Mibu Kyogen (壬生狂言)

Mibu Kyogen is a form of pantomime skits performed at the Mibu-dera Temple in Kyoto every year at the time of the Setsubun Festival (February), in April, and October coinciding with the annual cycle of Noh performances. It is a form of Dainenbutsu Kyogen. It has been designated as an significant intangible folk cultural asset.

The performers wear masks during the performance and have no spoken parts, and are accompanied by a small instrumental ensemble including a gong, a drum, and a Japanese flute (the ensemble is called a "hayashi"). There are thirty pieces in the Mibu Kyogen repertoire. The pieces include many that are based on The Tale of the Heike, the Otogi Zoshi, and other moral tales that serve as vehicles of transmitting a variety of traditional teachings. The repertoire includes a number of pieces that involve the audience in a highly tactile manner, including a piece in which senbei rice crackers are tossed to spectators in the audience Atago mairi (Pilgrimage to Mount Atago), a piece in which paper ropes are thrown into the audience Tsuchigumo (The Demon Spider), a piece in which there is a tightrope walking scene Nue (Nightmare Bird), and a piece in which pottery plates are smashed Horaku wari (Smashing Plates).

The performer of Mibu Kyogen are all members of the Mibu Dainenbutsu Association. The Mibu Dainenbutsu Association is formed from approximately 40 members, spanning a wide age group from local elementary school students to senior citizens, who take time out from their normal occupations as commuting students, salaried employees, running small business and the like to rehearse and perform.

There are three public performances per year.

During February there is a series of performance during the Setsubun holiday (Bean Throwing Festival), called the Setsubun-e, which starts on the day before Setsubun, with the final performance on the day of the Setsubun Festival.

In April there is a series of performances that spans nine days from the 21st through the 29th, called the Dainenbutsu-e.

In October there is a special series of performances spanning three days ending on Sports Day.


According to legend, the Yuzunenbutsu Kyogen was created during the Kamakura period around the year 1300 by Yuzunenbutsu priest Engaku Shonin. It is said that in an era during which there were no megaphones and the like, he sought to spread Buddhist teachings to the populous through a form of easy to understand silent drama using exaggerated movements and gestures. According to one interpretation, the reason that Nenbutsu Kyogen was made into a silent form of dramatic art was because it had originally been performed before a large gathering of people who were to chant the Nenbutsu, so that even if the plays did include dialog it might become drowned out by the chanting. Note that there is another form of Nenbutsu Kyogen performed at Injo-ji Temple (Kyoto City) that does include dialog.

During the Edo period the role of the Nenbutsu Kyogen as a vehicle for spreading Buddhist teachings gradually became diluted, with the Kyogen taking on more of a form of entertainment for the masses. Many new pieces were drawn up during this period, taking their material from Noh, Kyogen and old tales.

List of pieces

Atago mairi (Pilgrimage to Mount Atago) Note that this piece was not originally performed at Mibu-dera Temple, but at Seiryo-ji Temple

Adachigahara (The Goblin of Adachigahara)

Oeyama (The Demon of Oeyama)

Oharame (The Women of Ohara Village)

Oketori (A Scramble for a Bucket)

The most representative piece in the Mibu Kyogen repertoire is said to be a masterpiece among the ancient Japanese dramas. A beautiful woman who has only three fingers on her left hand visits the Bodhisattva Jizo (guardian deity of children), and scoops up a ladle full of aka no mizu (water to be offered to a Buddha or deity). An elderly man (both wealthy and retired) who saw this, immediately started making flirtatious small talk with the young woman in an all out effort to seduce her. The elderly man's wife, an unseemly old woman of ill disposition, arrives on the scene and becomes furious. The elderly man kicks his wife, knocking her to the ground, and flees with the young woman. The old woman looks in a mirror and starts putting on makeup, but breaks down in tears of despair recognizing her unseemliness.

Gaki-zumo (The Wrestling Match of the Hungry Ghosts)

Kanidon (Master Crab's Revenge)

Kumasaka (The Bandit Chief)

Sai no Kawara (Torture of a Dead Man)

Sakegura Kanegura (Sake Storehouse Gold Storehouse)

Setsubun (Demons Out, Fortune In)

Pieces performed in February for the Setsubun-e. The Setsubune Festival features the throwing of beans to ward off evil spirits.

Daibutsu Kuyo (Offering at the Great Buddha)

Daikoku Gari (The Monk's Wife)

Tamamonomae (The beautiful Fox Witch)

Tsuchigumo (The Demon Spider)

Dojoji (The Temple of Dojoji, also called The Bell of Jealousy)

Nue (Nightmare Bird)

Hashi Benkei (Benkei on the Bridge)

Hanaori (Breaking Cherry Branches)

Hana Nusubito (The Flower Thief)

Funa Benkei (Benkei in the Boat)

Horaku wari (Smashing Plates)

Horaku wari is always the first piece put on during the April performances of the Dainenbutsu Association, in which the plates donated during the February Setsubun-e are smashed in the finale. When the horaku plates are broken, the wish of the person donating the plate comes true.

Horikawa Gosho (The Attack on the Horikawa Palace)

Honno-ji Temple (The Assassination Of Nobunaga)

Bofuri (Stick Waving)

Momijigari (The Maple Viewing)

Yamabana Tororo (Grated Yam at the Yamabana Teahouse)

Yutate (The Boiling Water Ritual)

Youchi Soga (Soga Brothers' Night Attack)

Rashomon (Demon Gate)

[Original Japanese]