Tag Archives: buddhist statues

Scary Statue

19 Apr

Hi blog.

Sorry things have been too quiet for too long at Wild in Japan.  I’ll save you the excuses and get on with this quick post.

Unfortunately, between me starting this post and now that series of large earthquakes struck Kumamoto and Oita, leaving dozens dead and thousands homeless.  My thoughts are with the people trying to put their lives back together.

I’ve actually had this on the back-burner for  several years, waiting for a suitable opportunity to photograph and research some statues.

Well, I have changed schools, and in an attempt to avoid the heavy traffic of route 50, my chosen route takes me past this particular statue.


Apparently, this Jizo was erected in 1685, some 20 years after the land development of the village of Mizuno began.  It is thought that the statue is to the placate the souls of those who died during that period.  Some also claim that it cures children’s illnesses.

This particular Jizo has the names of 48 people associated with its construction carved into it.  Interestingly, the descendants of some of those very people work the very same fields that they opened some 350 years ago.

Many Jizo statues have a nickname, and this one is no exception – it has no fewer than three names:  Bake-Jizo (化け地蔵), Yonaki-Jizo (夜泣き) and Bakku-Jizo (抜苦地蔵).

The Jizo. That is Sanskrit on the bib and the post to the right. The Kanji at the top of the post links it to the Shingon sect.

The most common of these is Bake-Jizo – basically “Ghostly Jizo” – and it is said to have stemmed from a prank involving a face carved into a watermelon with a candle placed inside and strung from a tree near the statue.  A traveller at night reported seeing the ghostly spectacle and the name stuck.

Others, however, say the name simply comes from its remote location.  I’m also willing to believe it may simply be a corruption of Bakku-Jizo (bakku being derived from the Buddhist term bakku-yoraku (抜苦与楽) about the release from suffering).

Keeping my eyes open on the trip、 I noticed at least three stone markers on the same stretch of road.  The area also has several private cemeteries, so it is a haven for stone monument fans.  Pheasants are also sometimes to be seen, and I have spotted a male there several times in the last week or so.

A late 19th century Bato Kannon stone.


A stone marker.


Another Bato Kannon.

Finally, I was recently stopped by police in that area.  A patrol car passed me and pulled me over.  The officer asked for some ID.  When I asked what was up, he replied that it was a security measure for the local transformer station ahead of the G7 Summit – several hundred kilometres away!!

Kotesashi Roadside

6 Jun


May 11th, 1333

Supporters of the imperial family, led by Nitta Yoshisada, crossed the Iruma River on their advance toward Kamakura.  They were engaged by the forces of the Hojo Regents around the village of Kotesashi.

The ensuring battle was won by Nitta, who was able to maintain momentum, winning a battle in Kumegawa village the next day.

A third (and lucky) victory three days later cleared the way for the imperial forces to lay siege to Kamakura.


Fast forward 681 years…


Taking the route 463 bypass to one of the schools I work at, I notice a pair of stone markers at Seishigahashi, near Kotesashi.  After passing it a couple of times, I decide to get a photo and do a bit of research – just in case it is Wild in Japan-worthy.  (A quick look at my stats shows that the most frequent web-engine search terms and most popular posts are related to snakes and racoon dogs… I need to find more snakes!)


The stone markers are a memorial and a road marker (such markers apparently were placed at crossroads near villages to ward off sickness), dating from the Edo Period.

A memorial marker to placate the souls of the dead.


The Seishigahashi marker

The name “Seishigahashi” (誓詞橋) is said to come from the bridge where Nitta swore allegiance to the imperial family.

A little further south is a marker for the Battle of Kotesashigahara, and about 60 metres west of that is Shirohatazuka (白旗塚).  Whether Shirohatazuka is a natural feature or an ancient burial mound is uncertain.  It is said to take its name (literally “White Flag Mound”) from Nitta posting the white banner of the Minamoto/Genji clan on top of it.  (Nitta was a descendent of the Genji, and this was probably symbolic of his going into battle against descendants of the Taira/Heike clan, who fought under a red banner)

Marker stone for the Battle of Kotesashigahara.

Official council information board about the Battle of Kotesashigahara.


Today, the mound has a small shrine on top.


The obligatory shrine.

Bonus Feature:


I recall spotting a stone statue in front of a shop along the main 463 route, and make a detour to investigate.  I find an Edo Period memorial marker and a three-headed, four-armed Bato Kannon.


The Kannon and memorial stone.

Note the “See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” monkeys at the base of the marker.

Count the heads and hands!

Some things are worth getting of your bike and investigating.







A Peek into Hell and Big Buddhas

28 May

Hi blog.

Just a few pictures from Nogogiriyama, where we visited during our (rushed) trip to Chiba during Golden Week.

The crowds, steepness of the stairs (for some, not me) and emergency calls of nature (again, not me!) prevented us from having a thorough look around the Nihon-ji complex, so I’ll let the pictures do most of the talking.

I believe this is the true “View into Hell”. For some reason, most activities in Japan during a holiday period tend to look like this.

The Great Buddha.  Originally carved in 1783, weathering and erosion necessitated reconstruction over three years from 1966; it is now 31 metres tall – about seven metres shorter than its original height.

The Hyakushaku Kannon.  Completed in 1966 after six years, it is dedicated to the war dead and transit safety.

Trying to frame the Kannon wasn’t easy.  As its name suggests, it is 100 shaku tall, about 30 metres.

Jigoku Nozoki – literally “Peek into Hell”.  Unfortunately, the queue was too long to even consider taking a peek.  (I reckon the real peek into hell would be looking back into the queues!)

It was certainly worth visiting, and I would like to go again someday (minus the crowds) for a proper look around.

A Day in Kamakura

19 Apr

“And there is a Japanese idol at Kamakura”

Rudyard Kipling


Kamakura, after some half-dozen visits, still remains my favourite travel destination in Japan.  If fate had swung differently, and I hadn’t put down roots in Saitama, I probably would have made an effort to live there.

Sandwiched between the sea and hills, this coastal city is rich in history and – if you can sneak away from the tourist traps – the opportunity to engage in some good hikes.  My most recent trip was not to be so (boss wife, kids and in-laws in tow), and one of the “highlights” of the trip would be eating the city’s famed whitebait.

[I have never really grasped this preoccupation with travel for the express purpose of eating some purportedly famous dish.  Nor am I a fan of whitebait – it’s essentially a collection of eyes, scales and backbones and other parts of a fish you probably wouldn’t normally eat anyway.  Just let them grow up, OK?]


It was a clear and sunny day (the cool breeze helped keep the clouds away) and the city was fairly crowded.  (I knew we should have left home earlier…)


Our first stop, despite protests of being tired and hungry, was Engakuji in Kitakamakura.  I had wanted to visit here for a long time, mostly because of its monument to Gichin Funakoshi, the “father of modern karate” – a concept that non-karate people find hard to appreciate.   This revelation of the plot brought further protests, but actually the kids enjoyed their little stroll around the temple grounds.  One really needs at least an hour to enjoy the place, but stomachs were rumbling and – heaven forbid – the whitebait might all be sold out, so it was back on the train for Kamakura proper and lunch.

空手に先手なし “Karate ni sente nashi” There is no first attack in karate – Gichin Funakoshi


This bell at Engakuji is a national treasure.


After lunch we headed for Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu. I never tire of seeing this place, and this was my first visit since the giant ginkgo tree had been brought down in a typhoon, so I was curious to see what had become of it.

The stump of the old ginkgo. Apparently, it has taken root.

En route, my son fell asleep, so I took my daughter for a short walk to see the grave of warlord Minamoto no Yoritomo, founder of the Kamakura Shogunate.

The approach to Yoritomo’s grave. That’s a shrine on the left.


Yoritomo’s grave

A rickshaw paused under the cherry blossoms on our return route to the Hachiman Shrine.

On our way back to the Hachiman shrine I pointed out the black kites (Milvus migrans lineatus) to my daughter and encouraged her to listen for their shrill cries.  I even spotted a nest. 

Known locally as tobi or tonbi (鳶), these birds are particularly associated with the Kamakura-Enoshima area, where they have gained an unfortunate reputation for stealing food from visitors.

For me, however, the relationship with black kites goes back to my days in Hokkaido, and the call of the kites brings back memories of wide open spaces with breath-taking mountain views.  If I believed in fortunate omens, the kite would top the list.

Anyway, the kites also play an important role in helping control the Formosan squirrel (Callosciurus erythraeus thaiwanensis) which now runs feral in the Kamakura area.  I didn’t notice any of these squirrels, known in Japan as taiwanrisu (大弯栗鼠) on this trip, although I have seen them in the city on previous trips.  They are now thought to outnumber native squirrels and are out-competing them.


The main shrine building viewed from the approach.


The shrine also serves as a Tendai temple, and here is one of the Nio statues in the form of Yoritomo.


Having explored the Hachiman area sufficiently and even seen Shinto wedding ceremonies taking place, we woke up my son and took the Enoshima line to Hase to visit the Great Buddha


Approaching the Great Buddha.


You start to appreciate the size as you get closer.

Up close its size is quite daunting.

This is another sight worth visiting again and again – centuries old, 12 metre tall bronze statues can’t be found just anywhere.  The fact that it is not housed in any kind of building (not since the last one was washed away in a tsunami several centuries ago) makes for easy photography.  Unfortunately, time was running short, and access to the inside of the statue – yes, you can pay ¥20 to go inside – had finished, much to the disappointment of at least one little boy, as this was what he had been looking forward to the whole trip.  The light was failing, and soon the Kotoku-in announced closing time.  And time for us to head back home.

The two-metre or so straw sandals at Kotoku-in.

In retrospect, any future trips to Kamakura (and there will be!) should start much earlier.  I would have liked to have spent more time at Engakuji.  A hike to Tsurugaoka via Zeniarai Benten Ugafuku shrine would have been far more interesting than a JR train ride.  I would have liked to have visited the Hase Kannon and explored Enoshima.


If you find yourself around Tokyo with a free day or two, Kamakura is a must.  My recommendation?  Spend two days there and explore the whole area!





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

14 Feb

A fairly common sight along backroads 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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