Japanese Jizo

Jizo are ubiquitous in Japan. They are lovely little statues, usually made of stone, and many have knitted bonnets and shawls of red wool. In Japan it is believed that when a baby is miscarried or dies early it has not had an opportunity to build the good karma required to enter the afterlife. In Japanese Mythology, children who die young are doomed to stack rocks on the sides of riverbeds. They are also vulnerable to the kappa, mischievious water imps who like to trick people and animals. The spirits of the children are protected by the jizo, or ojizo-sama, and smuggled into the afterlife in the sleeves of their robes. They are a symbol of compassion and are a great solace to parents and family, who knit for the jizo in order to win their attention and therefore the assistance their lost child needs to cross over. Jizo is actually a bodhisattva, who has sacrificed his position in Nirvana in order to help Japanese children.

I have seen many Jizo statues in Japan. Some of my favourite statues are in Tokyo, near the Tokyo Tower.

Some more beautiful statues at Kiyomizu-dera and Arashiyama in Kyoto.

The most amazing Jizo I have seen was on my recent trip to Nikko. Sitting in a long line overlooking the amazing Kanmangafuchi Abyss are bakejizo, or ghost jizo. The exact number of the Narabi jizo are said to be unknown, as apparently whenever someone counts them more than once the number changes each time. There are around 74 statues, but there was once 100. Some were washed away in a flood in 1902. However, the remains of the washed away jizo are still venerated, and some still have little red bonnets. The statues were carved by the disciples of Tenkai (1536-1643).

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