Have you seen the cute looking Jizo statues before? There are a lot of Jizo statues in Japan but not many (foreign) people know what they are and wonder the reason why they are found on the street. They even appear in the Japanese films such as “Tonari no Totoro (My Neighbor Totoro)” from Studio Ghibli. In this article, we briefly introduce what Jizo statues are, and some famous temples where you can see unique Jizo statues in Japan.
What are Jizo statues?
The statues resemble Jizo, also called O-Jizo-san or O-Jizo-sama, the guardian deity of children and travelers. Jizo statues can be made of clay, bronze but are mostly carved out of stone. They can be found in many places, for example, at Buddhist temples, graveyards, and at the side of the road.
What’s the role of Jizo statues?
The primary role of Jizo is to protect children. Jizo also protects the souls of unborn babies and children who have died before their parents. In Japanese beliefs, the soul of children who died before their parents passed away, cannot cross the river to the afterlife. The Jizo appears to protect these children from devils and hide them in his clothing from the evil spirits. Jizo then looks after them as a guardian on behalf of their parents.
Why are they wearing red bibs?
Many Jizo statues wear red bibs and hoods. Since ancient times in Japan, red is believed to ward off evil. Thus, some people put red bibs and hoods on Jizo to protect this guardian deity, and others who have lost their baby pray that the spirits can go to heaven without suffering.
Dōsojin – a guardian of travelers
The other role of Jizo is to protect travelers. This tradition is derived from the ancient belief of Dōsojin, a deity that to protect travelers, and generally it is in the shape of a couple. The statues of Dōsojin were placed on mountain pathways, crossroads, and at the borders of villages.
Now we will introduce some of the famous places where you can find Jizo statues in Japan.
Where to find Jizo statues in Japan
1. Hasedera Temple
Hasedera or Hase Temple is located in Kamakura in Kanagawa Prefecture founded in 736. The eleven-headed statue of Kannon, the goddess of mercy is a famous attraction at the temple. This statue, which can be seen in the main temple building, is 9.18 meter tall and one of the biggest wooden sculptures in Japan. The temple has the Jizo-do Hall where you can find a large number of Jizo statues called Sentai Jizo or Thousand Jizo standing in long rows. Mizukake Jizo (water-pouring Jizo) is placed near the hall as well. It is believed that one can purify one’s mind by gently pouring water over the statue.
Hasedera is also famous for the adorable looking Ryoen Jizo. You can spot these three smiling Jizo statues at three different spots and it is said that if you can find all of them, you will have a good relationship.
From Kamakura Station, take the Enoden railway line, get off at Hase Station. The temple is a 5 minute walk from the Hase Station.
2. Daisho-in Temple
Daisho-in Temple is located in Itsukushima (also known as Miyajima) in Hiroshima Prefecture. In Itsukushima, most people just visit the famous Itsukushima Shrine and the vermillion torii gate which seems to float in the ocean when the tide is high. However, Daisho-in is also worth visiting for its rich history and uniqueness.
Daisho-in Temple is situated only a 5 minute walk from Itsukushima Shrine. It is the 14th temple in the Chugoku 33 Kannon Pilgrimage. The temple was founded in 806 by the monk Kukai, who was the founder of the Shingon sect of Buddhism.
As you enter the temple ground, you will find hundreds of statues of Jizo in many different shapes and sizes and different facial expressions, creating the site totally mysterious and unique. Some Jizo statues stand as a group of three and pose like “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil”, where others can be even in shapes of famous Japanese cartoon characters.
5 minute walk from Itsukushima Shrine, or 15 minute walk from the ferry pier on Itsukushima.
3. Zojo-ji Temple
Founded in 1393, Zojo-ji Temple is the head temple of the Jodo sect of Buddhism in the Kanto Region. The temple is located in central Tokyo, right next to Tokyo Tower. The temple was relocated to the present site in 1598 when Tokugawa Ieyasu, founder of the Tokugawa shogunate, entered Edo (Tokyo) in 1590 and made this temple as the family temple of the Tokugawa family. Due to the earthquake and wars in the past, the main entrance gate which was built in 1622 is the only original construction on the site today.
On the northern end of the temple ground, you will find Sentai Kosodate Jizoson which literally means “a thousand child-nurturing Jizo ”. There are about 1,300 Jizo statues wearing red hoods and holding pinwheels. Parents who wish for their children’s health and parents whose children have passed away donate Jizo statues here and take care of them.
10 minute walk from Onarimon or Shibakoen Station on the Mita Subway Line, Daimon Station on the Oedo Subway Line, and Hamamatsucho Station on the JR Yamanote and JR Keihin-Tohoku Line.
4. Sanzen-in Temple
Sanzen-in Temple can be found in the town of Ohara, which is about an hour north of central Kyoto. The temple was originally established as a hermitage by the monk Saicho in the early 9th century when he founded Enryakuji Temple on Mount Hiei in the Shiga Prefecture. Sanzen-in Temple is one of the five Tendai Monzeki temples, in which certain members of the imperial family served here as the head priest.
The temple consists of several temple buildings, gardens with a small pond and hill, and walking paths. It offers tranquil atmosphere and beautiful sceneries all year around. Do not miss the view of the Ojo Gokuraku-in Hall seen from the main hall called Shiden through maple and cedar trees across a moss garden.
One of the features of the temple that attracts visitors is the Jizo statues peeking out from the moss-covered ground. Some of them are small and placed relatively far from the walking paths, so you have to look carefully to find them. There are people who visit the temple to take pictures of the amusing and cute Jizo statues.
From Kyoto Station, take a bus route 17 bound for Ohara (1 hour), get off at Ohara bus stop, and walk for about 10 minutes.
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