dainenbutsu Kyogen'
It has been designated an Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property.

Performers wear masks and perform to a musical accompaniment played using gongs, drums and flutes without saying a word. The performance consists of 30 programs in total. Program plots are derived from sources including moral stories of rewarding good and punishing evil, The Tale of Heike and fairy tales. Lively highlights of various programs include the throwing of rice crackers into the audience (Atago Mairi, The Pilgrimage to Mt. Atago), the throwing of paper yarn into the audience (Tsuchigumo, The Demon Spider), tightrope walking (Nue, Nightmare Bird), and the smashing of unglazed plates (Horaku wari).

The Mibu Kyogen is traditionally handed down and performed by members of the Mibu Dainenbutsu Association. The Mibu Dainenbutsu Association consists of around 40 members ranging from elementary school students to senior citizens who rehearse and perform outside of school and work.

The performance is held on three occasions throughout the year:

at Setsubun-e (meeting of the traditional end of winter), held in two days from the day before Setsubun (the traditional end of winter) to Setsubun in February,

at the Dai Nenbutsu-e (meeting to teach Buddhism to the public), the nine day period from April 21 to 29,

and at special autumn performance in October during the three days leading up to Health and Sports Day.


The Yuzu Nenbutsu Kyogen is said to have originated with Yuzu Nenbutsu practitioner Enkaku Shonin in 1300 during the Kamakura period. In an age before the invention of the megaphone, Buddhism was preached simply to crowds using silent performances incorporating exaggerated body and hand movements. The theory is that Nenbutsu Kyogen became silent as it was originally performed in front of crowds as they recited the nenbutsu, which would have drowned out any dialogue. A Nenbutsu Kyogen with spoken dialogue is performed at Injo-ji Temple (Kyoto City).

During the Edo period, the performance became less important as a method of preaching and developed as a form of entertainment. New programs were devised by incorporating from Noh and Kyogen plays, and narratives.

Program List

Atago Mairi (The Pilgrimage to Mt. Atago) *this is not original program of Mibu-ji Temple, but one of Seiryo-ji Temple.

Adachigahara (The Ogre of Adachigahara Village)

Oeyama (Mt. Oe)

Oharame (The Women of Ohara Village)

Oketori (Mercy by the Bucket)

Gaki Zumo (Wrestling of the Greedy Ghosts)

Kanidon (Master Crab's Revenge)

Kumasaka (The Bandit Chief)

Sai no Kawara (On the Banks of Hell)

Sakegura Kanegura (Sake Storehouse, Gold Storehouse)

Setsubun (the traditional end of winter); a program performed in Setsubun-e in February
A Setsubun story of eliminating demons by throwing roasted soybeans.

Daibutsu Kuyo (Offering at the Great Buddha)

Daikoku Gari (The Monk's Wife)

Tamamonomae (The Beautiful Fox-Witch)

Tsuchigumo (The Demon Spider)

Dojo-ji Temple (The Bell of Jealousy)

Nue (Nightmare Bird)

Hashi Benkei (Benkei [on Gojo] Bridge)

Hanaori (Breaking Cherry Branches)

Hananusubito (The Flower Thief)

Funa Benkei (Benkei in the Boat)

Horaku Wari (Smashing Plates); this is always performed at the beginning of Dai Nenbutsu-e in April, and at the end of the program, the plates which are dedicated to the temple at Setsubun-e in February are smashed. It is believed that one's wishes come true when the plate is broken.

Horikawa Gosho (The Fight at Horikawa Palace)

Honno-ji Temple (The Assassination of Nobunaga ODA)

Bofuri (Stick Swinging)

Momoji Gari (Maple Viewing)

Yamabana Tororo (Grated Yam at the Yamabana Teahouse)

Yutate (The Boiling Water Ritual)

Yo-uchi Soga (Night Revenge of the Soga Brothers)

Rashomon Gate

Mibu Rokusai Nenbutsu Odori

Mibu Rokusai Nenbutsu Odori is a local performing art mainly performed in Urabon festival (a Festival of the Dead or Buddhist All Soul's Day) in August and has been designated an Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property.

It was formerly held every year at Mibu-dera Temple on Shoryo mukaebi (a ceremony of balefire for welcoming spirits of dead) on August 9, Shoryo Okuribi (a ceremony of balefire for farewell spirits of dead) on August 16, and Jiso Bon (an event to commemorate Jizo as the protector of children) on August 23, but is now held only on August 9.

The performers are from the local 'Mibu Rokusai Nenbutsu Association' volunteer group. It is separate from the 'Mibu Dainenbutsu Association' that performs the Mibu Kyogen.

Members in the matching yukata (Japanese summer kimono) play musical arrangements consisting of mainly jiuta (a genre of traditional songs with samisen accompaniment) and nagauta (ballads sung to samisen accompaniment), with drums, gongs and flutes, on a stage against the backdrop of the lanterns of Manto Kuyo-e (an event of offering many votive lights to Buddha). There are also lively performances including acrobatic shishimai (lion dance) and spiders' fighting.

Rokusai Nenbutsu was originally a religious rite that descended from the practice of odori nenbutsu (Buddhist invocation dance) and similar traditions also originating from this source can be seen all over Japan. However, in the modern era, such practices evolved into a form of entertainment in Kyoto and resulted in the development of traditional performing arts such as Mibu Rokusai Nenbutsu Odori. In addition to Mibu, there are nine other groups engaged in similar forms of entertainment within Kyoto.

The Mibu Rokusai Nenbutsu Association also performs the musical accompaniment for the Ayagasa Hoko (a decorative float) during Kyoto's Gion Festival. The people of Mibu have traditionally worked on this float since the Edo period, and 'Gion bayashi' and the Bofuri dance performed by the association are derived from the music and dance that historically accompanied it.