Translated by Hilary Keyes
Japanese Encyclopedia: Jizō ("Protector of Children And Travelers")
Written by MATCHA
Throughout Japan there are small stone statues of Jizō - the figure of the Buddha as a monk and protector of children and travelers. This deity is affectionately called O-Jizō-san and is close to the hearts of the Japanese.
Jizō (地蔵) are small stone statues that can be seen all across Japan. These Buddhist statues are affectionately referred to as O-Jizō-san by most Japanese.
Jizō is the Buddha in the form of an ascetic monk who guides and aids those living in the present world and throughout the cosmos. Beloved and kept close-by since old times, Jizō is said to offer compassion and help to people who truly need it.
Due to the popularity of an old folktale called "Kasa Jizō" (笠地蔵, *1), it became common for people who are seeking help to come to Jizō when they have problems or wishes.
Let's take a look at some of the representations of Jizō found all across Japan.
*1 Kasa Jizō: the tale of a poor but kind-hearted elderly couple. The grandfather cleared the snow-covered roadside and placed a conical straw cap on the Jizō statue to protect it from the snow; in turn the Jizō aided the old couple when they needed help.
Wishes for Children: Sanzen'in Temple in Kyotoand Warabe Jizō
Consistently at the top of international sightseeing rankings is Kyoto. A quiet temple, Sanzen'in Temple in Ōhara, Kyoto, is also well-known for its beautiful moss-covered garden. Throughout this garden there are warabe Jizō (Jizō statues in the shape of children).
Standing, sitting, laying down, head tipped in thought... each and every one of these statues is charming in its own way and gives the viewer a sense of peace and comfort. While strolling through the garden, it is fun to search for hidden Jizō statues. "Warabe" is an old word for "child"and these Jizō statues are said to grant wishes regarding safe childbirth, pregnancy and the protection of children.
If you are wishing for a safe labor or the protection of your children, why not make a visit to Sanzen'in Temple a part of your trip to Kyoto?
Visiting hours depend on the season, but they are generally between 9:00 and 16:00 in all seasons. The admission fee is 700 yen for adults. As it is somewhat difficult to reach from the airport or train stations, it might be most convenient to visit Sanzen'in Temple by joining a tour.
Prayers for Health And Longevity: Togenuki Jizō in Sugamo
Kōganji Temple, Photo by Guilhem Vellut Flickr
The togenuki Jizō can be found in Sugamo, Tokyo, an area known as the "grandmothers' Harajuku" district. Unfortunately, while Jizō are not the object of worship at Kōganji Temple, there are drawings of Jizō on washi (Japanese paper), known as "miei" (御影, Buddhist images) and measuring 4 cm x 1.5 cm, which are available as souvenirs of the shrine. It is believed that, by carrying these miei on yourself and praying to O-Jizō-san to heal you, if you tear up one drawing into small pieces and swallow them with plenty of water, your illness or injury will be healed. Five miei cost 100 yen and may be purchased while the shrine is open from 6:00 - 17:00.
The togenuki Jizō at Kōganji are easily reached as the temple is located a five-minute walk away from the Sugamo station on the JR Yamanote line. As there is no parking lot connected to the temple and parking restrictions in the area are quite severe, those traveling by rental car will need to take extra care when visiting Kōganji Temple. With free entrance and convenient access from the station, if you or a member of your family is worried about their health, why not make a trip to Kōganji Temple and see if it helps?
If You Have a Wish You Need Granted - Kofuku Jizō at Suzumushi Temple
Kegonji, also known as Suzumushi Temple
Famous for its year-round cricket sounds, Kegonji Temple in the Myōtosan area of Kyotois nicknamed Suzumushi Temple ("cricket temple"). At the top of a flight of stone steps, standing just beyond the gate is "Kofuku Jizō", the only Jizō in Japan wearing waraji ("straw sandals", *3), which he wears in order to travel to the wish-maker's home in order to help them.
When making your request to Jizō, in order for him to come help you, you must include your name and your address in your prayer. You should always have an omamori (protective charm) from the temple on yourself so that you will be protected from any misfortune and the Jizō can find you and assist you. When your wish is granted, you have within the year to either revisit the temple or express your gratitude in a letter to the Jizō. Open from 9:00 - 17:00, admission to the temple costs 500 yen for adults, while the omamori charm costs 300 yen. It takes roughly an hour to reach Suzumushi Temple and is accessed most easily by taking the KyotoBus from Kyotostation directly.
O-Jizō-san is a deity dear to the Japanese, because it has been looking after their lives since ancient times. While visiting Japan, how about looking for Jizō statues? You just might have your prayers answered.
*3 Waraji: woven straw sandal-like footwear worn for centuries in Japan.