Not only carp live in the pond (Photo: Peter Sidell)

Mibudera Temple in Kyoto

History, statues and songs at this charming temple

Not only carp live in the pond (Photo: Peter Sidell)
Peter Sidell   - 3 min read

Something I'll always enjoy about Kyoto is the unexpected discoveries, the random little shops and temples and shrines that I'll happen upon while I'm walking around. Looking at a map on the street by Omiya station I saw this temple was nearby, so off I went to duly investigate, and found it a fascinating little place.

The grounds are quite spacious, with a number of halls and statues, strikingly a conical stupa decorated with exactly a thousand small statues, and one hall featuring a theater stage where performances are sometimes held. Near the east gate is the Amida-do, a small hall where there's enshrined a statue of the Amida Nyorai, the Buddha of Limitless Light.

This bridge takes you from the material world to the spiritual realm
This bridge takes you from the material world to the spiritual realm

It's when you pay the small entrance fee in the Amida-do that things get interesting. Go through and cross the red bridge - symbolically, from the material to the spiritual world - and you'll find the graves of the leader and some members of the Shinsengumi, a special military police force formed by the Tokugawa shogunate in the early 1860s, who used the temple precincts as their training ground.

There's some information about the force, a bust of its leader, Kondo Isami, and a tower in which some of Isami's hair is enshrined. And as you take all this in, you can listen to "Ah Shinsengumi", an 1955 enka song about the corps, by pressing a button on a monument by the graves.

A visiting Jizo statue from Oregon
A visiting Jizo statue from Oregon

Also here you can go downstairs, to what's called the Historical Document Viewing Room. It does indeed have some documents on display, but they also have here some of the temple's treasures, including some beautiful Buddhist statues. Then as you leave you come back past the ticket counter through the Amida-do, where there's a small shop selling gifts related to the temple and the Shinsengumi.

I thought I'd finished here so I left, but looking at the website suggests there's more to see in the worship halls, so next time I visit Kyoto I'll have to go back!

Getting there

The temple is immediately next to the Kyoto Seishu Netsuke Art Museum, some way from Kyoto station, but just a few minutes' walk from Omiya station on the Hankyu line, or Shijo-Omiya station on the Keifuku Arashiyama line. If you want to use JR, it's about ten minutes' walk from Tambaguchi station on the Sagano line, or if you're on the buses, get off at Mibudera-michi.

Peter Sidell

Peter Sidell @peter.sidell

I came to Japan from Manchester, England in 2003, and have travelled a lot since then, around Japan and in Asia. When I'm not working, I write satire and perform stand-up comedy in and around Tokyo. Check YouTube for a taste.