The Shinsengumi

March 24, 2020

by Shiori Azuma & Mio Sahashi

What is the Shinsengumi?

Toshizo Hijikata

The Shinsengumi was like a police group (1863-1869). They had kept Kyoto safe and protected the general who was Ieyasu Tokugawa. He was a leader of the Tokugawa government, now similar to a president or a prime minister. The group was made by the Tokugawa government in 1863. The Shinsengumi had worked for 6 years. About 200 people who were called Bushi (Bushi had a Japanese sword and were one of the social positions like curt nobles from the 10th century to the 19th century) belonged to the Shinsengumi. At that time, in Japan, there were clearly social positions like police, and the Bushi had higher positions than citizens. The Shinsengumi leader was Isami Kondo, and he was a handsome man. He was killed by the government when he was 35 years old. Even now, he is a famous person in Japan. Toshizo Hijikata was a sub- leader of the Shinsengumi, and he was a very strict person, so many members of the Shinsengumi were afraid of him. He made many rules. For example, if anyone broke his rules, he commanded the people to Seppuku. Seppuku means cutting your stomach open by yourself. This Seppuku system was a kind of death penalty in Japan from 998 to 1873. Now, in Japan, we don’t have a Seppuku system though. So, the main reasons people died was because of Seppuku. In this article we are going to talk about the supervision at Sumiya (a luxury restaurant) by the Shinsengumi and how the Shinsengumi was established at Mibu temple.

Supervision at Sumiya by the Shinsengumi

Inside of Sumiya

Sumiya was a luxury restaurant for curt nobles in Shimabara, Kyoto, and it was open from 1853 to 1985. At that time, Sumiya was a very popular restaurant in Kyoto. People invited Geiko-San (Geiko-San are traditional Japanese women who treat guests with dance or music at a party) to Sumiya and secret meetings were open for important politics. It was close to a military station, which was built to protect people who earned money to shut down the Tokugawa government. Normally, when people went to Sumiya, they needed to leave their sword at the entrance, but the Shinsengumi could take their sword as supervision even inside. When the Shinsengumi fought with someone who behaved rudely, one of the Shinsengumi made a scratch on the wall with their sword on the first floor. Actually, nobody knows who made the scratches on the wall, but some theories remain. One of the theories was made by Serizawa Kamo. He was a member of the Shinsengumi, and he was the first leader of the Shinsengumi before Isami Kondo. He liked to drink alcohol and had a bad habit when he was drunk. That’s why there is a theory that he may have made a scratch on the wall with his sword. The room on the first floor was called, “matsu no ma”. It was the biggest room in Sumiya, but in 1925, part of it burned down. Today, Sumiya is a museum of ‘Omotenashi’. It means to treat customers with hospitality, entertainment and service. Sumiya is open to the public, so we can see the inside and also the sword cuts. The appearance of the restaurant has not changed from before. Not only the appearance, but also the inside is good. In 1952, this building was chosen as an important cultural property in Japan.

A scrach on the wall with a sword

How to get to Sumiya

From Kyoto station, take Kyoto City Bus No.206 and get off at the Shimabara-Guchi stop. You can see it in front of you.

The Shinsengumi was Established at Mibu Temple

Mibu Temple
The grave of Toshizo Hijikata and Isami Kondo
The statue of Isami Kondo

The Shinsengumi was established at Mibu Temple in 1863. Three houses that were close to Mibu Temple became military stations (Yagi House, Maekawa House, and Nanbu House) for the Shinsengumi. In the end of the Edo period (1793-1868), the base of the Shinsengumi was the Yagi House. The Shinsengumi were training about using cannons and skills for protecting themselves and killing enemies inside of Mibu Temple. Because of the Shinsengumi’s training, visitors to Mibu Temple were decreasing at that time. On the other hand, there were good things that happened at Mibu Temple. For example, Soji Okita, who was the first corps leader, was the most famous member of the Shinsengumi even now in Japan, even though he died long ago. He played with children inside Mibu Temple. This was a good thing for the people. In 1863, Kamo Serizawa, who was another member of the Shinsengumi, was killed by Toshizo Hijikata and Soji Okita and more at Yagi House. Kamo Serizawa was a trouble maker, and he had bad behavior due to alcohol. So, he made a lot of problems for people. He was killed after he came back to Yagi House from Sumiya. Also, at Mibu Temple, there is a grave of the eleven members of the Shinsengumi called Mibuzuka. And there is a statue of Isami Kondo (the leader of the Shinsengumi). If you want to see the grave, you can see it, and you can also see two of the military stations (Yagi House and Maekawa House). People who live around Mibu temple now want to protect the military stations. So, they are working hard to keep the temple in good condition for later generations.

How to Get to Mibu Temple

From Kyoto station, take Kyoto City Bus No.26 or No.28 and get off at Mibudera-Michi. It takes 1 to 2 minutes on foot.


In conclusion, the Shinsengumi just wanted to protect the Tokugawa government and their general. They also had strong power, but some of them were wrong to use this power. So, some of them were killed by the Shinsengumi. We wrote about 2 places which are connected to the Shinsengumi. The first place is Sumiya which was a luxury restaurant. The Shinsengumi went there often because military stations were close to Sumiya. The second place is Mibu Temple where the Shinsengumi was established. Mibu temple and the Shinsengumi were deeply connected. Japanese people were moved by the Shinsengumi; thus, in Japan, there are many animation (e.g., Hakuoki, Rurouni-Kenshin), movies, novels, and manga about the Shinsengumi.

Mibu Temple

by Maki Mizobata; Natsuki Mitsuya

Mibu Temple

Mibu Temple, which belongs to the Risshu sect of Buddhism, was built in 991 by Kaiken Souzu. The temple was called Hotozanmai-ji, or Jizo-in, from the principal deity, “Enmei-Jizo-Bosatsu” (a guardian deity of children), which is an important cultural asset. And there are many images of other guardian deities as well.

This temple is believed to have the power to ward off evil and to improve the future. Yakuyoke-setsubun-e, which is a bean scattering ceremony to ward off evil and celebrate the coming of spring, is held in February. This ceremony has been held for about nine hundred years.

  • Introduction of structures

  • Dainenbutsu-do (An important cultural asset)

  • This temple was rebuilt in 1856. Another name for this building is “Kyogen-do.”The Mibu Kyogen play (see below for further details) is held on the second floor here. There is not only the main stage and a kind of road, “hashi-gakari,” which crosses from the opening of a mirror to the stage and has a parapet, but there are also the unique structures “tobikomi” and “kemono-dai,” which are not found on other Noh stages.
  • Chu-in

    This is a branch temple, and the present hall, which houses an image of Buddha, was rebuilt in 1829. The main Bodhisattva is “Juichimen-kannon-bosatsu.”

  • Mibugawa-inari-do:

    Inari Myojin is deified in this hall. The name “Mibugawa” comes from the area name of the neighborhood “Mibugawa.” People pray to the god for success in business or for securing prosperity for descendants.


    This Jizo Bodhisattva was sculpted in the early Edo era (1603-1867). People call it “Mizukake-Jizo,” and they say that if someone prays while splashing it with water, one of his or her wishes will come true.

  • Benten-do

    This building was rebuilt in 1894. “Benten,” which is the main image of Buddha here and which we cannot usually see, was moved from Enmei Temple of Kiyomizu Temple. It is said that praying to this image is effective in securing prosperity for descendants and for getting much money.

  • Amida-do

    This was rebuilt in 2002, and “Amida-nyorai-sanson-zo” is housed there. “Amida” means Amitabha Buddha; “nyorai” is an honorific title for Buddha; “sanson” represents three respected persons, a lord, father and teacher; and “zo” means a statue. This building is the entrance to “Mibu-zuka” (a grave). In the basement, there is a museum of the history of Mibu Temple. We can view images of Buddha, treasures and so on.

  • Yonaki-Jizo

    This stone image of Buddha in front of Amida-do is called “Yonaki-Jizo.” People believe it is effective in providing cures and in stopping children from crying at night.

  • Ichiya-tenjin-do

    This structure was rebuilt in 1852. In the center is “Ichiya-tenjin” (a god of the heavens). On the right is “Kinpira-daigongen” (appearance of Buddha), and on the left is “Rokusho-myojin” (a god) who mitigates and protects Mibu Temple. The name of “Ichiya-tenjin” comes from a story in which a god of the heavens Sugawarano Michizane came to the Mibu area and lived here when he was exiled a long time ago. These images are effective in improving academic ability.

  • Sentai-butto

    This Buddha tower was built in 1989. The stone images of Buddha here were collected from various places within Kyoto city during the Meiji era (1868-1912) when the city planning of Kyoto was implemented. About a thousand statues, including Jizo Bodhisattva and Amitabha Buddha, are collected here from the Muromachi era (1336-1573).

  • Shoro (Bell tower)

    It was rebuilt in 1851, and the bell was cast in 1847. The general public can ring the bell on every August 9th and 10th and also on New Year’s Eve.

    • Connection between Mibu temple and Shinsen-gumi

      Mibuzuka is an island in a pond in the eastern section of Mibu Temple.
      There you can see the bust statue of Isami Kondo who was a leader of theShinsen-gumi, which was a group of samurai who played active political roles after 1863. Also, there are the graves of members of the Shinsen-gumi:Kamo Serizawa and Goro Hirayama, who were killed in the place wherethey stayed, and the mass grave of seven other members.

      The precinct surrounding Mibu Temple was used as a training place by theShinsen-gumi. They practiced military arts, horsemanship, and marksman- ship. Also, there are many anecdotes about members of the Shinsen-gumi.On Bojo Street in front of the east gate, two traces of the place where they stayed are left even now.

    • Mibu Kyogen

      The correct name of Mibu Kyogen is “Mibu Dainenbutsu Kyogen.” Kyoto people have called it “Mibu-san no Kan Den Den” for a long time. Kyogen is the classical Japanese comedy which is performed between each Noh play.
      Mibu Kyogen was designated as an important intangible cultural asset in1976. This was the first designation in Kyoto prefecture. And this kyogen is one of the three famous kyogens of Kyoto. (The others are Saga DainenbutsuKyogen at Seiryo Temple and Senbon Enmado Kyogen at Injo Temple.)

      It is believed that Mibu Kyogen was started by Enkaku Syonin, or Saint Enkaku, (1223-1311) in 1300. Because there were no loudspeakers at that time, pantomime was the best way to introduce Buddhism to a lot of people.In the modern era, Mibu Kyogen drifted away from its original religious purpose and developed into a popular rtainment. Now, there are 30 kyogen plays in Mibu Kyogen. Even though Mibu Kyogen has become entertainment, all of the kyogen plays have a moral. Especially, they tell us aboutright and wrong and about punitive justice.


Characteristics of Mibu Kyogen are as follows

l. Performers don’t speak during the performance.
2. All performers wear masks, and they show their expressions by using traditional Japanese bell, drum and flute.
3. All performers are men.

Dates of performances are as follows

l. Dainenbutsue: 9 days from April 21st to 29th
*13:00-17:30 and 18:00-22:00 only on April 29th

2. Autumn Performance: 3 days until Health Sports Day
*Health Sports Day is the second Monday of October

3. Setsubun, or the end of winter, Performance: 2 days before and on the end of winter
*Setsubun is on or about February 3rd
Perform the play “Setsubun” at the end of each hour from 13:00 to 20:00

Originally, Dainenbutsue in April is a Buddhist memorial service, and it is performed in dedication to the principal image of Mibu Temple. “Enmei-Jizo-Bosatsu.” In Kyoto, there is a tradition at Setsubun of paying homageat Mibu Temple by dedicating a houraku, or an unglazed plate, to the temple. The dedicated unglazed plates are broken in the kyogen play “Houraku Wari,” which is performed during Dainenbutsue. It is believed that people can expel evil spirits in this way and ensure a better future. The performers of Mibu Kyogen are not professional actors but amateurs,a group of about 40 people living around Mibu Temple, including elementary school students and seniors in their 80s.

Access from Kyoto Station

Take Kyoto city bus No.28 and get off at the “Mibudera Michi” bus stop.


Mibuzuka: 8:30-16:30


Mibuzuka: 100 yen
History Museum of Mibu Temple: 200 yen
Mibu Kyogen:
Adult: 800 yen
Junior high school and high school student: 600 yen
Elementary school student: 400 yen