Miidera

Hear about Miidera on Episode 18 of our Podcast, the Japan Archives.

Miidera
Miidera Temple.

Miidera (三井寺,御井寺) is a Buddhist Temple located close to Lake Biwa in Otsu city.

Folktales

It is mentioned in the Japanese Folktale My Lord Bag of Rice. According to the story, Fujiwara Hidesato donated a bell to the temple after receiving it from The Dragon King of Lake Biwa.1

Yōkai Connections

This temple also has links to the Yōkai Spirit known as Tesso, a plague of rats formed by the reborn Spirit of the once head monk of this Temple by the name of Raigō. The tale is mentioned within the ‘Taiheiki‘. The monk was tasked by the Emperor Shirakawa to pray for the safe birth of his son, and in return the Emperor agreed to expand his temple. However, political maneuvering by Raigō’s rivals ensured the Emperor reneged on his pledge, leading to the monk’s hunger strike, death, and subsequent rebirth as Tesso.2 Another Yōkai linked to this area is known as the Samebito, a strange shark man who cries blood tears which turn into rubies. After being expelled from the service of the Dragon King he goes to live with a man called Tōtaro who he eventually helps through the use of his ruby tears.3

The Bell of Miidera

There are several stories surrounding the Bell of Miidera.

One relates how women were forbidden to touch the bell as it was feared that it would cause the bell to go dull. A woman from Kyoto learns of this tales and so wishes to go and touch the bell. Journeying to the temple she looks at the gleaming bell and tentatively touches it. Upon the touching the bell, the part where her fingers touched shrank leaving an indentation. The rest of the bell is said to have then lots its shine.

Another tale relates to Benkei, who was the retainer of Miyamoto no Yoshitsune. The tale relates that when he was still a monk he sorely wanted to steal the bell to install it into his own monastery. He thought to roll the heavy bell down the hill, but fearing the monks would hear him and discover his theft he used his great strength to place the bell on one end of the cross-beam and his paper lantern on the other and proceeded the carry the heavy burden for seven miles. Eating a meal after arriving back at his temple, he then allows the monks to strike the bell.

However, instead the bell made a cry of ‘I want to go back to Miidera!’ They hoped that sprinkling the bell with holy water would appease it, but still the bell longed for Miidera. Benkei grew angry and so he struck the bell as hard as he could hoping it would break, but it did not. All it did was cry again, ‘I want to go back to Miidera!’ He took the bell to the top of a mountain, kicking it down the slope. Benkei no longer wanting the bell. Eventually the priests of Miidera found their bell once more and hung it back in its rightful place. It is said though the bell never spoke again, and merely rung like other temple bells.3

Footnotes

1. Ozaki, Y.T. (1903) “The Japanese Fairy Book”. Westminster: Archibald Constable & Co. Ltd.
2. Yoda, H. and Alt, M. (2016) “Japandemonium: Illustrated: The Yokai Encyclopaedia of Toriyama Sekien.”. New York: over Publications, Inc.
3. Davis, F.H. (1992) “Myths and Legends of Japan.” New York: Dover Publications, Inc.

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