Thursday, October 30, 2014

Kyoto: Mibu-dera and the Shinsengumi

Before the Japan trip I scoured the internet for information on the places we might want to visit. I ended up making a small booklet with about a paragraph of info for each historical site, so that when we visited we would kind of know the context of the place.  I'll post my little paragraphs here before each recap post - most of my information came from a mix of samurai archives, jcastle, and wikipedia, so if I got something wrong then I apologize in advance to the true samurai-otaku out there.
My booklet (and itinerary underneath).  Complete with amateur stab binding!
Anyway, it really made a world of difference to have that context! Especially when the itinerary included over ten shrines and nearly just as many castles. Most people can get shrined/castled out after a while, but knowing the story behind the places helped keep our interests up!

Anyway, let's start with our first stop: Mibu-dera

From my booklet:
v Mibu-dera
· 1864ish - Home to the shinsengumi before they moved to Hongan-ji. Kondo Isami and other shinsengumi buried here. Kondo was one of the main shinsengumi leaders, along with Hijikata Toshizo, Okita Souji, and others.  Most famous was the Ikedaya Affair, where the Shinsengumi fought and won against the shishi (anti-government faction). Kondo was beheaded in 1868 in Tokyo by the new government after being accused of murdering Sakamoto Ryoma. (He probably wasn’t the actual assassin though).  He has several grave sites, Mibu-dera being one of them.
· The Buddhist shrine itself is dedicated to Jizo, in charge of pregnant women and babies, and children who die in infancy.  The mon is a cherry flower.  It was founded in 991 AD.  It has been destroyed in several fires, the last being in 1962.  It was rebuilt in 1967. 
A cute chibi shinsengumi
Rurouni Kenshin. Peace Maker Kurogane.  Hakuoki. There are many different anime that take place in the Shinsengumi time period.  Though it is a manga called Kaze Hikaru that really got me interested in the era.  That and Sak's fascination with Sakamoto Ryoma.  (His live-action biography drama "Ryomaden" by NHK is on Hulu now if you are interested in learning about this very influential figure in Japanese history.)  Anyway, might as well see where the "wolves of Mibu" grew their roots!
The actual plaque in the shrine is much better than my booklet.
Though Mibu-dera is kinda really hard to find.  Since it is small and relatively insignificant compared to the plethora of grander shrines/temples in Kyoto, you won't find it on the standard issue tourist bus maps.  I had pinpointed the location via google maps ahead of time, and Sak figured out how to get there via bus (Kyoto's all day 500 yen bus pass is SO useful).

There was a shrine right after getting off the bus stop, but it's not Mibu! There's a small sign pointing you down an alley to Mibu-dera, so follow that instead.
sign from the bus stop
One of the many small streets around Mibu-dera

Once past the main gate, I got confused! There were several shrine-like buildings, but there was also a parking lot in the middle, houses all over, and people riding bikes right through the complex! Very neighborhood and not anything like the larger, more touristy shrines I had visited before.

So we wandered around confused, peering into all the building trying to figure out a) where the shinsengumi graves were and b) where to get a shuincho.  We ended up walking a big circle trying to figure it out, but eventually we gathered some courage and popped into the shrine's charm shop. Aha! You had to go into the charm shop, and out the other side was the entrance to the shinsengumi graves.

It was a 100 yen to go into the memorial garden, which is very small but definitely worth it.
A dragon..with a ball..giggle

They have a big bust of Kondo Isami, one of the head honchos of the shinsengumi.  I'm not sure if he's buried there or not, but several other shinsengumi members are.
Kondo Isami

And to confirm we were in the right place, the wooden wish plaques (ema) were full of otaku artists! I didn't find a Kaze Hikaru one, but many others, fufufu.  There was also a booklet by the entrance where otaku pilgrims could say "I was here".
Gorgeous art on these!!

otaku notes!
Anyway, after visiting Kondo-san, we walked in circles again until we found the goshuincho office, were we bought our book and first seal stamp.

For anyone ever planning a visit there in the future, I will include this google map to hopefully prevent some of the confusion that we had!
I think it'll enlarge a little if you click.
Mibu-dera might not be a huge tourist draw, but I thought it was interesting to see how the neighborhood grew up and into the shrine and its historical roots!
Resident turtle
Resident shinsengumi

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