If I said you had a nice Bodhisattva, would you hold it against me?

A fairly common sight along back-roads in my immediate area is Buddhist statues, mostly the various forms of Kannon and Jizo.

The Kamiyasumatsu Jizos, near Akitsu Station. On the extreme left you can see a statue of Kannon

The Kannon next to the Kamiyasumatsu Jizo. You can see what I mean by “roadside statue”!

Jizo (地蔵), or Jizo Bosatsu (地蔵菩薩) is mostly known as a guardian of children and of travellers.  Kannon (観音) is an abbreviation of Kanzeon Bosatsu (観世音菩薩), a deity of compassion and mercy.  Kannon is usually male, but many female forms can be found.  These two bodhisattvas are the most popular among the people and therefore the most frequently depicted in statuary.

My local Jizo, with two ginkgo trees standing like sentinels.

The shrinelet is usually locked; it is opened only on certain occasions.

Another Kannon not far from home.

A multi-armed Kannon dating from the eighteenth century.

The date from the previous Kannon. “Meiwa” (明和) is still clearly visible.

I’ve tried counting the ones on my home-work route, but occasionally stumble upon one that has gone unnoticed before – sometimes in the shadow of a tree or hedge, tucked away at the entrance of a graveyard (where it looks like another grave marker), or behind another stone monument..

A 19th century stone marker dedicated to Bato Kannon. This one is in a construction depot wall!

A close-up of the previous photo.

Some of these statues, or sometimes just a stone with the Kannon’s name – usually Bato Kannon – carved on it, can be found literally on the roadside.  Some have their own housing, ranging from a stone to act as a roof to a wooden shrine, while others are left exposed to the elements.  Some are gathered near temples or shrines – whether they were originally placed there or relocated when modern roads were constructed (part of route 50 follows the old Kamakura Kaido route) is not clear.


What I have been able to ascertain is some of my local statues date from the mid- to late 1700s.  Most have engravings on the side showing the maker of the statue, the village it is dedicated to, and a date.  Some of the dates can still be clearly read, and show names such as Meiwa (明和), which covers a period between 1764 and 1771, and the following Anei (安永) period of 1772-1780.

The original Japanese dating system was based on a period decreed by the reigning emperor or his courtiers.  A new name was chosen if the emperor died and a new one was enthroned, or if something extremely misfortunate happened and it was deemed better to sever the association of the name with the event and start afresh, or if something extremely fortunate occurred, or when certain astrological cycles were complete, or…

A confusing system indeed.


Another Kannon close to home.

A closeup of the previous Kannon. I wonder – are those the 3 monkeys “See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil”?

Stone markers dedicated to Bato Kannon, right next to the Kannon in the previous photos.

Unfortunately, carvings on a 250-plus statue exposed to the weather and covered in lichens are often hard to read without the sun at the right angle, and even harder to photograph…

It is hard to photograph detail on a weathered statue like this…

The Kannon is standing on someone or something…

For those who want more in-depth information on Jizo and Kannon, this website contains a wealth of information, and is well worth looking at.

A Kannon in Sayama, dedicated to the souls of farm animals.

Jizo features in many folk stories.  Some of these are widely known, while many are strictly localised.  I have recently found some from Sayama, and will include these in a future post.

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5 Responses to If I said you had a nice Bodhisattva, would you hold it against me?

  1. Your sightings of Jizo are in Saitama? They are a little more unusual than the rounder forms. Very interesting as are the Bato Kannon. I have been looking at quite a few Bato Kannon in Kanagawa, especially in Kawasaki city. They always seem so run down perhaps from exposure to elements having been at travelers’ crossroads … and also mysterious now that they are mostly locked up in the dark sheds and sometimes having lost their features…

  2. The origin of both Jizo and Jijang is Chinese, the Korean and Japanese pronounce the words almost exactly like it is in Chinese Dizang. The Chinese characters also give away the meaning lit. as Earth Repository…however, the Chinese borrowed the B. from Indian mythology infused early brand of Buddhism – via the Silk Route’s Dunhuang/Longmen’s Ksitigarbha who is one of the four principal bodhisattvas in East Asian Mahayana Buddhism. See “Bodhisattva Earth Repository was originally an earth god in Indian mythology, and in China he came to be revered as a bodhisattva. The Sanskrit name Kshitigarbha represents the power and function of the earth. Kshiti means earth, soil, or abode. Garbha means the womb, which symbolizes fertility, protection, and nourishment. Belief in Bodhisattva Earth Repository prevailed in China during the T’ang dynasty (618-907) and was introduced to Japan in the Nara period (710-794), where it won acceptance among the nobility in the Heian period (794-1185). In the Kamakura period (1185-1333) and after, it spread gradually, and Earth Repository became an object of traditional folk belief. He is said to have the power of granting long life and easy childbirth. Because of the many forms he assumes in order to save people, he is sometimes called “Earth Repository of a Thousand Forms.” He is usually depicted as a monk with a staff in his right hand and a jewel in his left”– (Source:http://www.sgilibrary.org/search_dict.php?id=496). Both China and Korea have their own deviations and legends concerning the Bodhisattva.

  3. wildinjapan says:

    Wikipedia suggestst his name is Ji Jang (지장) or Ji Jang Bosai (지장보살) in Korean. The hanja form is the same as the Japanese kanji. I would be surprised if he didn’t exist in some form in Korea!

  4. GOAT 山羊 says:

    Nice memories there, Andrew. I miss old Jizo-sama – must be the traveller in me, or maybe the child? My favourite one was the enormous figure (bigger than me) at a trail junction in the forest on the climb up O-Yama in Tanzawa. He often wore a jaunty red bonnet. Not sure if he exists in Korea under a different name – I do know that Kannon is here under another name I can’t recall at the moment.

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