Have you seen these small cute smiling faces carved on stone on the road sides of Japan? These sculptures will never go unnoticed by any traveler. These are found near the mountains, temples, bridges or at the end of a street. Generally, these sculptures are called Dosojin, protector of travelers and pedestrians.
In olden days these were placed at the village borders to keep away the evil spirits. Some of these are adorned with scarves, bibs or haori, which make them more adorable and appealing. These are Jizo or Ojizo-sama. Jizo, one of the dosojin, are Shinto deities and are the Sanskrit version of ksitigarbha which means womb of the earth. It is one of the four bodisattwas (bosatsu in Japanese) in Asian Buddhism. The two other dosojin are Sae no kami and Chimato no kami.
In Tokyo, Zojo-ji temple, a ceremony called Mizuku koyo is performed as an offering for the Jizo. Kanmangafuchi in Nikko area is known for 70 stone statues of Jizo in a row. The Kamakura, Hasedera temple premise also possesses a group of Jizo sculptures. Sometimes these statues are found in sets of 6 because of the belief that Jizo is present in all six realms of Buddhist cosmology. Narihira-san Tosenji, another Buddhist temple is famous for bound-Jizo where ropes are tied on the statue as a form of prayer and when the wish is fulfilled, the rope is untied from the statue. The presence of a Shinto deity in a Buddhist shrine clearly shows the Shinto-Buddhist syncretism. The ethnicity and religious integrity of Japanese culture are still depicted in the form of Jizo.
As like other dosojin, Jizo is also a guardian deity, especially for children. That is why they are always decked with bibs or kerchiefs over their head. Generally they are portrayed as a tonsured monk dressed in robes, carrying a staff called shakujo with six jingling rings in right hand and a chinthamani stone (wish fulfilling jewel or stone of Dharma) in the left. The jingling sound from his staff prevents the annoyance of insects or animals. He keeps his vow that he will not enter nirvana (a state of enlightenment) or Buddhahood until Hell is empty. He works to liberate all the beings, in all the six realms. Its hallow face with a compassionate smile gives off a divine spiritual ambience.
In modern Japan, Jizo is considered as the patron saint for pregnant women. Women pray to Jizo for fertility and easy child birth. They help and protect the souls of unborn, stillborn and aborted babies. According to a myth in Japan, unborn or aborted babies will be sent to a canyon outside heaven and hell, where they have to create a tower by piling stones. But demons will come in the night and break these stone towers.
So people believe that Jizo help these souls of children to arrange stones or pebbles to come out of their hardships in the underworld. Grieving parents leave candies and toys for blessings and protection of their children’s soul. No wonder Jizo is the most beloved and significant for Japanese for their emotional links to people.