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Maria Kannon with Babe, Saitama Pref., Kawaguchi City, Edo Period Statue
Maria Kannon
Edo-period (circa 1714).
Found hidden inside an Amida Statue. Treasure of Kawaguchi City,
Saitama Prefecture.
Source: This J-Site.

Kannon with Babe, Aizu, Japan - Giant Modern Statue of Kannon with Babe in Arms

Says JAANUS: Maria Kannon is the name used for images of the Virgin Mary (Mother of Christ) in the guise of Kannon 観音 made by Japanese Christians, mostly in the Nagasaki area, to worship in secret after the prohibition of Christianity in the mid 17th century. They were not worshipped as forms of Kannon, but, for safety, made to look like them. The most common examples of Maria Kannon are Chinese white porcelain (blanc-de-Chine) sculptures of Kannon. In particular, the images of Koyasu Kannon 子安観音 (propitated for childbirth and the rearing of children), which resemble Byakue Kannon 白衣観音 in appearance but with a child, were worshipped as the Virgin and Child. Other examples include otherwise undistinguished statues of Kannon with the cross hidden in an inconspicuous location somewhere in the image. <end JAANUS quote>

Jibo Kannon, Modern Image
Jibo 慈母 Kannon
Loving Mother Kannon
Holding Babe in Arms
Modern Japanese Statue

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Maria Kannon マリア観音

CHRISTIANITY IN JAPAN

Virgin Mary & Kannon, Two Merciful Mothers

 

SUMMARY: In the mid-17th century, outlawed Christians (mostly in the Nagasaki area) created statues of the Virgin Mary (Mother of Jesus) disguised as the Buddhist deity Kannon (Goddess of Mercy). These images, called Maria Kannon マリア観音, were made or altered to look like Kannon, but they were not worshipped as Kannon. A Christian cross was sometimes hidden within the image.

Christianity in Japan was banned for over two centuries during the Tokugawa Era 徳川時代 (+1615-1867), more commonly known as the Edo Period 江戸時代. The authorities, eager to eradicate this foreign religion, executed and imprisoned thousands of Japanese Christians, and ordered all families to register with local Buddhist parishes. To conceal their faith, Christians thereafter pretended to be Buddhist lay people, yet they secretly maintained their faith with clandestine codes and ingenious adaptations.

For example, Christians hid crosses inside Buddhist statues that were used during Buddhist funeral services for deceased family members. To outsiders, the memorial image appeared Buddhist, but to the outlawed Christians, it doubled as an object of Christian faith. Among some, the tea bowls in the Japanese tea ceremony were turned three times prior to drinking (to symbolize the Holy Trinity), or napkins folded in a certain pattern to instruct insiders when to silently recite a Christian prayer.

Underground Christians, mostly in the Nagasaki area, also created statues of the Virgin Mary (Mother of Jesus) disguised as the Buddhist deity Kannon (Goddess of Mercy). These images, called Maria Kannon, were made or altered to look like Kannon, but they were not worshipped as Kannon. Instead, the Christians venerated these Buddhist statues by silently praying to Mother Mary. Many statues, moreover, had a Christian icon hidden inside the body or camouflaged in the artwork. During the dark years of anti-Christian persecution in Japan, these secretive methods fooled government agents and helped the Christians to keep their faith hidden and alive.

Representations of Mother Mary in the guise of Kannon did not arouse much suspicion, for Kannon (as described in Buddhist scripture) can appear in many different forms, both male and female. The Kannon emerged early in the development of Mahayana traditions in India, Southeast Asia, China, and Tibet. Originally depicted only as male, Kannon in later centuries reached great prominence in China and then Japan in her various female manifestations -- those associated closely with the virtues of compassion, gentleness, purity of heart, and motherhood. In Japan, the three feminine forms of Kannon most related to motherhood are Koyasu Kannon 子安観音 (child giving & child rearing), Juntei Kannon 准胝観音 (pure one), and Jibo Kannon 慈母観音 (loving mother). These three are venerated in Japan as patrons of easy delivery and child rearing, and sometimes depicted holding a child. See Deities of Children and Motherhood in Japan.

Maria Kannon statues were commonly made of white porcelain. Most were effigies of the Koyasu Kannon. These sculptures also resembled the popular White-Robed Kannon (Byakue Kannon 白衣観音; see photos below) of Chinese origin, but with the deity holding a child. This imagery could easily double for secret veneration of the Virgin and Child.

Less common Japanese images of the Kannon showed her nursing a baby. This latter form apparently appeared in the anti-Christian Edo era. It is generally considered Japanese in origin, and was supposedly developed to supplant Koyasu-sama, the Japanese Shinto deity (kami) of easy childbirth.

Like Mother Mary in Christian traditions, the female Kannon of Japan embodies the love and compassion of a “mother par excellence.” Even today, Kannon remains one of the most widely worshipped Buddhist saviors in Japan and Asia. In China, s/he is known as Guanyin (One Who Hears the Prayers of the World).   

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Amida in Headdress of Kannon Statue, Giant Kannon Statue at Ofuna, Kanagawa PrefecturespacerKannon, Amida, and Heaven. Kannon is worshipped independently in Japan, but she is also closely associated with Amida Buddha, one of the loftiest savior figures in Japanese Buddhism. Amida (lit. Infinite Life) presides over the Western Paradise. When a Buddhist dies, Amida descends from his paradise to lead the faithful back to his Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss. Kannon is one of Amida’s main attendants. In artwork, Kannon is often shown alongside Amida descending from heaven, while solitary statues of Kannon commonly include a small image of Amida in her headdress. Amida’s role as savior, moreover, parallels in part the role of Jesus the redeemer. Not surprisingly, faith in Amida was readily doubled with Christian faith during the anti-Christian persecutions of the Edo era. To avoid suspicion, Christians created Amida images that were mounted on crosses. Their veneration of this Amida cross appeared to outsiders as devotion to Amida, but it also doubled as an article of Christian faith.  

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White-Robed Kannon
Byakue Kannon
白衣観音
Byakushozon 白処尊
Byakue Kanjizaimo 白衣観自在母

Work on this statue began in 1934, but the outbreak of WWII halted construction, which began again after the war and was completed in 1961.

The complex here contains stones from ground zero at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as this temple commemorates the souls of those who died in the atomic bomb attacks, and prays for permanent world peace. The temple holds a festival each September.

DIRECTIONS: Found just outside Ofuna Station (near Kamakura City) on the Yokosuka train line or Tokaido train line).

Byakue Kannon
White-Robed Kannon, Skt. = Panduravasini
HEIGHT = 29.39 meters, Ofuna, Japan

Jibo Kannon
(Loving Mother Kannon)
Aizu, Fukushima Prefecture
57-meter statue, Built in 1987
Photo courtesy this J-site

Jibo Kannon at Aizu, Japan

Guanyin (Kannon) & Child
Painting at Tzu-chi Foundation Hospital, Hualien, Taiwan.
Photo by Allen T. Chang.

This modern painting of Guanyin and Babe
resembles Catholic artwork of Madonna and Child.

Painting of Guanyin and a child found in the Tzu-chi Foundation Hospital in Hualien, Taiwan. Picture taken January 12, 2003 by Allen Timothy Chang.

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