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Mibudera - Temple of Plays and Samurai

The precints of Mibudera as viewed from the main gate.

Mibudera is one of the oldest temples in Kyoto, and over the 1000 years of its existence, it was known under a number of different names. Today, it is most famous for the Mibu Kyogen and its connection to the Shinsengumi of the late Edo period.


Mibudera dates back to 991, when the monk Kaiken erected a temple dedicated to Jizo Bosatsu, the guardian of children. The temple was completed in 1005 and then named Komii-dera in reference to the founder's origin in Miidera in Otsu. In 1077, Emperor Shirakawa honored the temple by raising it to the status of chokugan-ji, temples where prayers for the wellbeing of both the imperial family and the country were performed. Around this time, the temple was called Jizo-in by worshippers of the main image.

However, in 1257 the temple burned to the ground, and during its reconstruction by Taira no Munehira was moved to its current location, from which the temple took its final name, Mibudera. It is said that in order to raise funds for the restoration, Engaku Shonin established so-called Yuzu Dainenbutsu-e, ritualistic performances that are the origin of the Mibu Kyogen of today. By the Muromachi period, Mibudera had become famous for them, and also earned the moniker Temple of Plays.

Sadly, most of the buildings are relatively recent. Mibudera again burned down in 1788, and was restored in 1825. In 1962 the main hall was destroyed by arson. When it was rebuilt in 1967, it received its current main statue from Nara's Toshodai-ji Temple.

Incence Box with Kyogen scene at Mibudera Temple.

About the Mibu Kyogen

Mibu Kyogen Masks.

The Mibu Kyogen date back around 700 years when they were created by the saint Engaku Shonin. It is said that his teachings attracted thousands of people, and he tried to teach the basic tenets of Buddhism in an easy to understand way. Thus the Mibu Dainenbustu Kyogen were born, pantomime plays accompanied by drums, gong, and flute with the actors wearing costumes and distinctive masks.

Over time, new plays were added that expanded the original religious themes to popular plays from Noh or even contemporary events. Currently, the repertoire consists of 30 plays that are performed three times a year by volunteer actors from the temple's neighborhood. The Mibu Kyogen are also designated as Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property.

About the Temple and its Precincts

Mibudera's main gate lies on the eastern side of the precincts, opposite the Netsuke Museum. It dates back to 1799 and is the oldest building the temple, having survived several fires.

Directly inside, at the right, is the Ichiya Tenjindo where several deities are enshrined, including Rokusho Myojin, the guardian deity of Mibudera. The building is from 1852 and named after Tenjin (Sugawara no Michizane) who is said to have stopped at the temple on the way to his exile.

The main gate of Mibudera.
Mibuzuka at Mibudera Temple.

Further on lies the Amidado, an unassuming modern building. It contains statues of Kannon and Amida for worshippers, as well as a gift shop.

The Amidado provides access to the Mibuzuka, a small island with the tombs of 11 members of the Shinsengumi. The Shinsengumi, established at the end of the Edo period, were a pro-shogunate squad of samurai and civilians. They had their headquarters just outside the Mibudera's north gate and used the temple grounds for their military drills and martial arts practice. A bust of their second leader, Kondo Isami, is the main attraction of the Mibuzuka.

From here, you can also access the Historical Reference Room below the Amidado. It contains some of the temple treasures, a selection of its 190 Mibu Kyogen masks and original paraphanalia of the Shinsengumi.

Opposite the Amidado lies the Mido Hall, the only surviving subtemple of Mibudera. The building is from 1829, and it is home to an 11-faced Kannon Bodhisattva from the Kamakura period, as well as a statue of Hayakushi Nyorai.

Straight ahead from the main gate is the main hall of Mibudera. It was built in 1962 and enshrines a Jizo Bodhisattva from the Heian period, one of the oldest such statues in Japan. The rest of the main hall is bright and decorated with modern fusuma paintings, providing an interesting contrast to the ancient statue in the center.

The main hall also contains the Cultural Property Exhibition Room where more temple treasures are on display.

The main hall of Mibudera.
The Sentai-butto of Mibudera Temple.

The Sentai-butto to the left of the main hall is the most striking structure of Mibudera. It was built in 1988 to mark the 1000th anniversary of the temple's founding, and it is made of 1000 Buddha and Jizo statues that were literally unearthed from all over Kyoto. The shape is reminiscent of pagodas in Myanmar.

To see the famous Dainenbutsu Stage, you have to look behind the modern building that is home ot a day care facility. The Kyogen Hall was built in 1856, and thanks to its unique features, it is now an Important Cultural Property.

The Mibu Kyogen performances three times a year can be watched from the second floor of the daycare center.

Another feature of Mibudera are the additional Jizo statues that can be found in several places on the precincts. People come here to worship for the safety and health of their children. Among citizens, the temple is also known for its "Rent a Jizo" service, where Kyoto's modern neighborhoods may rent a Jizo statue for the Jizobon festival in summer.

While Mibudera is most famous for the Mibu Kyogen, it also has a number of other interesting events. For current dates, please refer to our main event calendar. Enjoy!

One of the many Jizo statues of Mibudera Temple.

Annual Events at Mibudera


2 and 3, 17:00 - 20:00 Setsubun Kyogen Performance During these two days, the Mibu Kyogen "Setsubun" will be performed exclusively several times each evening. This is the only free performance of Mibu Kyogen in the year.


April 29 - May 5, 13:00 - 17:30 Mibu Kyogen Performance On the seven days of Golden Week, a variety of Mibu Kyogen spanning the whole repertoire are performed several times a day.

Mibu Kyogen.
Shinsengumi Memorial Stone at Mibudera.


16 Shinsengumi Memorial On the day of the infamous Ikedaya Incident, a memorial service for the Shinsengumi members is held at the Mibuzuka. Afterwards, there are performances of swordsmanship and poetry recitals.


9, sunset to 21:00 Mibu Rokusai Nenbutsu This religious dance performance is distinct from the Mibu Kyogen. However, the Mibu Rokusai Nenbutsu are Important Folk Cultural Properties in their own right and worth watching.


7 - 9, 13:00 - 17:30 Mibu Kyogen Performance This is the third performance of Mibu Kyogen each year.


31 Joya no Kane The temple bell is rung 108 times to purify all those who hear it for the new year.

More Information

Mibudera online: website (in Japanese, automatic translation into English and Chinese), facebook, twitter, and instagram.

Address: Mibunaginomiya-cho 31, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto 604-8821 (Google Maps)

Directions: Take Kyoto City Bus # 8, 11, 25, 28, 91, 203 to Mibudera-michi.

Opening hours: daily 9:00 - 17:00

Admission: access to precincts is free; the Mibuzuka and the museum require 300 yen (adults); main hall only open on special occasions

Photography: yes, except inside the buildings

Wheelchair accessible: Mostly, except for the museum.

Parking: No, paid car parking nearby; please consider public transport options

The goshuin stamp of Mibudera.

Photo # 9 courtesy of Chris Gladis (MShades) from Kyoto, Japan, CC BY 2.0