Cemetery Traditions in Japan


Jizo statue

Many thanks to J. Matsumura for sending this excerpt my way. If you ever wondered about the reason behind the Jizo statues marking the graves of Japanese children, here’s an enlightening excerpt from the August 1, 1913 issue of the Enumclaw Herald:

“Among the Buddhists in Japan it is believed that the souls of children go farther after death to Sue-no-ha-wara (the stony river-bed) and there they remain until they reach maturity under the care of Jizobosatsu, who is represented as a priest with a long cane in one hand and ball in the other.

He is said to stand in the center of the Kawara, where he preaches to the children as they pile up stones, one for the salvation of their father, one for the mother, the third for brothers, the fourth for sisters and the fifth for their own salvation.

When night comes and the wind blows hard a gigantic evil spirit appears and with huge iron rod knocks down the heaps of stones which the children have made, and they are so frightened that they run to Jizo and hide themselves in the big sleeves of his Kimono, which have a miraculous way of increasing in size according to the number of children who seek refuge. Then the evil spirit disappears and the children begin again the work of heaping up the stones.

Passing these cemeteries in Japan, one sees tombs that have the image of Jizo carved upon them, as the parents take that way of going the special favor of Jizo for their children, and one will see little piles of stones built up by the parents and brothers and sisters of the children with the hope of helping in the tedious work of the little ones in the Kawara.”

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