Tag Archives: jizo bosatsu

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!!

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.

%d bloggers like this: