The Lost Jizos That Aren't Really Lost
25.10.2016 - 25.10.2016 68 °F
We took the bus to Kiyomizudera (Clear Water Temple) yesterday. Well, we took a bus to as close as a public bus can get to Kiyomizudera. The World Heritage Site Buddhist Temple is on a hill. The public bus stops at the bottom. The hearty walk up the hill, the not so hearty get a taxi to take them part way up, but from there must join the rabble and continue walking up the hill. The street where the vehicles are allowed access was like a parking lot. The upper part of the street, for pedestrians only, looked like this. But the crowd was in a good mood and the humongous number of people made for good people-watching.
Some were pilgrims. Others, although not pilgrims, were dressed in traditional garb. Others were wearing regular street clothes. And of course, there were the students, the boys wearing uniforms that look just like the ones my dad used to wear more than 90 years ago.
I'm sure that some of the people in traditional wear owned their clothes. But given the cost of kimonos and hakama, it's likely the vast majority did not. For example, consider these ladies: Japanese women? Nope, Chinese tourists. Turns out that there are several rental services that will dress you in traditional clothing. For $30-$50 they'll dress you and for $5 more even do your hair.
Strangely enough, we weren't headed for Kiyomizudera itself. Here's a photo of the main temple from a earlier trip: For more information on the temple, here's a link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kiyomizu-dera
Instead, we were looking for Jizos. Here's Wikipedia's discussion of Jizos in Japanese culture:
In Japan, Ksitigarbha, known as Jizō, or Ojizō-sama as he is respectfully known, is one of the most loved of all Japanese divinities. His statues are a common sight, especially by roadsides and in graveyards. Traditionally, he is seen as the guardian of children, and in particular, children who died before their parents. He has been worshipped as the guardian of the souls of mizuko, the souls of stillborn, miscarried or aborted foetuses, in the ritual of mizuko kuyō (水子供養, lit. offering to water children). In Japanese mythology, it is said that the souls of children who die before their parents are unable to cross the mythical Sanzu River on their way to the afterlife because they have not had the chance to accumulate enough good deeds and because they have made the parents suffer. It is believed that Jizō saves these souls from having to pile stones eternally on the bank of the river as penance, by hiding them from demons in his robe, and letting them hear mantras.
Jizō statues are sometimes accompanied by a little pile of stones and pebbles, put there by people in the hope that it would shorten the time children have to suffer in the underworld. (The act is derived from the tradition of building stupas as an act of merit-making.) The statues can sometimes be seen wearing tiny children's clothing or bibs, or with toys, put there by grieving parents to help their lost ones and hoping that Jizō would specially protect them. Sometimes the offerings are put there by parents to thank Ksitigarbha for saving their children from a serious illness. His features are commonly made more baby-like to resemble the children he protects.
As Ksitigarbha is seen as the saviour of souls who have to suffer in the underworld, his statues are common in cemeteries. He is also believed to be one of the protective deities of travellers, the dōsojin, and roadside statues of Jizō are a common sight in Japan. Firefighters are also believed to be under his protection.
Indeed, our blog is named "JIzo Diary" because Jizo protects travelers and our first Kyoto machiya was named "Jizo-An.
Turns out that as Kyoto has grown over the centuries, the many Jizos around town were displaced by new construction. Rather than destroy the Jizos, the powers that be evidently had them moved to the grounds of Kiyomizudera--thousands of them. We weren't able to find the majority of them, but we did find these.
The area around Kiyomizudera is also charming, with authentic traditional Japanese architecture. Consequently, many young couples come here to have their wedding photos done. We really enjoyed this young couple.
There was a very unusual shrine or temple (I think shrine, but I'm not sure) at the end of our walk: At many shrines, worshipers will write wishes on thin placards of wood or on paper and hang them from a board dedicated to that purpose. At this shrine, wishes were written on colored balls of fabric.