Jizo, the Protector of the Children’s Souls

  • Have you ever seen a little buddha statue on your way to the nearest supermarket, or maybe, on a roadside while heading to your college? Ever wondered what exactly those little buddhas are? Those little buddhas are called Jizo or politely ‘o-jizo sama’. They are said to guide Buddhists to Nirvana. And are the most popular protectors of children. Usually, they look similar to the monks with shaved heads.

    Where to find them?

    Even in big cities such as Tokyo, you can always see o-jizo sama sitting in between modern buildings, near a telephone booth, and, probably, at the back of one’s workplace. This shows that they play a big role in Japanese life.

    What is their role?

    It is said that o-jizo sama is a protector of the travellers and the children. The children who pass away before being born, either unborn or aborted, are said to not be able to reach Nirvana due to the lack of good deeds. Thus, the jizo-san will guide them through the river. The origins of Jizo Bosatsu come from India and China, it’s Sanskrit name is Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva. Literally Jizo(地蔵) could be translated as “womb of the Earth” or “Earth treasury”. In Japan, it is also one of the deities presiding over the memorial services held after one’s death. Jizo in Japan comes in various forms, and some, that originated in the later centuries are unique to this country. Thus, it is a common phenomenon to see o-jizo sama wearing a red bib and a baby hat. Parents dress them in it for their kids’ protection from illnesses and, of course, for their lost kids’ protection as well.

    Even though my religion is different from Buddhism, it always hurts to see little o-jizo sama with red baby bibs and knowing that some mother is probably grieving over her lost child.