Email Site Author Mark Schumacher Sign Up for Our Free Newsletter on Buddhist Statuary spacer
Follow on Social Media
My Wordpress Buddha Statues Blog Follow Me on Facebook Follow Me on Twitter Follow Me on LinkedIn Follow Me on Youtube Free RSS Buddha News Feed 

Japanese Buddhism, Photo Dictionary of Japan's Shinto and Buddhist DivinitiesRETURN TO TOP PAGE of Japanese Buddhist Statuary A to Z Photo Library & Dictionary of Gods, Goddesses, Shinto Kami, Creatures, and DemonsCopyright and Usage PoliciesJump to Our Online Store Selling Handcrafted Statues
top line

Home: What's New
Buddha's Teaching
History & Timeline
Historical Buddha
Student's Guide
Teacher's Guide

Who's Who
Shinto Kami
Stars & Planets
Tenbu (Deva)

About Site Author
Buddhism in Japan
Busshi Glossary
Carving Techniques
Cycle of Suffering
Drapery / Robes
Mandala Guide
Mudra Guide
Objects Guide
Pilgrimage Guide
Shinto Guide
Statues by Artist
Statues by Era
Symbols Guide

3 Element Stele
3 Monkeys
4 Bosatsu
4 Celestial Emblems
4 Heavenly Kings
5 (Number Five)
5 Elements
5 Tathagata
5 Tier Pagoda
5 Wisdom Kings
6 Jizo (Jizou)
6 Kannon
6 Realms
6 Nara Schools
7 Lucky Gods
7 Nara Temples
8 Legions
8 Zodiac Patrons
10 Kings of Hell
12 Devas
12 Generals
12 Zodiac Animals
13 Butsu (Funerals)
28 Legions
28 Constellations
30 Monthly Buddha
30 Monthly Kami
33 Kannon
About the Author
Amano Jyaku
Amida Nyorai
Arakan (Rakan)
Arhat (Rakan)
Ashuku Nyorai
Asuka Era Art Tour
Asura (Ashura)
Baku (Eats Dreams)
Benzaiten (Benten)
Big Buddha
Birushana Nyorai
Bonbori Artwork
Bosatsu Group
Bosatsu of Mercy
Bosatsu on Clouds
Buddha (Historical)
Buddha Group
Buddha Statues
Busshi (Sculptors)
Celestial Emblems
Celestial Maidens
Children Patrons
Color Red
Contact Us
Dainichi Nyorai
Daruma (Zen)
Datsueba-Hell Hag
Deva (Tenbu)
Drapery (Robes)
Early Buddhism J.
Eight Legions
En no Gyoja
Family Tree
Footprints of Buddha
Fox (Inari)
Fudo Myo-o
Fugen Bosatsu
Fujin (Wind God)
Gakko & Nikko
Godai Nyorai
Goddess of Mercy
Hachi Bushu
Hands (Mudra)
Hell (10 Judges)
Hell Hag (Datsueba)
Hell Scrolls
Hikyu (Lion Beast)
Holy Mountains
Ho-o (Phoenix)
Inari (Fox)
Jizo (Jizou)
Jocho Busshi
Juni Shi
Juni Shinsho
Juni Ten
Junrei (Pilgrimage)
Jurojin (Juroujin)
Juzenji (Juuzenji)
Jyaki or Tentoki
Kaikei Busshi
Kamakura Buddhism
Kannon Bosatsu
Kitchen Gods
Kitsune (Oinari)
Kokuzo Bosatsu
Kojin (Koujin)
Korean Buddhism
Koshin (Koushin)
Lanterns (Stone)
Making Statues
Maneki Neko
Marishiten (Marici)
Miroku Bosatsu
Monju Bosatsu
Moon Lodges
Mother Goddess
Mudra (Hands)
Myoken - Pole Star
Myo-o (Myou-ou)
Nara Era Art Tour
Newsletter Sign-up
Nijuhachi Bushu
Nikko & Gakko
Nio Protectors
Nyorai Group
Objects & Symbols
Phoenix (Ho-o)
Pilgrimage Guide
Protective Stones
Raigo Triad
Raijin (Thunder)
Rakan (Arhat)
Red Clothing
Robes (Drapery)
Rock Gardens
Sanbo Kojin
Sanno Gongen
Sculptors (Busshi)
Seishi Bosatsu
Sendan Kendatsuba
Seven Lucky Gods
Shachi, Shachihoko
Shaka Nyorai
Shape Shifters
Shijin (Shishin)
Shinra Myoujin
Shinto Clergy
Shinto Concepts
Shinto Kami
Shinto Main Menu
Shinto Sects
Shinto Shrines
Shishi (Lion)
Shoki (Shouki)
Shomen Kongo
Shotoku Taishi
Six States
Star Deities
Stone Gardens
Stone Graves
Stone Lanterns
Stones (Top Menu)
Suijin (Water)
Symbols & Objects
Temple Lodging
Tenbu Group
Tennin & Tennyo
Tentoki or Jyaki
Tiantai Art Tour
Tibetan Carpets
Tibet Photos
Tibetan Tanka
Unkei Busshi
Videos Buddhism
Water Basin
Wheel of Life
Yakushi Nyorai
Yasha (Yaksha)
Zao Gongen
Zen (Daruma)
Zen Art Tour
Zodiac Calendar






Sanskrit / Pali



Earth Treasury,
Earth Womb, Savior from Hell's Torments, Protector of
Children, Expectant Mothers, Travelers and Pilgrims

Jizō 地蔵
Jizo, Jizou
Daigan Jizō

Dizang 地蔵
Dìzàng Púsà
Dàyuàn Dìzàng



Sai nying po
Sai snying po

  Main Page You are here.
Jizō’s Many Forms
Jizō Scriptures
Benefits of Jizō Faith
Children’s Limbo
Ten Kings of Hell
Jizō Pilgrimage
Photo Tour (50+)
 Jizō Products eStore
Sources, Learn More

Jizo statue at Ryutakuji Temple, Shizuoka Prefecture

Jizō is the only Bodhisattva portrayed as a monk -- shaven head, no adornments, no royal attire, nearly always dressed in the simple robe (kesa) of a monk. A halo often surrounds the head. Jizō’s customary symbols are the shakujō 錫杖 (six-ring staff) and the hōjunotama 宝珠の玉 (wish-granting jewel). When Jizō shakes the staff, it awakens us from our delusions, to help us break free of the six states of rebirth and achieve enlightenment. The jewel (Skt. = Cintamani) signifies Jizō’s bestowal of blessings on all who suffer, for the jewel grants wishes, pacifies desires, and brings clear understanding of the Dharma (Buddhist law).

KA - Japanese reading for Jizo Bodhisattva's Sanskrit Seed Syllable

Sanskrit Seed, pronounced KA in Japan. In Shingon Buddhism, when young children die, this Sanskrit seed is written on the memorial tablet to signify that the powerless child is saved and enabled to attain enlightenment.

Jizo Bostsu in Japan
Jizō Bosatsu (Japanese)
Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva (Sanskrit)
Origin = India / China. Savior from Hell’s Torments.
Savior in Six Realms of Desire & Karmic Rebirth (Reincarnation).
Patron of Children, Expectant Mothers, Firemen, Travelers, Pilgrims,
Aborted / Miscarried Babies. Also guardian of children in limbo.
Affectionately known in Japan as O-Jizō-Sama お地蔵様 or Jizō-san.

One of the most beloved of all Japanese divinities, Jizō works to ease the suffering and shorten the sentence of those serving time in hell, to deliver the faithful into Amida’s western paradise (where inhabitants are no longer trapped in the six states of desire and karmic rebirth), and to answer the prayers of the living for health, success, children, and all manner of mundane petitions. In modern Japan, Jizō is a savior par excellence, a friend to all, never frightening even to children, and his/her many manifestations -- often cute and cartoon-like in contemporary times -- incorporate Taoist, Buddhist, and Shintō elements.

Jizō is a Bodhisattva (Jp. Bosatsu), one who achieves enlightenment but postpones Buddhahood until all can be saved. Jizō is often translated as Womb of the Earth, for JI 地 means earth, while ZŌ 蔵 means womb. But ZŌ can also be translated with equal correctness as “store house” or “repository of treasure” -- thus Jizō is often translated as Earth Store or Earth Treasury. Jizō embodies supreme spiritual optimism, compassion, and universal salvation, all hallmarks of Mahayana Buddhism.

This deity appears in numerous Mahayana texts. One of the most widely known is the Sūtra of the Fundamental Vows of Jizō Bodhisattva (Jp. = Jizō Bosatsu Hongan Kyō 地藏菩薩本願経), in which Jizō vows to remain among us doing good works and to help and instruct all those spinning endlessly in the six realms of suffering, especially the souls of the departed who are undergoing judgment by the Ten Kings of Hell (thus explaining why Jizō statues are commonly found in Japanese graveyards). Jizō promises to unceasingly fulfill these tasks in the eons-long interval between the death of the Historical Buddha and the arrival of Miroku Buddha (the Future Buddha). Miroku is scheduled to arrive, according to Japan’s Shingon 真言 sect of Esoteric Buddhism (Mikkyō 密教), about 5.6 billion years from now, to bestow universal salvation on all beings. 

Jizō appears in many different forms to alleviate the suffering of the living and the dead. In modern Japan, Jizō is popularly venerated as the guardian of unborn, aborted, miscarried, and stillborn babies (Mizuko Jizō). These roles were not assigned to Jizō in earlier Buddhist traditions from mainland Asia; they are instead modern adaptations unique to Japan. At the same time, Jizō serves his/her customary and traditional roles as patron saint of expectant mothers, women in labor, children, firemen, travelers, pilgrims, and the protector of all beings caught in the six realms of transmigration. Jizō is also one of the 13 Deities 十三仏 (Jūsanbutsu) of the Shingon Sect of Esoteric Buddhism in Japan. In this role, Jizō presides over the memorial service held on the 35th day following one's death. In the mandala of Japan’s esoteric sects, Jizō appears as the central figure in the Jizō-in 地蔵院 section of the Womb World Mandala. In the Diamond World Mandala, Jizō appears as Kongōdō Bosatsu 金剛幢 (one of the 16 Great Bodhisattva).

Jizō is also, like Kannon (the God/Goddess of Mercy), one of Amida Buddha’s main attendants and, like Kannon, is one of the most popular modern deities in Japan’s Amida Pure Land (Jōdo 浄土) sects. The two share many overlapping functions -- both protect the Six Realms of Karmic Rebirth (the Six Jizō, the Six Kannon), both are patrons of motherhood & children (Koyasu Jizō, Koyasu Kannon), and both protect the souls of aborted children (Mizuko Jizō, Mizuko Kannon). In some scriptures, they even share the same Ennichi 縁日 (Holy Day). The 18th day of each month is considered Kannon’s Ennichi. Jizō’s Ennichi is generally on the 24th, but at many temples it occurs on the 18th.

Mantra to Jizo Bosatsu
Jizō Mantra in Japanese Language
On kakaka bisanmaei sowaka (Japanese)
Om ha-ha-ha vismaye svaha (Sanskrit)
 Om Fa La Ma Me Na Ni So Ha 唵花啦媽咪那呢梭哈  (Chinese)

Top of Page

Many Japanese, even today, believe Jizō will save them at any time, in any situation, without any conditions or stipulations beyond simple faith. Even those who have already fallen into the pit of hell are promised assistance. Jizō is thus very popular and depicted in countless forms throughout Japan. Many originated in recent centuries and are unique to this island nation (not found elsewhere in Asia). It is no exaggeration to say that nearly all villages and localities have their own beloved Jizō statues, which are frequently given unique names defining their specific salvific functions. Some of Japan’s innumerable Jizō emanations (both traditional and modern) include:

  1. Cute Jizo Bosatsu
    Jizō often appears
    cute in modern Japan.
    Zenkōji Temple (Nagano).
    Photo courtesy this J-site

    Cute Jizo Bosatsu
    Zenkōji Temple (Nagano).
    Photo courtesy this J-site

    Cute Jizo Bosatsu serving as store mascot
    Cartoon-like Jizō
    outside store selling
    Jizō talismans (Kyoto)

    Aburakake Jizō 油懸地蔵. Oil-Covered Jizō, Greasy Jizō.
  2. Agonashi Jizō 腮無地蔵. Jizō Without a Jaw; Heals Toothaches.
  3. Ajimi Jizō 嘗試地蔵 (also read Kokoromi). Food Tasting Jizō.
  4. Amagoi Jizō 雨乞い地蔵. Jizō Begging the Sky for Rain. Also known as Ama Koi Jizō 雨恋地蔵 (Jizō Who Loves Rain). The latter often appear as large boulders inscribed with kanji for Jizō; used in rain rituals. See Farmers Jizō for more forms related to agriculture.
  5. Anzan Jizō. 安産地蔵. Safe child-birth, easy delivery.
  6. Asekaki Jizō. 汗かき地蔵. Sweating Jizō. Excretes white sweat if good things are about to happen, and black sweat when bad things are foreseen. A modern manifestation of Jizō in Japan.
  7. Battlefield Jizō. See Shōgun Jizō below.
  8. Botamochi Jizō ぼた餅地蔵. Rice-Ball Jizō.
  9. Chūji Jizō 忠治地蔵 (aka Kunisada Chūji Jizō). Cures palsy.
  10. Daigan Jizō 大願地藏菩萨. Great Vow Jizō (C = Dàyuàn Dìzàng).
  11. Danda Jizō 檀陀地蔵. One of Six Jizō, assists those in Hell Realm.
  12. Doroashi Jizō 泥足地蔵 Muddy-Feet Jizō.
  13. Enmei Jizō. 延命地蔵. Longevity Jizō.
    One of Six Jizō, assists those in the Hell Realm.
  14. Farmers & Peasants Jizō. Various forms of Jizō
    to reduce the toils of the poor peasants.
  15. Hadaka Jizō. 裸地蔵. Naked Jizō.
  16. Hanakake Jizō 鼻欠け地蔵. Noseless Jizō.
  17. Harahoge Jizō はらほげ地蔵. Blow Hole Jizō.
  18. Hara-Obi Jizō 腹帯地蔵. Belly Girdle or Bellly Band Jizō.
    Said to grant easy birth to pregnant women.
  19. Hawaii Jizō. Guardian of Fishermen and Swimmers.
  20. Hibō Jizō 被帽地蔵. Hatted Jizō, with head covered.
  21. Higiri Jizō. 日限地蔵. Time-Limiting Jizō.
  22. Hitaki Jizō. 火焚地蔵. Fire Kindling Jizō, Patron of Firemen. Also called Kuro Jizō 黒地蔵 (Black Jizō) or Hifuse Jizō 火伏地蔵.
  23. Hōju Jizō 宝珠地蔵. One of Six Jizō. Realm of Hungry Ghosts.
  24. Hōin Jizō 宝印地蔵. One of Six Jizō. Realm of Animals.
  25. Hōkō-ō Jizō 放光王地蔵. Esoteric. One of Six Jizō. Deva Realm.
  26. Hōroku Jizō ほうろく地蔵. Earthenware Jizō. Cures head ailments.
  27. Hōsho Jizō 宝処地蔵. One of Six Jizō. Asura Realm.
  28. Hōshō Jizō 宝掌地蔵. One of Six Jizō. Realm of Hungry Ghosts.
  29. Hōyake Jizō 頬焼地蔵. Jizō With Burnt Cheeks.
  30. Hyakudo Mairi (See Wheel Jizō)
  31. Jiji Jizō 持地地蔵. One of Six Jizō. Human Realm or Asura Realm.
  32. Jizō Bon (Jizō Festival). Annual confession ceremony held Aug. 24.
  33. Jizō Ennichi 縁日. The 24th day of each month is sacred to Jizō.
  34. Jogaishō Jizō 除蓋障地蔵. One of Six Jizō. Human Realm.
  35. Kamihari Jizō 紙張地蔵. Paper-Pasted Jizō.
  36. Karate Jizō 空手地蔵. Empty-Handed Jizō.
  37. Kasa Jizō 笠地蔵 (Hatted Jizō). Extremely popular folk tale.
  38. Kenko-i Jizō 堅固意地蔵. One of Six Jizō. Deva Realm.
  39. Kinomoto Jizō 木之本地蔵 (heals eye diseases, frogs)
  40. Kongōgan Jizō 金剛願地蔵 (aka Danda Jizō). Esoteric form.
    One of Six Jizō, assists those in Hell Realms.
  41. Kongōhi Jizō 金剛悲地蔵 (aka Hōin Jizō). Esoteric form.
    One of Six Jizō, assists those in Animal Realm.
  42. Kongōhō Jizō 金剛宝地蔵 (aka Hōju Jizō). Esoteric form.
    One of Six Jizō, assists those in Hungry Ghost Realm.
  43. Kongōtō Jizō 金剛幢地蔵 (aka Jiji Jizō). Esoteric form.
    One of Six Jizō, assists those in Asura Realm. 
  44. Kosodate Jizō 子育て地蔵, Child-Raising Jizō.
  45. Koyasu Jizō 子安地蔵, Easy Childbirth, Child-Giving Jizō.
  46. Kubifuri Jizō 首振地蔵. Turn-My-Head Jizō.
  47. Kubikire Jizō 首切れ地蔵. Jizō with Head Cut Off.
  48. Kuro Jizō 黒地蔵. Lit. = Black Jizō. Fire-Kindling Jizō, Patron of Firemen. Also called Hitaki Jizō 火焚地蔵, Hifuse Jizō 火伏地蔵.
  49. Male or Female.
  50. Michibiki Jizō. 導き地蔵. Guiding Jizō.
  51. Migawari Jizō 身代わり地蔵. “Substitute” for one who suffers.
  52. Miso Jizō みそ地蔵. Bean-Paste Jizō.
  53. Misoname Jizō みそなめ地蔵. Miso-Licking Jizō
  54. Mizuko Jizō 水子地蔵. Water-Child Jizō, guardian of aborted children and kids who die prematurely, whose souls go to a hell-realm known as Sai-no-Kawara.
  55. Nikkō Jizō 日光地蔵. One of Six Jizō. Deva Realm.
  56. Omokaru Jizō おもかる地蔵尊, Heavy / Light Jizō.
  57. Onegai Jizō お願い地蔵. Wish-Granting Jizō. Ask-a-Favor Jizō.
  58. Origins. Overview of Jizo’s spread from India and China.
  59. Red Bibs and Hat. Explains why Jizō is often decked in red.
  60. Roku Jizō 六地蔵. Six Realms Jizō. One for each of the six realms of rebirth. The six vary significantly among temples and sects. The Roku Jizō section lists approx. 24 forms of Jizō.
  61. Rubbing Jizō. Alleviates ailments and illness.
  62. Sakasa Jizō さかさ地蔵. Upside-down Jizō.
  63. Sentai Jizō 千躰地蔵. 1,000 Bodies of Jizō
  64. Sekidome Jizō 咳止地蔵. Cough-Stopping Jizō.
  65. Shibarare Jizō 縛られ地蔵. String-Bound Jizō.
  66. Shinpei Jizō 心平地蔵. Spirit-Pacifying Jizō, one who pacifies the souls of people who were executed.
  67. Shōgun Jizō 勝軍地蔵. Victorious Jizō, Battle-Field Protector.
  68. Six Jizō. 六地蔵. Six Realms Jizō. One for each of the six realms of desire and rebirth. The six vary significantly among temples and sects. The Six Jizō section list approx. 24 forms of Jizō.
  69. Tawashi Jizō 束子地蔵. Kitchen-Brush Jizō.
  70. Togenuki Jizō 刺抜地蔵. Splinter Removing Jizō.
  71. Tsunbo Jizō 聾地蔵 (lit. = Deaf Jizō)
  72. Uba Jizō 姥地蔵. Old Woman Jizō.
  73. Wheel Jizō 地蔵車. Wheel Jizō. Present life and afterlife. Turn the wheel down and a wish for the afterlife will be granted; turn it upward and a wish for your present life will be granted.
  74. Women and Pregnancy. There are many forms of Jizō dedicated to the concerns of women.
  75. Yata Jizō 矢田地蔵. Located at Kongōsenji Temple 金剛山寺 (aka Yatadera 矢田寺) in Nara prefecture. This form of Jizō holds a gem in left hand and displays the semui-in mudra 施無畏印 mudra (fear not mudra) with right hand.
  76. Yahiroi Jizō 矢拾い地蔵. Arrow-Gathering Jizō, Battle-Field Protector.
  77. Yotenga Jizō 預天賀地蔵 (aka Jogaishō Jizō). Esoteric. One of Six Jizō. Human Realm.
  78. For more Jizō forms, see De Visser.

Top of Page

Jizo Wood Carvinig - Available for Online Purchase at

Modern Wood Carving
Available for Online Purchase

Sitting Jizo (Ksitegarbha) Bosatsu in Japan, Kamakura Era, Treasure of Jufuku-ji
Jizo, Kamakura Era
Jufuku-ji Temple. Now kept at
Tsurugaoka Hachimangu
National Museum in Kamakura

Jizō’s Origins
Although of India origin, Kshitigarbha (Jizō) is revered more widely in Japan, Korea, and China than in either India or Tibet. Most scholars generally consider Jizō-related texts to be products of China rather than India, followed later by Japanese renditions and additions. Jizō’s earliest association is with Prthvi (Prithvi), a Hindu goddess who personifies the earth and is associated with fertility. In the VEDAS, she is celebrated as the mother of all creatures and the consort of the sky. This association with the sky is very important, for many centuries later, in China, Jizō Bodhisattva (lit. Earth Repository) was paired with Kokūzō Bodhisattva (lit. Space Repository), with the two representing the blessings of earth and space respectively. This pairing is now almost entirely forgotten in both China and Japan. But the pairing lends strong support to Jizō’s early association with the Hindu goddess Prthvi. The strongest support for the Prithvi/Jizō link, however, is the Jizō Bosatsu Sūtra (Jp. = 地蔵菩薩本願経), a 7th-century Chinese translation from Sanskrit, in which Prthivi vows to use all her miraculous powers to protect Jizō devotees.

When and how Jizō was introduced to China is unknown, but from the earliest extant texts (7th century), Jizō is already closely associated with the earth and with the Lord of Death (Skt. = Yama, Chn. = Yanmo Wang 閻魔王, Jp. = Emma-ō). Only later, in China’s late Sung dynasty (960–1279), does Jizō become associated with the Taoist Ten Kings of Hell and appear in Chinese artwork surrounded by the ten. In Japan, Jizō first appears in records of the Nara Period (710 to 794 AD), and then spreads throughout Japan via the Tendai and Shingon sects. According to an old legend, the first Jizō statue was brought to Japan from China and installed at Tachibanadera 橘寺 during the reign of Emperor Shōmu 聖武 (reigned 724-49), but was later moved to Hōryūji 法隆寺 Temple in Nara. <see Dykstra, Monumenta Nipponica, Summer 1978 edition>

In Japan, Jizō appears first in the Ten Cakras Sutra in the Nara period (now a treasure held by the Nara National Museum), but the height of Jizō’s early popularity was during the late Heian era (794 to 1192 AD) when the rise of the Jōdo Sect 浄土 (Pure Land Sect devoted to Amida Nyorai) intensified fears about hell in the afterlife (see Age of Mappo). Due to Jizō’s association with the realm of death and suffering souls, Jizō is also closely associated with Amida Nyorai and with Amida’s heavenly western paradise, where true believers may seek enlightenment and avoid the torments of hell. In traditional artwork, Jizō is the only Bodhisattva commonly portrayed as a monk. Although the origins of this iconography are unclear, some scholars believe Jizō’s depiction as a priest stems from a 7th-century Korean monk named Gin Chau Jue who resided for 75 years at Chiu-hua-shan in China (present day Anhui Province) and who was considered an incarnation of Jizō. When the monk died in 728 (at the age of 99), legend contents that his body did not decay, and was subsequently gilded over and venerated as an emanation of Jizō. < Source. Dictionary of Chinese Buddhist Terms by Soothill & Hodous, ISBN 8121511453. >

The Jizō cult in Japan incorporates many of the traditional characteristics of Jizō veneration in China, but the Japanese developed their own distinct variants from the Kamakura period onward, including (1) Jizō’s close association with the Lotus Sutra; (2) Jizō serving the same functions and roles as Kannon Bodhisattva; (3) Jizō’s very close association with Amida Nyorai and the Pure Land sect; (4) Jizō and the Six Realms and the Ten Kings; (5) Jizō as having the same body as Emma-ō, the King of Hell; (6) Jizō’s association with warriors; (7) Jizō appearing as a young child or boy and; (8) many other forms of Jizō unique to Japan. Since the Kamakura period, Jizō worship has attained a tremendous following in Japan, and today Jizō remains one of Japan's most revered deities. 


Top of Page

Jizo and child at Hase Dera, Kamakura, JapanMale or Female or Both?
In Japan today, Jizō Bosatsu and Kannon Bosatsu are two of the most popular Buddhist saviors among the common folk. Like Jizō, Kannon is intimately associated with Amida Nyorai (Buddha), for Kannon is one of Amida’s principal attendants. Statues of Kannon, moreover, often include a tiny image (Jp. = Kebutsu 化仏) of Amida in the headdress. Curiously, both Jizō and Kannon underwent a change in identity after arriving in Japan. Kannon is male in the Buddhist traditions of India, Tibet, and Southeast Asia. But in China (less so in Japan), the Kannon is typically portrayed as a female divinity.

In Japan, the male form was initially adopted, and it remains the predominant form in traditional Japanese sculpture and art. But female manifestations of Kannon are nonetheless plentiful in Japan. Indeed, a persistent femininity clings to Kannon imagery in both pre-modern and modern Japan. This holds true in Western nations as well, where Kannon is most commonly known as the “Goddess of Mercy.” Conversely, Jizō was initially female, but is now portrayed almost always as male, except, perhaps, when appearing as the Koyasu (Safe Childbirth) Jizō). <Editor’s Note: the reasons for this sex change are confusing and hard to understand; I hope to expand on this in the future>

Top of Page

Jizō in Female Form
Says The Flammarion Iconographic Guide by Louis Frederic: “The Chinese Ksitigarbha Sutra relates that, before becoming a Bodhisattva, Jizō was a young Indian girl of the Brahmin caste so horrified by the torment her late impious mother was suffering in hell that she vowed to save all beings from such torments.”  <end Flammarion quote>

Says Wikipedia: “In the Ksitigarbha Sutra, the Historical Buddha revealed that in past aeons, Ksitigarbha (Jizō) was a Brahman maiden named Sacred Girl. She was deeply troubled when her mother died, because her mother had often been slanderous toward the Triple Jewels (Skt. = Triratna), which refers to the Buddha himself, the Dharma (Buddhist teachings or law), and the Samgha (the Buddhist community of followers). To save her from the great tortures of hell, the young girl sold whatever she had and used the money to buy offerings which she offered daily to the Buddha of her time, known as the Buddha of Flowering Meditation and Enlightenment. She made fervent prayers that her mother be spared the pains of hell and requested the Buddha for help. One day at the temple, while she was pleading for help, she heard the voice of the Buddha advising her to go home immediately and there to sit down and recite his name if she wanted to know where her mother was. She did as she was told and while doing so, her consciousness was transported to one of the Hell Realms where she met a guardian who informed her that, through Sacred Girl’s fervent prayers and pious offerings, her mother had accumulated much merit and had therefore already been released from hell and had ascended to heaven. Sacred Girl was greatly relieved and should have been extremely happy, but the sight of the great sufferings of those in the hell she had witnessed so touched her heart that she made a vow to do her best to relieve beings of their sufferings in all her future incarnations (Skt. = kalpas).” <end quote from Wikipedia> 

Top of Page

cute-jizo-red-bib-hat-hase-dera-kamakura-1Why the Red Bib, Hat, Toys?
Everywhere in Japan, at busy intersections, at roadsides, in graveyards, in temples, and along hiking trails, one will find statues of Jizō Bosatsu decked in clothing, wearing a red or white cap and bib, adorned with toys, protected by scarfs, or piled high with stones offered by sorrowing parents. Such symbolism is based on numerous early influences, which are presented below:

  • According to Japanese folk belief, red is the color for expelling demons and illness. Rituals of spirit quelling were regularly undertaken by the Japanese court during the Asuka Period (522 - 645 AD) and centered on a red-colored fire deity. This early association between demons of disease and the color red was gradually turned upside-down -- proper worship of the disease deity would bring life, but improper worship or neglect would result in death. In later centuries, the Japanese recommended that children with smallpox be clothed in red garments and that those caring for the sick also wear red. The Red-Equals-Sickness symbolism quickly gave way to a new dualism between evil and good, with red embodying both life-destroying and life-creating powers. As a result, the color red was dedicated not only to deities of sickness and demon quelling, but also to deities of healing, fertility, and childbirth. Jizō’s traditional roles are to save us from the torments/demons of hell, to bring fertility, to protect children, and to grant longevity -- thus Jizō is often decked in red. For more on Japan’s “red” tradition, please see Color Red in Japanese Mythology.
  • The tradition of dressing certain Buddhist and Shintō deities in red bibs first reportedly appeared in the Heian era and examples can be found in illustrated handscrolls (emakimono 絵巻物) and in the classic Tale of Genji 源氏物語. Note: I have not yet confirmed these findings.
  • Perhaps the greatest influence on Japan’s tradition of decking Jizō statues in hats, bibs, scarfs, and toys comes from the Sai no Kawara legend attributed to Japan’s Pure Land sects in the 14th and 15th centuries. According to this legend, children who die prematurely are sent to the underworld for judgment -- like all sentient beings, their life is reviewed by the 10 Kings of Hell, judgment is pronounced, and they are reborn into one of six realms of existence. They may be pure souls, but they have not had any chance to build up good karma, and their untimely death caused great sorrow to their parents, and thus, they too, must undergo judgment. They are sent to Sai no Kawara, the riverbed of souls in purgatory, where they are forced to remove their clothes and to pray for salvation by building small stone towers, piling pebble upon pebble, in the hopes of climbing out of limbo into Buddha’s paradise. But hell demons, answering to the command of the old hell hag Shozuka no Baba (also called Datsueba), soon arrive and scatter their stones and beat them with iron clubs. But no need to worry, for Jizō comes to the rescue, often hiding them in the sleeves of his robe. Even today, this horrific folklore about hell prompts Japanese parents into action. Says Kondo Takahiro (an independent Buddhist scholar from Yokohama): “They imagine their little babies lingering at the riverbed, unable to cross the river, unable to gain salvation. Japanese parents therefore feel a great need to do something to alleviate their child’s suffering, to do something to improve the child’s chance of redemption. Thus the great cult of Jizō Bosatsu in Japan. Parents cloth Jizō statues in hopes that Jizō will cloth the dead child in his protection. Small pebbles are piled around the Jizō statue as well, offered by sorrowing parents as a prayer to Jizō to help the suffering soul of their deceased child. Even today, Jizō statues in some places in Japan are covered -- sometimes from top to bottom -- in pebbles placed there by sorrowing parents, who believe that every stone tower they build on earth will help the soul of their dead child in performing his/her penance.” 
  • In the Muromachi period, images of the Life-Prolonging Jizō (Enmei Jizō 延命地蔵) began appearing along with two youthful acolytes-servants known as Shōzen 掌善 (white in color, holding a white lotus, master of good, standing to the left of Jizō), and Shōaku 掌悪 (red in color, holding a vajra club, master of evil, standing to the right of Jizō). These two are seldom represented in artwork, but rather symbolized by white and red cloth attached to many Jizō statues. This Pure-Land symbolism obviously borrowed from similar iconography associated with the esoteric Shingon deity Fudō Myō-ō, who is often accompanied by two youthful acolytes-servants known as the white-skinned Kongara Dōji 矜羯羅童子 (who personifies obedience) and the red-colored Seitaka Dōji 制姙迦童子 (who personifies expedient action). Such iconography was probably of Chinese Taoist origin, but it was subsequently incorporated into Buddhism. The Pure Land sects, for example, believe in two deities of Chinese Taoist providence called Kushōjin 倶生神. These two assist the 10 Kings of Hell during the judgment of deceased souls. The pair reportedly keep a complete record of our behavior from the time of our birth to the time of our death, with one recording only our good behavior and the other only the bad.
  • In modern Japan, a red hat, bib, and toys are still often found on Jizō statues, the gifts of a rejoicing parent whose child has been cured of dangerous sickness thanks to Jizō's intervention, or a gift to help the deceased child in the afterlife. These traditional practices are now combined with Japan’s modern Mizuko Jizō practices (wherein bereaved parents buy tiny Jizō statues to pray for the soul of their aborted or miscarried children). Adds independent scholar Kondo Takahiro: “Some temples, without doubt, take advantage of this folklore. They tell the traumatized parents ‘Your lost child will continue to suffer. Your lost child will never be saved unless you take action to soothe their troubled souls. You must buy statuettes and offer religious services to alleviate their suffering.‘ In Japan, the Buddhist tendency toward mercy and prolonged mourning means that many grieving parents buy expensive statuettes and pay exorbitant fees for memorial services -- the temples thus prosper from such patronage.“

Cute Jizo midway on Kamakura's Kinubariyama Hiking Course
Cute Jizō midway on Kamakura's Kinubariyama Hiking Course

jizo-white-bib-hat-hase-6-dera-dec-2003-MI jizo-hase-white-bibs cute-Jizo-Bosatsu-Bride-hase-dera-kamakara-TN
Jizō with white bibs / hats, and Jizō with toys and gown.

Top of Page

Aburakake Jizō 油懸地蔵
Greasy Jizō or Oil-Covered Jizō. There are various manifestations. In the Edo period, at Andōji Machi 安堂寺町 in the center of Osaka, those who suffered from intermittent fever smeared a Jizō statue with oil and prayed to it in the belief Jizō would help them recover. <Sources: Visser and Setsuyō-gundan 攝陽群談, 1698, Ch. XII, p. 53> Today, at Saiganji Temple 西岸寺 (a Jodō sect temple) in Kyoto's Fushimi 伏見 district, there is an Aburakake Jizō reportedly dated to the Kamakura period. In olden days, Fushimi was a hub of commerce and trade. Says author Judith Clancy in Exploring Kyoto: On Foot in the Ancient Capital: "Inbound cargo was unloaded on the wharves at Chūshōjima, then carried by porters another two kilometers into Kyoto. One day, an oil vendor from Yamazaki (a place to the southwest of Kyoto known for its sesame oil) was making his way down Aburakake Dōri [lit. = oil-covered street] when he tripped and fell, spilling his precious load. He scooped up what was left and offered it to this wayside Jizō. Thereafter he prospered, and as word spread of his good fortune, others came to pray for success. When they achieved it, they gave thanks by pouring a little bit of oil over the image. Today shopkeepers and businessmen continue the tradition of pouring oil over the glistening 1.7-meter-high image, and offerings of ten-liter cans of oil are stacked inside the hall (page 274)." <end quote>

Aburakake Jizo, Fushimi, Kyoto. Said to be from the Kamakura period. Saiganji Temple
Fushimi, Kyoto. H = 1.7 meters
Statue only 1.27 meters. Kamakura era. Saiganji Temple 西岸寺.
Photo this J-site

Aburakake Jizo, Kawanishi-cho, Nara Prefecture. H = 61 cm. 1523 CE.
Kawanishi-chō 川西町
Nara Prefecture.
H = 61 cm. 1523 CE.
Photo this J-site

Aburakake Jizo, Furuichi-cho, Nara City, H. 196 cm. Muromachi era.
Furuichi-chō 古市町
Nara City, Nara Prefecture
H. 196 cm. Muromachi era.
Photo this J-site

Learn more about Aburakake Jizō (J-sites only)  Site 1  |  Site 2  |  Site 3  |  Site 4  |  Site 5

Top of Page

Agonashi Jizō 腮無地蔵
Lit. = Jizō without a Jaw. Also known as Shitsu Heiyu 歯痛平癒地蔵 (Jizō who Heals Toothaches). Says Gabi Greve: "In the year 1870, the temple 伴桂寺 at Oki Island 隠岐島 had to close down. The last priest of the temple had been a disciple of the head prist of the Hagi Temple in Osaka, so he gave all his temple treasures to Hagi Temple, including a statue of the "Jizō without a Jaw" reportedly made by Ono no Takamura 小野篁 (802–853), a scholar and poet of Heian Japan. Two years later a special hall was built for the statue, which is now a secret (hibutsu 秘仏) statue and only shown once a year to the public.” Gabi continues: ”Once upon a time in the city of Kanawa in Omiya town on the island of Oki, there lived a man who had a painful toothache. For three days, he was crying all day long 'my tooth aces, my tooth aces so much!' He could not sleep at night and not eat during the day because of the pain. In the end he pulled out his jaw, threw it away - and died. But then, how wonderful, he was reborn as a Bodhisattva. The pious people of Oki Island then made a wooden statue of Jizō without a chin and prayed to it when they got a toothache. Soon people from far away also came to pray for healing, and as a gift of gratitude placed one NASHI (pear) into a nearby river or lake or the ocean. This is a pun on the word NASHI (pear) and NASHI (without, to not have) -- in this case, to not have a toothache." <end quote>

Top of Page

Ajimi Jizo, Food Tasting Jizo
Ajimi Jizō at Koyasan
Photo courtesy Koyasan Web Site

Ajimi Jizō 嘗試地蔵
Also read Kokoromi. Also written 嘗試地蔵, 味見地蔵, 毒味地蔵. Lit. = Food Taster for Kōbō Daishi (Kobo Daishi) 弘法大師, the founder of Japan’s Shingon Sect 真言 of Esoteric Buddhism 密教 (Mikkyo, Mikkyō). Below text courtesy of site contributor Gabi Greve: “This small statue of Jizō stands in a tiny hall in front of Oku no In 奥の院 on Mount Kōya 高野山, where the spirit of Kōbō Daishi 弘法大師, it is said, resides to this day. Every morning at six and at lunchtime Jizō gets food, prepared by monks in a special kitchen, mostly from food offerings by lay believers. Before modern times, food was brought at four and six in the morning. The food is carried in a special procession on a tray and a bit of each item placed in front of Jizō to taste, making sure that no poisoned food is presented to Kōbō Daishi.” <End quote by Gabi. See her site for more details.>


Top of Page

Asekaki Jizō 汗かき地蔵
Sweating Jizō. Excretes white sweat if good things are about to happen, and black sweat when bad things are foreseen. Click here for special page about the Sweating Jizō of Japan. There is also a sweating version of Fudō Myō-ō called Asekaki Fudō 汗かき不動. In the Muromachi period (1392-1568), whenever there was a major fight in the country, this wooden statue of Fudō would drip with sacred sweat 霊汗 and thus became widely revered by warriors. It also became a protector against fires for the town of Edo (modern-day Tokyo). <Contributed by Gabi Greve>

Top of Page

Botamochi Jizo, Rice Ball Jizo
Botamochi Jizō ぼた餅地蔵
Chōenji Temple 長延寺
Ichigaya 市谷 (Tokyo)
Photo courtesy this J-site

Botamochi Jizō ぼた餅地蔵
Rice-Ball Jizō. During the spring equinox, people visit cemeteries to clean and maintain family graves. They also pray for their deceased loved ones, burning incense and offering them flowers and food. By tradition, the spirits are said to prefer round food, so botamochi ぼた餅 (round glutinous rice balls covered in bean paste) are offered to them during this period. The treat gets its name from the peony (botan 牡丹), whose round bulbs bloom in spring. The Azuki 小豆 beans used for the sweet red paste (anko 甘煮) are also used symbolically to expel evil spirits. The same type of sweet is eaten during the autumn equinox. It is then called O-Hagi 御萩, since it looks like the bush clover (hagi 萩). Some locations in Japan worship a deity named Botamochi Jizō. A story from the Edo Era (1615-1868) goes like this. At Hōzen-In Temple 宝善院 in Hiratsuka 平塚市 (modern-day Kanagawa Prefecture), the town people even today offer botamochi rice balls to Jizō. In former times, the people of this area were extremely poor and many children died of malnurishment. The temple is home to the graves of many babies and the destitute. One day the poor mothers collected money to build a statue of Jizō, and thereafter they prayed to this statue in the hope their children would at least get one good meal of mochi before dying. Elsewhere, in the courtyard of Chōenji Temple 長延寺 in Ichigaya 市谷 (Tokyo), is a statue of Botamochi Jizō dated to the Meiji Period (1868-1912). It is worshipped by new mothers hoping to get well soon after giving birth. According to local legend, Jizō once appeared here as a young monk and presented botamochi to a poor mother to help her provide milk for her baby. <Story contributed by Gabi Greve>

Top of Page

Chūji Jizō 忠治地蔵
Also known as Kunisada Chūji Jizō. Cures palsy. Related to the famous Japanese "Robin Hood" and gambler named Kunisada Chūji 国定 忠治 (1810-1851), whose real name was Nagaoka Chūjirō 長岡忠次郎. Says Gabi Greve: "After his death, legends began to build around this 'noble yakuza' and he became more of a local hero. At the place of his execution, a Jizō statue was errected to pacify his soul. When people offered incense there, their own illness of palsy would heal (since Chūji also suffered from palsy). Or they would win in gambling (like Chūji). Songs were written about Chūji and Mount Akagi and movies were cast with the popular hero." <end quote>

Top of Page

Doroashi Jizō 泥足地蔵
Muddy-Feet Jizō. In the Heian-era collection of setsuwa 説話 (narratives) called the Hōbutsushū 宝物集, an old woman devotee prayed to her small Jizō statue for a successful rice crop. When she awoke the next morning and walked to her rice field, she found it perfectly cultivated and noticed small footprints going back and forth. She dashed home, and as expected, she found mud on the feet of her tiny Jizō statue.

There are many such tales of Jizō taking the place of peasants to give them some respite from their toils (a type of Migawari or Substitute Jizō). In one story, this time from the Jizō Bosatsu Reigenki (a Heian-Era collection of miraculous stories about Jizō), a sick peasant who is unable to work in the fields is assisted by Jizō. Writes Buddhist scholar De Visser (1876-1930): “A peasant in Izumo, who had always had a firm belief in Jizō, had made a small image of the Bodhisattva. He had placed it in a little shrine on a board in his room, and worshipped it daily. One day a severe illness prevented him from obeying the order of the lord of his district to cultivate the lord's rice fields. According to custom, peasants had to do so gratuitously. Thus all the peasants of the village went out on the day fixed by their lord to work in his service, but the poor man could not go and in despair again and again repeated Jizō's invocation Namu Jizō Dai Bosatsu in his lonely house, his beloved wife just having died from the same disease. On the lord's fields, however, a young Buddhist monk worked in his place and fulfilled his task so well, that the lord gave him a wine cup, which he [the young priest] respectfully raised above his head and disappeared. The lord understood that this priest was a divine person and sent a messenger to the peasant's house, in order to reward him. The astonished man, convinced that this was Jizō's work, opened the shrine and saw the wine cup upon Jizō's head and mud sticking to the statue's feet. Apparently the image itself had been his substitute on the field!” <end de Visser quote>

Another story, which appeared in the 1332 publication Genkō Shakusho, involved a Jizō image at Mt. Kōya (Kōya-san, the present-day headquarters of Japan's Shingon sect of Esoteric Buddhism). In those days, the governor of Shimotsuma was making a pilgrimage to the Jizō Hall (chapel) at Kōya-san, but a torrential river blocked his path. Suddenly a boy priest appeared in a boat and rowed the governor across. When the governor arrived at the Jizō Hall, he asked the head monk about the boy, but the monk had no idea. The governor then visited the chapel and was saying prayers to Jizō when he discovered tiny muddy footprints on the floor, which convinced him that Jizō had helped with the river crossing."

Top of Page

Farmers & Peasants Jizō
There are many forms of Jizō in Japan dedicated to the concerns of poor farmers and peasant women. In most cases, these are forms of the Migawari Jizō, or Substitue Jizō, one who substitutes for our suffering, one who vicariously receives our hardship, injuries, and wounds.

  • Amagoi Jizō 雨乞い地蔵. Begging the sky for rain.
  • Ashi-arai Jizō 足洗い地蔵. Depicted washing feet after helping peasants in the rice paddies.
  • Doroashi Jizō 泥足地蔵. Muddy-Feet Jizō. A type of Migawari Jizō.
  • Hanatori Jizō 鼻取. Leads horses and cattle. A type of Migawari Jizō
  • Hikeshi Jizō 火消し地蔵. Fire-Preventing Jizō. Protects houses and the harvest from fire.
  • Mawari Jizō. 回り地蔵 or 廻り地蔵. Protects villages. In the mid-Edo period, a circuit of sites devoted to Jizō was established, and making the circuit was said to bring various benefits from Jizō. Hence the name “Mawari Jizō (mawari means circumambulation). One well-known Mawari Jizō statue is located at Senryūji 泉龍寺, a Sōtō Zen temple located in Komae (present-day Tokyo).
  • Migawari Jizō. Helps peasants in their work. Many variations. A type of Migawari Jizō
  • Mizuhiki Jizō 水引地蔵. Brings water to the rice paddies. A type of Migawari Jizō
  • Tachiyama Jizō 立山地蔵. Takes the place of women peasants so they can rest once a month. A type of Migawari Jizō.
  • Taue Jizō 田植地蔵 or 田植え地蔵. Helps farmers to plant rice. A type of Migawari Jizō. For more on this form of Jizō, see Gabi Greve’s page about Taue Jizō.
  • Togenuki Jizō. Removes splinters and thorns to reduce the pain of hardworking peasants.

Top of Page

Hadaka Jizō 裸地蔵

Hadaka Jizo (Nude Jizo). Denkoji Temple, Nara.
Nude Jizō, Denkōji Temple 伝香寺, Nara.
Kamakura Era, 1228
Possibly carved by Zenen 善円

Stone statue of Nude Jizo, Enkoji Temple, Inamicho, Hyogo Prefecture
Nude Jizō, Stone
Nanboku period (1336-1392).
Kokuan Enkōji Temple 国安円光
Inamichō 稲美町, Hyōgo Pref.
Approx. 1.2 meters in height.

Nude Jizō. Carved nude but dressed in clothing. Another deity sometimes carved naked is Benzaiten. The practice of carving nude statues may have originated in China, although there is scant evidence to support this claim. Such statues became popular in the Kamakura Period, but the practice was never firmly established -- only 100 or so extant statues of nude deities are known in Japan. Examples include the Hadaka Jizō of Denkōji Temple 伝香寺 in Nara, dated to 1228, a stone statue at Kokuan Enkōji Temple 国安円光 in Hyōgo Prefecture, and the nude version of the Substitute Jizō (Migawari Jizō) at Enmeiji Temple 延命寺 in Kamakura

The Hadaka Jizō wood statue at Denkōji Temple 伝香寺 in Nara is generally not open to public viewing, but each year on July 23/24 (Jizō’s memorial day), the statue is dressed anew and the prior-year clothing is torn into small pieces and presented as talismans to believers. According to temple legend, the statue was commissioned by a nun and is adorned with a beautiful necklace. During the Jizō Bon Ceremony, local kindergarten children come here to pray.

Writes Zen teacher and practicing pediatrician Jan Chozen Bays: “Two nude statues of Jizō are in the city of Nara, one now found at Shinyakushi-ji Temple and another at Denkōji Temple. Both of these have genitalia that are neither clearly feminine nor masculine. The Shinyakushi Jizō has a simple lump groin and the Denkōji Jizō has only a line carved in a corkscrew shape. There is speculation that these are representations of the ‘sheathed’ or ‘retractable’ penis, one of the distinguishing marks of a Buddha. The ambiguous genitalia of these Jizō statues also may relect the dual male and female origin and attributes of Jizō.” <end quote>

The Hadaka Jizō wood statue at Enmeiji Temple 延命寺 in Kamakura is open to public viewing, but it is nearly always dressed in robes and shown standing atop a game board. According to temple records, the wife of regent Hōjō Tokiyori 北条時頼 (1227-1263) built this temple in honor of Jizō and commissioned the carving of a naked statue of Jizō depicted with female pudenda. This statue is connected to a very curious old story in which Tokiyori and his wife were playing a board game called Sugoroku 双六. They had agreed that the loser would disrobe entirely. The consort lost. Filled with shame at her predicament, she prayed to Jizō to save her. To her amazement, a naked statue of Jizō appeared on the game board in her stead. Thus this statue is popularly known as the Migawari Jizō (Substitute Jizō). <Source: Shimpen Kamakura Shi, 1684, Ch. VII, p. 16.> The statue on display at Enmeiji is attributed to famed sculptor Unkei 運慶, but Unkei died in 1223 so this attribution must be considered false. Enmeiji is one of 24 sites on the Jizō Pilgrimage in Kamakura.

For more details on the Nude Jizo, please see scholar Hank Glassman’s essay "The Nude Jizō at Denkōji: Notes on Women's Salvation in Kamakura Buddhism." It appears, along with 22 other essays by numerous other scholars, in Engendering Faith: Women and Buddhism in Premodern Japan. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2002. Illustrations, charts, maps. ISBN 978-1-929280-15-5. Edited by Barbara Ruch.

Top of Page

Noseless Jizo, Hanakake Jizo
Noseless Jizo
Photo this J-Site

Hanakake Jizō 鼻欠け地蔵 or 鼻欠地蔵
Noseless Jizō. This curious deity is mentioned in the Honchō Zokugen Shi 本朝俗諺志 (Records on Popular Japanese Proverbs), written in 1746 by Kikuoka Senryō 菊岡沾凉. It refers to a statue of the Noseless Jizō (Hanakake Jizō 鼻かけ) carved on a stone stupa erected in 1717 at Honseiji Temple 本誓寺 in Edo’s Fukagawa district, which was prayed to for recovery from all manner of diseases. Says De Visser: “After their prayers they would fill a little bamboo tube with Tamukeno Mizu 手向けの水 (the water placed before a grave as an offering to the spirit of the interred) and take this home. When their prayers were fulfilled, they filled a kawarake (unglazed earthen vessel) with salt and offered it to this Jizō as a sign of gratitude.”

The curious name stems from various legends. Says site contributor Gabi Greve: At Sasaurawan Bay 楽々浦湾 is a small sanctuary for the Noseless Jizō. The statue was reportedly discovered by fishermen in the sea. As a thank you for saving him, this Jizō produced rice grains out of his nose. One greedy man in the neighborhood cut off the nose to have all the rice for himself. But afterwards the nose stopped pouring out rice grains and the statue appeared without a nose. During the annual July festival at Sasaurawan Bay, the local people pound mochi (rice cakes). Elsewhere in Japan, the residents of Yoshigawa 良川 tell a story about a man who walked in the forest alone at night in the area of Tango (Tottori) and saw a fox pulling a Jizō statue behind him. When he checked the area later, the statue of Jizō had lost its nose.

Top of Page


Harahoge Jizo in Iki City, Nagasaki Prefecture, Japan
Harahoge Jizō はらほげ地蔵
Photo Gabi Greve

Harahoge Jizō はらほげ地蔵
Says site contributor Gabi Greve: "This is a group of six Jizo statues standing on the beach of Iki island 壱岐市 (Nagasaki Prefecture). When the tide is up, they stand in water up to their waist, and on the chest, they have a small hole (hara ga hogete iru). The holes are difficult to see because the little red aprons cover them completely. Maybe the holes were made on purpose to keep the offerings from being washed into the sea. Or to facilitate to make offerings from the boats during high tide. Or as a talisman to protect the people from smallpox. Or the Jizō were put up to pray for the safety of whalers in olden times and for the safety of the women divers (ama), who catch the local uni 海栗 sea urchins. <end quote from Gabi Greve>

Top of Page

Guardian of the Sea by John Clark
Guardian of the Sea: Jizo in Hawaii
by John R.K. Clark, Published 2007,
University of Hawai'i Press

Hawaii Jizō
Guardian of Fishermen and Swimmers
In Hawaii's coastal areas, fishermen and swimmers look to Jizo for protection. Soon after their arrival in the late 1800s, issei (first-generation Japanese) shoreline fishermen began casting for ulua on Hawaii's treacherous sea cliffs, where they risked being swept off the rocky ledges. In response to numerous drownings, Jizo statues were erected near dangerous fishing and swimming sites, including popular Bamboo Ridge, near the Blowhole in Hawaii Kai; Kawaihâpai Bay in Mokulç‘ia; and Kawailoa Beach in Hale‘iwa. Guardian of the Sea tells the story of a compassionate group of men who raised these statues as a service to their communities. <review from the University of Hawai'i Press>

Top of Page

Higiri Jizo in Kamakura

At the Gokurakuji Kiridoshi Pass 極楽寺坂切通し in Kamakura, there are six statues of Jizō who keep guard against traffic accidents in the vicinity. The six are known as the Higiri Jizō, or "Time-Limiting Jizō." Photo courtesy this E-site.

Higiri Jizō 日限地蔵
Time-Limiting Jizō. A form of Jizō who listens to prayers within a set timeframe (only on specified days of the week or month). Those who visit and pray within that timeframe reportedly have their prayers answered. According to one folk story from Gunma Prefecture, a long time ago there was a weaver who was greatly troubled because a monster appeared in his house every night. One night, though, he shot a rifle at him, but the monster was not to be found, not even his shadow. When it grew light enough to see, the weaver discovered some drops of blood, but they disappeared in the garden of Kannon-In Temple (located at Kiryu, Gunma). A few nights later, the weaver saw Jizō in a dream. Jizō said to him: "I stand outside your house every night to protect you. But because I stand outdoors, the people don't believe in me. I want you to build a temple for me so that I can protect many people. Then, if you set aside a special day each month, I promise to fulfill the prayers of anyone who prays to me on that day. Story from this E-site.

  Top of Page

Jizo Decending into the Underworld (Daido Publications, Tokyo)
Jizō descends into underworld to help those in need. Modern comic book by Daido Publications, Tokyo.

Hitaki (Kuro) Jizō 火焚地蔵
Fire-Kindling Jizō. Also known as Kuro Jizō 黒地蔵 (Black Jizō) or Hifuse Jizō 火伏地蔵. This is just one of many forms of Jizō known as the Migawari Jizō or Substitute Jizō (one who vicariously receives our injuries and wounds). According to Japanese legends, Jizō descends into the infernal regions to witness the punishments and tortures of condemned souls (e.g., sinners being boiled in large pots of water). Jizō is so pained by their agony that, for a time, Jizō assumes the role of their custodian (a soldier of hell or Gokusotsu 獄卒) and greatly reduces the intense heat of the purgatorial fires to lessen their torment. The work of controlling the fires made Jizō black with soot and smoke. This Jizō is also considered the modern patron of firemen. A famous wood statue of this Jizō, dated to the Kamkura period and standing 170.5 cm in height, is housed at Kakuonji Temple 覚園寺 in Kamakura. Kakuonji is one of 24 sites of the Jizō Pilgrimage in Kamakura. There are other similar forms of Jizō, such as the Hōyake Jizō 頬焼地蔵 (Jizō With Burnt Cheeks).

Writes KCN-NET: “Based on temple legends, each time the Black Jizō statue at Kakuonji was repainted to restore its original beauty, it turned black again very soon. Locals also believe the Black Jizō grants prayers for, among other things, safe birth, healthy children, recovery from illness, protection from misfortune, and happiness. A large number of small Jizō statues are positioned on both sides of the Black Jizō and are called Sentai Jizō 千体地蔵 (lit. One Thousand Jizō). When local people borrow one of these "One Thousand Jizō" to venerate at home and their prayers are answered, they paint the statue anew or have a new one made, and then return it here. It is said that if you have deep faith in Kuro Jizō, you will be able to find among the thousand statues one that resembles a person you miss and desire to see again.” <end quote>

Top of Page

Horoku Jizo at Daienji Temple, TokyoHōroku Jizō ほうろく地蔵
Earthenware Jizō. Devotees offer earthenware plates to images of this Jizō when they suffer from headaches or other head ailments. They write their prayers on the earthenware, and present the plates to Jizō, or place it atop the statue's head. One well-known Hōroku Jizō is located at Daienji Temple 大円寺 (Tokyo). Photo: Hōroku Jizō at Daienji Temple, courtesy this J-site.

The term Hōroku 法烙 refers to flat plates used in temples. Says Gabi Greve: “During the ancestor festival O-Bon in August temples provide hōroku that you can place on the graves and make a little fire in them to welcome the ancestors.”

Horoku Jizo at Daienji Temple, Tokyo
Hōroku Jizō at Daienji Temple. Surrounded by Earthenware. Photo courtesy this J-Site.

Top of Page


Jizo Bosatsu, Late Heian Period, Byodo-in Temple (Kyoto)
Jizō Bosatsu. Wood.
H = 156.3 cm. Late Heian Period.
Photo: Byōdōin Temple 平等院 (Kyoto).
Scanned from magazine 古寺を巡る, #13,
page 33. Published by Shogakukan 2007.

Hōyake Jizō 頬焼地蔵
Jizō With Burnt Cheeks. One of many different forms of the Migawari Jizō or Substitute Jizō (one who vicariously receives our injuries and wounds). Found in various localities throughout Japan. Hōyake Jizō appears in the 1698 document Setsuyō Gundan. Using this as a reference, scholar De Visser (1876-1930) writes: “Located at the Seshuu-in 専修院 in Tanimachi Town 谷町 in Osaka, this Jizō was said to have suffered in hell as a substitute for a woman, who in this way escaped the terrible punishment of being beaten by yakekane 焼鉄 or burning irons. This image was a Reibutsu 靈佛, an idol which by much ling (Chn. = 靈 or 霊, manifestation of vital power) showed its divinity by hearing the prayers of its worshippers and performing miracles.” This version of Jizō may also be compared with that of the Hitaki Jizō (Black Jizō) statue at Kakuonji Temple in Kamakura.

Another similar story appeared in the Uji Shūi Monogatari 宇治拾遺物語 (a document from the early 13th century). Writes scholar De Visser: “This work tells a story about the Buddhist priest Ganō 賀能, who one day took shelter from the rain in a Jizō chapel in in Yokogawa no Hannya-dani on Hieizan 比叡山 (near Kyoto). As the roof of the chapel was dilapidated and the rain dripped upon the Jizō image, he pitied it and covered it with his own hat. After death he fell into hell, because he had committed many evil deeds, and was thrown into an iron caldron, in which his body was burned. While he was thus suffering immensely, a priest, the Jizō of Yokogawa, appeared and pulled him out of the kettle, scalding his own forehead, foot and shoulder. Then Ganō revived and when he visited the chapel he saw that the corresponding parts of the Jizō image were burned.”

Top of Page

Jizō Bon 地蔵盆 and Jizō Festival 地蔵祭
The 24th day of each month is considered Jizō's ENNICHI 縁日. Ennichi literally means "related day." This is translated as sacred day or holy day; it is a monthly memorial day with special significance to a particular Buddha or Bodhisattva. Saying prayers to the deity on this day is believed to bring greater merits and better results than on regular days. The Heian-era document Konjaku Monogatari 今昔物語 gives Jizō's Ennichi as the 24th day of each month.

Even today, at numerous locations throughout Japan, the annual Jizō Bon 地蔵盆 ceremony is held nationwide on August 24. Traditionally known as the Confession of Jizō Ceremony (Jizō Bon) in which people confess the faults they committed during the year in the hopes of erasing bad karma, and to pray that Jizō will grant them longevity and protect their children. Today it is often combined with a children's festival (Jizō-sai 地蔵祭) in which children gather into groups and rotate a lengthy rosary (juzu-kuri 数珠繰り) made of large beads. In some localities, children believe that tapping their forehead against the beads will bring them luck. In many areas, children are allowed to paint the faces of the local Jizō statues (Keshō Jizō 化粧地蔵, lit. Jizō with Makeup) or to wash the statues and dress them in new red bibs, hats, and robes. Red lanterns are hung at Jizō sites with the inscription "Hail to Jizō Bosatsu," and children eat red-colored festival food. Adds site contributor Gabi Greve: "Today it is customary to have the Jizō-bon on both August 23 and 24 to coincide with the Jizō-sai (Jizō fairs), but a growing number of communities have recently changed the dates to the nearest Saturday and Sunday.”

Says Yuki Yamaguchi: “During Jizō Bon, Jizō statues are washed and decorated with red bibs and red hats. We serve meals to thank them for protecting children. Jizō-bon is traditionally held for two days (August 23- 24). Everyone gathers in a community hall to prepare for it. I would get to wear my yukata (summer kimono). Kids receive a lantern with their name on and also halloween-style snack packs. There are games and entertainment and “bon-odori” dancing. Bon-odori is a group dance. Everyone does the same dance, moving in a circle around a float where taiko (japanese drum) is played. We don’t take any formal lessons but everybody knows the dance. You learn by watching the person in front of you. I like this type of group dancing. Everybody moves the same way and goes around and around and around.”

Top of Page

Michibiki Jizo in Kamakura
Kinomoto Jizō. Kinomoto Jizō-in Temple, Nagahama Town, Shiga.

Koyasu JizoKinomoto Jizō 木之本地蔵
Kinomoto literally means "Root of the Tree, or “Origin of the Tree," or “Base of the Tree.” The Jizō statue at Kinomoto Jizō-in Temple, Nagahama Town 長浜市 (Shiga Prefecture) is known for healing eye diseases. Locals call the deity Me no Hotokesama 目の仏様 (the Eye Buddha). According to Gabi Greve: "Once upon a time, there lived a frog in the temple compound, who saw countless patients with eye diseases come visiting and praying for a cure. 'Is there anything I can do to help them?' he asked. Then the frog made a vow: 'I will close one of my eyes to experience their pain and will ask the divine grace and help of Jizō Bosatsu to cure their diseases.' When all people suffering from eye afflictions are cured, this frog will once again open its eye. This temple maintains a "hidden" image of Jizō, one not shown to the public. But there is a similar large six-meter statue of Jizō in the temple compound. At its feet are countless figurines of little frogs, which are offered by devotees who hope to gain a cure for their eye ailments."


Top of Page

Koyasu Jizō 子安地蔵

Koyasu Jizo
Koyasu Jizō, Modern Statue
Available Online at this J-Site

Koyasu JizoLit. = Easy Childbirth Jizō. This form of Jizō grants easy and safe delivery to woman, and in modern times is often depicted holding a child, or with children in his lap or at his feet. Koyasu Jizō is venerated at numerous temples throughout Japan, including Tatsueji Temple 立江寺 in Shikoku, which was built in 747 by order of Emperor Shōmu 聖武 (reigned 724 to 749). The emperor also ordered the construction of a Jizō statue, which was called the Koyasu-no-Jizō, and prayed to it to grant easy childbirth to the pregnant crown princess. The famed monk Kōbō Daishi 弘法大師 (774-835) reportedly later visited the temple and made a larger statue, which thereafter became the temple’s central idol. <Source: Temple records plus the Garan Kaiki Ki 伽藍開基記 (1689, Ch. VII, p. 2),  translated as “Records of the Founding of Buddhist Temples.">

Another notable example is Koyasuzan Obitoke-dera 子安山帯解寺 (Temple for Loosening the Girdle, i.e. granting easy birth) in Nara. It houses a Kamakura-era statue of Koyasu Jizō, considered the oldest extant Koyasu Jizō image in Japan. This temple was built in 851 by Fujiwara no Akiko 藤原彰子, the consort of Emperor Montoku 文徳天皇, to honor Jizō for helping her survive a long and difficult pregnancy. The child later became Japan's first boy emperor <Source>
It is quite logical that Jizō was associated early on with women, pregnancy, fertility, and children -- for Jizō can be translated literally as “Womb of the Earth” (JI 地 = earth, ZŌ 蔵 = womb). Along with Kannon Bosatsu (Goddess of Mercy), Jizō is considered a savior par-excellance for women and children, and numerous forms of Jizō are thus venerated by women praying for children, easy delivery, help with child rearing, and other female concerns. For more details on these associations, jump to Jizō, Women, & Pregnancy -- which includes a description of the Hara-Obi Jizō 腹帯地蔵 (Belly Girdle Jizō).

Additionally, Jizō incorporates many of the functions of Koyasu-sama (aka Koyasu-gami), the Shintō goddess of pregnancy, safe childbirth, and the healthy growth and development of children. Shintō shrines dedicated to Koyasu-sama still exist in modern times. These shrines are known as Asama Shrines 浅間神社 (also pronounced Sengen). More than 1,000 Asama (Sengen) shrines exist across Japan, with the head shrines standing at the foot and the summit of Mount Fuji itself. These sanctuaries are dedicated to Koyasu’s namesake, the mythical princess Konohana Sakuya Hime (木花之佐久夜毘売), the Shintō deity of Mount Fuji, of cherry trees in bloom, and the patron of safe delivery. In Shintō mythology, Konohana (lit = tree flower) is the daughter of Ōyamatsumi (the earthly kami of mountains). She was married to Ninigi 邇邇芸尊 (heavenly grandchild of sun goddess Amaterasu), became pregnant in a single night, and gave birth to three children while her home was engulfed in fire -- thus her role as the Shintō kami who grants safe childbirth. In some accounts she died in the fire, and thus she is likened to the short-lived beauty of the cherry blossom. <Source: Konohana Sakuya Hime and Koyasu-sama; both from the Kokugakuin University Shintō Encyclopedia >

Despite the survival of Shintō’s Koyasu-sama into modern times, she has been largely supplanted by her Buddhist equivalents, known as Koyasu Jizō, Koyasu Kannon, and Koyasu Kishibojin (see Patrons of Motherhood & Children for even more deities).

Top of Page

Kubifuri Jizō 首振地蔵
Turn-My-Head Jizō. A statue of this Jizō is located just outside the entrance gate to Kiyomizu-dera 清水寺 in Kyoto. Devotees turn the head of this Jizō image when asking Jizō for a favor. The practice began sometime in the Edo period, and is probably a variation of the Shintō Haykudo Mairi tradition and the Jizō Wheel tradition (itself a variant of the Haykudo Mairi practice).   

Kubifuri Jizo Kubifuri Jizo
Kubifuri Jizō at Kiyomizu-dera (Kyoto)
Turn the head while asking Jizō for assistance.
Photos taken at different times, hence the different-colored hats.

Top of Page

Kubikire Jizō 首切れ地蔵
Jizō with Head Cut Off. This Jizō is one of many different forms of the Migawari Jizō or Substitute Jizō (one who vicariously receives our injuries and wounds). The Kubikire Jizō appears in the 1698 document Setsuyō Gundan, which tells us that monk Junrei was saved by this Jizō when he was attacked at night by robbers. Jizō served as his substitute, offering his head instead of Junrei’s. When the monk awoke in the morning, he discovered a bloodstained image of Jizō (at Anryu-machi, Settsu province) with its head laying on the ground. The old province of Settsu is today part of eastern Hyōgo Prefecture and northern Osaka Prefecture.

Top of Page

Michibiki Jizo in Kamakura
Michibiki Jizō in Kamakura

Michibiki Jizō 導き地蔵
Guiding Jizō

In Kamakura city, there is a structure close to both Gokurakuji Temple and Sakurabashi Bridge that houses a Jizō statue named Michibiki Jizō, translated as "Guiding Jizō." This form of Jizō protects children from impediments to their growth and prevents mishaps within his field of vision. Photo and text from this E-site.



Top of Page

Migawari Jizō 身代り地蔵
Substitute Jizō, one who substitutes for our suffering, one who vicariously receives our injuries and wounds. There are numerous versions and stories of the Substitute Jizō. In one of many legends, this emanation of Jizō once saved a Japanese princess, who was attacked by a villain, by putting himself in front of the attacker’s sword. For a time, it is said, the statue had a scar across its face where the villain’s sword had fallen. This type of Jizō is known as the Substitute Jizō (Migawari Jizō 身代り地蔵), one who substitutes himself for our suffering.

Another well-known substitute is Tachiyama Jizō 立山地蔵, who takes the place of a poor peasant woman so she can rest once a month (see Farmers & Peasants Jizō for more examples involving agricultural concerns). Another interesting example comes from the Garan Kaiki Ki 伽藍開基記 (Records of the Founding of Buddhist Temples), written in 1689. It states that Emperor Shōtoku 称徳天皇 (718 - 770) ordered the construction of a temple dedicated to Jizō on sacred Mt. Ōyama 大山 (present day Tottori Prefecture) after hearing a miracle story about a Jizō image in the possession of a Jizō devotee named Toshikata, who lived at the foot of Ōyama mountain. Writes scholar De Visser: “One day, when Toshikata came home after having shot a stag in the mountains, and was about to worship Jizō, he was much frightened by seeing his arrow sticking in the image and blood flowing out of the wound. He understood that Jizō in his great compassion for all living beings had given his own body as a substitute for the stag and had been wounded in its place. This caused him to shave his head and to become a monk; he had his house pulled down and a Jizō Hall built on the spot. When the Emperor heard this story, the Emperor ordered the construction of a temple in the same spot in order to dedicate this to the miraculous image.” <end quote>

The temple is known at Daisenji 大山寺, but records about its origin are conflicting. The Genkō Shakusho (written before 1346) says the famous monk Ennin 円仁 (794-864; posthumous title Jikaku Daishi 慈覚大師) founded the temple. Other well-known examples of the Substitute Jizō include Hitaki Jizō 火焚地蔵 (Fire-Kindling Jizō or Black Jizō), Hōyake Jizō (Jizō With Burnt Cheeks), and Shōgun Jizō (Battlefield Jizō)  

Top of Page

Miso Jizō みそ地蔵 (Bean Paste Jizō)
Miso Jizo at Saizouji Temple, Higashiyama, Hiroshima; photo courtesy Dr. GabiAt Saizōji Temple (in Higashiyama, Hiroshima), people bring a flat pack of miso (bean paste), put it on the head of a seated Jizō statue, say a prayer, and then put the miso pack on their own head in the hopes their prayers will be answered (e.g., prayers to cure illness, to pass the school exams, to gain intellegence). In this area of Hiroshima, the Miso Jizō is even more popular than Michizane Sugawara, a courtier in the Heian period who was deified after death -- he is considered a Shintō deity and venerated as the patron of scholarship, learning, and calligraphy at Tenjin shrines throughout Japan. Miso means bean paste. It is also short for "nōmiso," the latter term meaning "brain." Thus, Miso Jizō is a play on sounds.

Misoname Jizō みそなめ地蔵 (Miso Licking Jizō)
In other locations, people worship the so-called Misoname Jizō or "Miso-Licking Jizō." According to folklore, people who are granted their wishes are supposed to visit "Miso Licking" temples and smear miso around the mouth of the Jizō statue. In other areas, people spread miso on Jizō statues to cure sickness, tooth aches, and eye diseases. The basic belief is to put miso on the statue in the same location as your ailment -- on Jizō's teeth if you have a tooth ache, on Jizō's eye if you have an eye disease, etc. This symbolism is similar to another manifestation of Jizō called the Migawari Jizō (Substitution Jizō). This latter Jizō “substitutes” himself for the suffering of the people, curing them by taking on their pain. For much more on Miso Jizō, the Miso Licking Jizō, and other unique Japanese manifestations of this beloved deity, please see Gabi Greve's Miso Jizō page. There is another version of Jizō called the Shioname Jizō 塩なめ地蔵 (Salt-licking Jizō) enshrined at Kōsokuji Temple 光触寺 (Juniso) in Kamakura, which is one of the temples on the 24-temple Kamakura Jizō Pilgrimage.

 Top of Page

Mizuko Jizo at Raikoji Shrine in Kamakura
Mizuko Jizō in graveyard,
Raikōji Temple, Kamakura.
Late 20th century, stone.

Jizo Painting, 19th century, Victoria & Albert Museum
Jizō, 19th century
Victoria & Albert Museum

Jizo Bosatsu and Child
At Hase Dera, Kamakura.
Stone, late 20th century.

Mizuko Jizō 水子地蔵
& Mizuko Ceremony in Japan
Lit = Water-Child Jizō, guardian of aborted children and kids who die prematurely, whose souls go to a hell-realm known as Sai-no-Kawara. In modern Japan, Jizō is popularly venerated as the guardian of unborn, aborted, miscarried, and stillborn babies. These roles were not assigned to Jizō in earlier Buddhist traditions from mainland Asia; they are instead modern adaptations unique to Japan.

Excerpt from “Jizō Bodhisattva” by Chozen Roshi. The most common form of Jizō made in Japan today is the Mizuko Jizō, who is often portrayed as a monk with an infant in his arms and another child or two at his feet, clutching the skirt of his robe. [Editor’s Note: Koyasu Jizō shares same iconography] The Mizuko Jizō is the central figure in a popular but somewhat controversial ceremony called the Mizuko Kuyō 水子供養.

The words Ku-yō are composed of two Chinese characters with the literal meaning "to offer" and "to nourish". The underlying meaning is to offer what is needed to nourish life energy after it is no longer perceptible in the form of a human or occupying a body we can touch. In actual use Kuyō refers to a memorial service and Mizuko Kuyō to a memorial service for infants who have died either before birth or within the first few years of life. An image of the Mizuko Jizō usually is the central figure on the altar at such a ceremony. Grieving parents may buy a small statue of Mizuko Jizō to place on the family altar or in a cemetery as a memorial for their child.

The two Chinese characters in the word mizu-ko are literally translated "water" and "baby". It is a description of the unborn beings who float in a watery world awaiting birth. The Japanese perceived that all life is originated from the sea long before evolutionary theory proposed this. Their island home and all its inhabitants float in the ocean, which is the source of much of their nutrition. In actual use, the term "mizuko" includes not only fetuses and the newly born, but also infants up to one or two years of age whose hold on life in the human realm is still tenuous.

In Japan young children are regarded as "other worldly" and not fully anchored in human life. Fetuses are still referred to as kami-no-ko or "child of the gods" and also as "Buddha". Before the twentieth century, the probability that a child would survive to age five or seven was often less than 50 percent. Only after that age were they "counted" in a census and could they be "counted upon" to participate in the adult world. Children were thought of as mysterious beings in a liminal world between the realm of humans and gods. Because of this the gods could speak through them. For centuries prepubescent children in Japan have been chosen as chigo 稚児, or "divine children", who do divination and function as oracles. Even today children below school age still are allowed a somewhat heavenly existence, indulged and protected without many expectations or pressures. They often sleep in bed with their parents and younger siblings until age seven. School entry and displacement from the parental bed can come as a rude shock. <end quote by Chozen Roshi> NOTE. Also see Gabi’s page on children who serve as temple acolytes.


Mizuko Jizo at Hase Dera in Kamakura
  Mizuko Jizō at Hase Dera in Kamakura

Book Cover -- Jizo Bodhisattva by Jan Chozen BaysMizuko Jizō Book
Writes Chozen Roshi: “People in America and Europe have only recently become acquainted with Jizō Bodhisattva, but mistaken beliefs among Westerners about Jizō already exist. The Mizuko Jizō, although currently popular, revered, and omnipresent in Japan, is not an ancient Jizō. Nor is it the only form of Jizō. The term "mizuko" does not appear in Buddhist or Shintō scriptures. The mizuko kuyō is not an ancient rite nor was it originally a Buddhist ceremony. Both the Mizuko Jizō and the mizuko ceremony arose in Japan in the 1960s in response to a human need, to relieve the suffering emerging from the experience of a large number of women who had undergone abortions after World War II.” <end quote from Chozen Roshi>

Mizuko Jizō Anticedents (Jizō Legend in Japan)
The cult of Mizuko Jizō in Japan emerged only recently (1960s), but it no doubt draws its inspiration from much earlier tales of Jizō’s salvific powers. Based on legends attributed to the Jodō Sect (Pure Land Sects devoted to Amida Buddha) around the 14th or 15th century, children who die prematurely are sent to the underworld to undergo judgment. Even though they died before hearing the teachings of the Buddha, or before they could accumulate good or bad karma, they must still undergo judgment as do all people. Even the innocent souls of unborn fetuses are sent to the underworld, for folk wisdom says they are guilty of causing great sorrow to their parents. They are sent to Sai no Kawara, the river of souls in purgatory, where they pray for Buddha’s compassion by building small stone towers, piling stone upon stone. But underworld demons, answering to the command of the old hag Shozuka no Baba, soon arrive and scatter their stones and beat them with iron clubs. But, no need to worry, for Jizō comes to the rescue. In one version of the story, Jizō hides the children in the sleeves of his robe. This traditional Japanese story has been adapted to modern needs, and today, children who die prematurely in Japan are called “mizuko,” or water children, and the saddened parents pray to Mizuko Jizō.  This form of Jizō is unique to Japan, and did not appear until after the end of World War II. See Mizuko Jizō above for details.

Red Oni (Demon) with Iron Club (from Daidosha Publication)
From comic book by
Daido Publications, Tokyo

Jizo cartoon from Daidosha Publication

From comic book by
Daido Publications, Tokyo


Top of Page

Mizuko, Stones, and Jizō
Even today, you will invariably find little heaps of stones and pebbles on or around Jizō statues, as many bereaved parents believe that a stone offered in faith will shorten the time their dead child suffers in the underworld and help their child in performing his/her penance in the netherworld. (See the preceding paragraph for one origin of this tradition.) You will also notice that Jizō statues are often wearing tiny garments. Since Jizō is the guardian of dead children, sorrowing parents bring the little garments of their lost ones and dress the Jizō statue in hopes Jizō will especially protect their child during their time in the netherworld. A little hat or bib (often red in color) or toy is often seen as well, the gift of a rejoicing parent whose child has been cured of dangerous sickness thanks to Jizō’s intervention, or a gift to help the deceased child in the afterlife. 

Jizo with Prayer Stone atop head -- Available for Online Purchase
Jizo with Prayer Stone atop head
Modern Ceramic Statue

Jizo Statues at Hase Dera in Kamakura, Japan
Jizo statues decked in garments and toys.
Hase Dera in Kamakura, Japan


  Top of Page 

Omokaru Jizo at Gokurakuji Temple; photo courtesy of
Omokaru Jizo at Gokurakuji Temple
2nd Site of Shikoku Pilgrimage
Also called: Jizo to hold in your arms
Photo courtesy this J-Site

Omokaru Ishi おもかる石

Omokaru Jizō おもかる地蔵尊

Below text courtesy Gabi Greve.

Omokaru-ishi literally means “heavy or light stones.” There are numerous variations for these types of stones and statues. Essentially, you make a wish and try to lift the stone (or statue). If you can carry it (karui = light), your wish will be granted. If you cannot carry it (omoi = heavy), then you have to come back another day and try again. Sometimes a statue of Jizō Bosatsu is used instead of a stone. For more details and a list of sites where these stones are located, please see this web page by Gabi Greve.


  Top of Page  

Onegai Jizō お願い地蔵
Literally the “wish-giving” or “ask-a-favor” Jizō. At many temples, visitors can buy tiny images of Jizō, which they deposit around the main Jizō statue when praying for Jizō’s help. This is probably an extension of Sentai Jizō (1,000 Jizō) traditions.

Onegai Jizo at NIHON-JI DAIBUTSU (Nokogiriyama)  Onegai Jizo at NIHON-JI DAIBUTSU (Nokogiriyama)
Thousands of Onegai Jizō at Nihonji Daibutsu, Nokogiriyama, Chiba.
 Constructed in the 1780s, Nokogiriyama features gigantic statues of Yakushi Nyorai
and Kannon Bosatsu that are carved into the rock face. Click here for details.

 Top of Page  

Six Jizo at the RokuJizo Intersection (Kamakura)
Roku Jizō Intersection, Kamakura

Six Jizo at Hase Kannon in Kamakura
Roku Jizō, Hase Dera, Kamakura

Roku Jizo (Six Jizo) at Hase Dera in Kamakura
Roku Jizō, Hase Dera, Kamakura

Ganmangafuchi, Daiyagawa, Nikko City, Tochigi Pref.
Ganmangafuchi 日光・含満ヶ淵
Daiyagawa 大谷川, Nikko City
Tochigi Pref. Photo from
now-defunct J-site.

Six Jizo, Meigetsu-in, Kita Kamakura
Roku Jizō, Meigetsu-in, Kamakura

Roku Jizō 六地蔵 (lit. = Six Jizō)
Six Jizō and Six States of Existence

Jizō vowed to assist beings in each of the Six Realms of Desire and Karmic Rebirth, in particular those in the hell realm, and is thus often shown in groupings of six. For more details on the six states (also called the Six Paths of Transmigration or Reincarnation, the Wheel of Life, the Cycle of Samsara, or Cycle of Suffering), click here. In Japan, groupings of six Jizō statues (one for each of the Six Realms) are quite common and often placed at busy intersections or oft-used roads to protect travelers and those in "transitional" states. Jizō also often carries a staff with six rings, which he shakes to awaken us from our delusions. The six rings likewise symbolize the six states of desire and karmic rebirth and Jizō’s promise to assist all beings in those realms. In Japanese traditions, the six rings, when shaken, are also meant to make a sound and thus frighten away any insects or tiny animals in the direct path of the pilgrim, thus ensuring the pilgrim does not slay or accidentally kill any life form. In Chinese traditions, Jizō shakes the six rings to open the doors between the various realms.

Worship of the Six Jizō can be traced back to the 11th century in Japan, but this grouping has no basis in Mahayana scripture or in the writings of Buddhist clergy. Its origin is probably linked to a similar grouping of Six Kannon (one for each of the six realms) that appeared in the early 10th century in Japan’s Tendai 天台 sect. This grouping of Six Kannon originated much earlier in China, and draws its scriptural basis from the Mo-ho-chih-kuan (Jp. Makashikan 摩訶止観), a work (circa 594 AD) by the noted Chinese Tien-tai master Chih-i 智顗 (538 - 597). By the 11th century, Japan’s Shingon sect also began venerating the Six Kannon. The worship of Six Jizō appeared around the same time. The six emanations of Jizō vary among temples and sects. <Sources: Professor Sherry Fowler of the University of Kansas has done extensive research on the Six Kannon of Daihō-onji Temple 大報恩寺. Also see JAANUS. Also see Kashara & McCarthy. A History of Japanese Religion. Kosei, 2001, pages 138-140.>


   Six Realms (from lowest to highest, from worst to best)

  1. Hells (Skt. Naraka, Jp = Jigokudō 地獄道)
  2. Hungry Ghosts (Skt. Preta, Jp = Gakidō 餓鬼道)
  3. Animals (Skt. Tiryasyoni, Jp = Chikushōdō 畜生道)
  4. Bellicose Demons (Skt. Asura, Jp = Ashuradō 阿修羅道)
  5. Humans (Skt. Manusya, Jp = Jindō 人道)
  6. Heavenly Beings (Skt. Deva, Jp = Tendō 天道)

   Six Jizō (listed in Butsuzō-zu-i 仏像図彙, 1690)

  1. Chiji Jizō 地持地蔵, also known as Gosan Jizō 護讃地蔵
  2. Darani Jizō 陀羅尼地蔵, also known as Ben-ni Jizō 牟尼地蔵
  3. Hōshō Jizō 宝性地蔵, also known as Hashō Jizō 破勝地蔵 or Gasshō Jizō 合掌地蔵
  4. Keiki Jizō 鶏亀地蔵, also known as Enmei Jizō 延命地蔵 or Kōmi Jizō 光味地蔵
  5. Hōshō Jizō 法性地蔵, also known as Fukyūsoku Jizō 不休息地蔵
  6. Hōin Jizō 法印地蔵, also known as Sanryū Jizō 讃龍地蔵  

Six Jizō, 12th Century. The late-Heian Japanese scripture known as Jizō Bosatsu Hosshin Innen Jūō Kyō 地蔵菩薩発心因縁十王経 (or Ten Kings Sūtra) deals with Jizō and the Ten Kings of Hell, describing Jizo's role in delivering people from the six worlds of desire and rebirth. It lists the following Six Jizō.


Names in Sutra

Also Known As



Kongōgan Jizō

Danda Jizō 檀陀地蔵
Skt. Daṇḍa; Yama’s Staff

Left hand holding staff topped with human head, right hand in Jōben-in mudra 成弁印


Kongōhō Jizō

Hōju Jizō 宝珠地蔵
Skt. Maṇi

Precious Jewel Jizō; left hand holding jewel, right hand forming Kanro-in mudra 甘露印


Kongōhi Jizō

Hōin Jizō 宝印地蔵
Skt. Ratnamudrapani

Treasure Seal Jizō; left hand holding staff, right hand forming Injo-in mudra 引接印


Kongōtō Jizō

Jiji Jizō 持地地蔵
Skt. Dharanidhara

Earth Possession Jizō; left hand holding vajra flag, right hand forming semui-in mudra 施無畏印 (Fear Not mudra)


Yotenga Jizō

Jogaishō Jizō 除蓋障地蔵蔵
Skt. Sarva Nivāraṇa

Eliminates Obstacles Jizō; left hand holding wish-granting jewel, right hand forming seppō-in mudra 説法印 (Teaching mudra).


Hōkō-ō Jizō

Nikkō Jizō 日光地蔵
Skt. Sūryābhā

Sunlight Jizō; left hand holding staff and right hand forming yogan-in mudra 与願印 (Welcoming mudra)

NOTE: In both the 1690 and 1783 versions of the Butsuzō-zu-i 仏像図彙, the positions of Yotenga Jizō and Hōkō-ō Jizō are reversed. In the Butsuzō-zu-i, Yotenga Jizō represents the Deva realm and Hōkō-ō Jizō the human realm. 

Six Jizō, 13th Century. The Kakuzenshō 覚禅鈔, a compilation of Buddhist iconographical drawings by Shingon monk Kakuzan 覚禅 (1143-1212), included three different groupings of the Six Jizō.


Group 1

Group 2

Group 3



Daitei Chie Jizō

Danda Jizō

Kōmi Jizō

jewel, staff


Daitoku Shōjō Jizō

Hōju Jizō

Ben-ni Jizō

yogan-in mudra


Daikōmyō  Jizō

Hōin Jizō

Shoryū Jizō

sacred jewel


Shōjōmuku Jizō

Jiji Jizō


jewel, sutra box


Daishōjō Jizō

Jogaishō Jizō

Gosan Jizō

semui-in mudra



Nikkō Jizō

Fukyūsoku Jizō

sutra scroll

Sources: 1. Butsuzō-zu-i 仏像図彙, 2. Kakuzenshō 覚禅鈔; 3. Ten Kings Sūtra 地蔵菩薩発心因縁十王経

Six Jizo Listed in the Butsuzo-zui
Six Jizō Listed in the Butsuzō-zu-i 仏像図彙
Esoteric Jizō Forms (see Kongō 金剛 list above).

Another Grouping of Six Jizo Listed in the Butsuzo-zui
Another Grouping of Six Jizō Listed in the Butsuzō-zu-i 仏像図彙
The traditional Exoteric names, attributes and mudra mentioned in the Ten Kings Sutra.)

Top of Page

Roku Jizō (Six Jizō) in Modern Times
Hats for Six Jizō, Popular Children’s Book

Kasa Jizō 笠地蔵 (Hatted Jizō or Jizō with Hat), also known as Hibō Jizō 被帽地蔵) is an extremely popular fairy tale attributed to both Iwate and Fukushima prefectures. Below summary from the Japan Society. On New Year's Eve, a poor old man goes to the village, hoping to sell a piece of cloth his wife wove to make some money for the New Year's holiday. He meets a man who is trying to sell straw hats, and he exchanges the cloth with the man's five hats. On the way back home in the snow, the old man spots six stone statues of Jizō looking cold. The kind old man covers their heads with five straw hats and his own scarf. He returns home with empty hands but his wife is happy for what he has done. During the night of New Year's Eve, the six Jizō reward the couple for the their unselfish generosity. <Site Editor’s Note: This charming story was labeled "ideologically biased" by the Jiyu Shimpo in the 1980s for its implicit criticism of capitalist society. See outside story Literature, Ideology and Japan’s Revised Education Law: Kinoshita Junji’s Yuzuru. Jiyu Shimpo is an organ of Japan’s long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party.>

Six Hats for Jizo. Photo courtesy
Found image on Japanese web

English Translation of Kasa Jizō Story with Cute Illustrations
YouTube Animation of Kasa Jizō Story (narration in Japanese)

Top of Page

Rubbing Traditions
The rubbing of Jizō statues to alleviate ailments may be an extension of Japan’s earlier “rubbing” traditions. At many temples, statues of certain deities appear worn near the head, shoulders, and body joints, as passersby believe that rubbing their hands on these deities will somehow bring benefits. Statues of Binzuru (Pindola), the most widely revered of the Arhat in Japan, and Yakushi Nyorai, the Buddha of Medicine and Healing, are usually well worn, as the faithful rub part of the statue (knees, back, head), then rub the same part of their body, praying for the deity to heal their sickness (e.g., cancer, arthritis, headaches, other ailments). Both are reputed to have the gift of healing. This "rubbing" tradition is also associated with Daikoku (the god of wealth and farmers, and one of Japan’s Seven Lucky Gods). People rub Daikoku statues in the hope of gaining good luck and fortune (i.e., they believe good luck will rub off on them). Also see Tawashi Jizō (Kitchen-Brush Jizō).

Top of Page

Sakasa Jizo, Koriyama-Castle, Nara PrefectureSakasa Jizō さかさ地蔵
Literally “Upside Down Jizō.”

Says site contributor Gabi Greve. “An upside-down stone statue of Jizō is located in the walls of  Koriyama Castle 大和郡山城址 in Yamato Koriyama, Nara prefecture. The stones from the river Mizutanigawa near Kasuga Taisha 春日大社の水谷川 were not enough for the castle’s construction. When the wall was erected, all the available big stones nearby where used for the construction. This Jizō also got into the wall, head down ... they also used stone lanterns and stone grave markers for the wall, which was build on behalf of Toyotomi Hidenaga 豊臣秀長, son of Hideyoshi, in 1585.” Photo courtesy this J-Site.


Top of Page

Sentai Jizō 千躰地蔵
1,000 Bodies of Jizō; groupings of hundreds of Jizō statues. To increase their effectiveness, tiny statues of Jizō are sometimes grouped in large numbers around a central Jizō image (as with the Black Jizō at Kakuonji Temple in Kamakura, the Onegai Jizō at Nihonji Daibutsu, and at Takahata Fudō-son 高幡不動尊 temple, wherein a five-story pagoda devoted to Kōbō Daishi features 1,000 Jizō statues.

Says the Flammrion Guide: “In times of epidemics or disasters, it is customary to paint countless images of Jizō which are then thrown into the sea or a river in a ceremony called Jizō Nagashi (Jizō floating on the waters). This ceremony sometimes also takes place during the periods of the spring and autumn equinoxes. In 1923, for example, after the terrible earthquake that destroyed the city of Tokyo, more than 700,000 images of Jizō were thrown into the Sumida river to attract the attention of Jizō to the spirits of those who had perished in the catastrophe. Prayers can also be sent to him in writing: this applies in particular to TSUNBO JIZŌ 聾地蔵 (lit. = Deaf Jizō) of Komagome 駒込 (Hongo, Tokyo) when one suffers from persistent coughing. The people believe that, since Jizō is deaf, he cannot hear their prayers; it is therefore necessary to send them to him in writing, either by post, or by placing the written paper on the waters of a river or the sea. This Jizō is thought to be a great lover of sake and a cure is more likely if he is promised a bottle.” <end quote>

Sentai Jizo, 1000 Jizo, Hase Dera, Kamakura, Japan
Hase Dera, Kamakura, Japan

Top of Page

Sekidome Jizō 咳止地蔵
Cough-Stopping Jizō. A folk Jizō who stops coughing fits. Origin unknown, probably during the Edo period. See this J-site.     

  Top of Page

Shibarare Jizo -- String-bound JizoShibarare Jizō 縛られ地蔵, String-Bound Jizō
This form of Jizō is relatively new. The earliest Japanese text to mention Shibarare Jizō (to my knowledge) is the Edo Sunago 江戸砂子, dated 1732, which cites the curious habit of binding a Jizō statue at Rinsenji Temple 林泉寺 (Tokyo) in ropes before beseeching the deity for divine intervention. There are various legends about this form of Jizō. Three are presented below. Although String-Bound Jizō is clearly an Edo-era creation, the deity's origins may have drawn from a much earlier story appearing in the Taiheiki 太平記 (circa 1371 Japanese text), which describes a soldier taking refuge in a Jizō sanctuary after fleeing from a battle. As the enemy drew nearer, Jizō appeared in the form of a priest who was then captured by the enemy in place of the soldier. From that point forward, the Jizō statue in the sanctuary showed markings where it had been bound. For more on this story, see Shōgun Jizō.

Legend One. Rinsenji Temple (Tokyo). Text and photo from Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 9, 2003. The gentle, round face of Jizō, the guardian deity of children, can barely be seen amidst the layers of cord tied around the stone statue of the god at Rinsenji Temple in Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo, which was erected in 1602. The stone statue called “Shibarare (string-bound) Jizō” is said to have been donated to the temple by its founder, Itō Hanbei 伊藤半兵衛, in memory of his late parents. There are other Shibarare Jizō statues in other locations around Tokyo. However, the statue at Rinsenji appeared in “Zenigata Heiji,” a detective story set in the Edo Era and written by novelist Kodō Nomura 野村胡堂 (1882-1963). Local residents originally started tying strings around the statue when offering prayers for the recovery of stolen or missing items. When their prayers were answered, people were supposed to remove the string. These days, however, many people visit the temple to offer prayers for various other reasons. “At the end of every year, we hold a ceremony to remove all the strings and burn them. But the statue was already covered with new strings in January,” said the chief priest at the temple, Shin-jin Eda, 40. <end story by Shinobu Miwa for the Yomiuri Shimbun > 


String Bound Jizo, Nanzo-in Temple, Tokyo
Tomoko Takasawa, 55, visits Nanzoin
Temple to tie a rope on Shibarare Jizō
(tied Jizō) and pray for her health.
Hiroshi Chida, Stars and Stripes

Legend Two. Nanzō-in Temple (Tokyo). Text and photo from Stars and Stripes, Dec. 4, 2003. The legend of Shibarare Jizo goes back to the early 18th century. On a hot summer afternoon, a kimono store clerk pulling a cart laden with kimono cloth passed a Jizo statue, then stopped to rest in the shade of a tree by the Jizo statue and dozed off. When he woke up, his bundle of goods was gone. In a panic, he rushed to the magistrate’s office. Then-renowned magistrate Ooka Echizen carried out an investigation. As no witnesses could be found, the judge decided exceptional measures would be needed to solve the case. After pondering the matter, he decided that the statue of Jizo, a god that protects travelers, had been derelict in its duty. Echizen instructed his constables to return to the crime scene and arrest the Jizo statue. The men lifted it from its heavy stone pedestal and bound it with ropes. “Jizo,” the magistrate said, “is guilty for his negligence in keeping watch and letting the robber escape.” Word of the trial spread, and a crowd of spectators thronged to the magistrate’s office yard. Then the magistrate tactically ordered the gate closed, and said, “breaking into the divine court is unforgivable.” As punishment, the magistrate fined each spectator a roll of cloth. They went home, and brought some cloth to the magistrate. Among the pieces brought by them, Echizen found one belonging to the clerk, which lead to the arrest of a notorious ring of thieves. Today, people believe the Jizo of Nanzoin temple grants all wishes — including protection from robbery, better health, matchmaking (tie a knot), protecting you against evil, and more. When you make a wish, you bind the Jizo with a rope. After your wish comes true, you untie the rope. All the ropes tied and untied are made into a bonfire at 11 p.m. on New Year’s Eve. <end story by Hiroshi Chida, Stars and Stripes

String Bound Jizo, Rinzenji Temple, Tokyo
Rinsenji 林泉寺 (Tokyo)
Photo this J-site
Very famous statue

String Bound Jizo, Votive Plaque (Ema), Nanzo-in Temple, Tokyo
Nanzō-in Temple in Katsushika (Tokyo)
A votive tablet (ema 絵馬) of string-bound Jizō.
After purchasing your ema, you write your name
and petition on the back, then hang it within the temple compound. This temple also sells Daruma dolls
bound by a rope.
Photo this J-site.

String Bound Jizo, Gangyoji Temple, Tokyo
Gangyō-ji 願行寺 (Tokyo)
Photo this J-site
Akin to the Taiheiki story

Legend Three. Paper-Pasted Jizō (Kamihari Jizō 紙張地蔵). The Saezurigusa さへずり草, a Japanese text dated to around 1863, mentions a stone image of Jizō known as the Kamihari Jizō 紙張地蔵 -- literally "Paper-Pasted Jizō" -- located at Yōshū-in Temple 陽秀院 (Nagoya). This statue, however, is not covered with strings but instead with paper prayer slips. Devotees write their prayers on the slips and then paste the slips on Jizō's body. According to the Saezurigusa, pilgrims came here to ask Jizo to cure their boils or other medical problems. If the person recovered, s/he would remove the paper letter. <source De Visser, p. 162> This tradition is still practiced today at Yōshū-in. Other localities use a Daruma doll instead of Jizō (see below photo).

More Legends, Musubi Daruma and Shibarare Jizō. There are other variations, says site contributor Gabi Greve: "There is a special Daruma with a rope around the body. You buy it when you make a commitment (for example to give up smoking or drinking) and to BIND you to your promise. The Daruma gets a rope to remind you. You can buy such a Daruma for a New Year resolution on the Year End Market on December 31 to January 2 at the Nanzō-in Temple in Tokyo. This Daruma custom is closely related to the Shibarare Jizō tradition." <see Gabi’s Daruma & Jizo bound by ropes>

Paper covered Daruma at Doi Daruma Temple, Shizuoka

Paper-Pasted Daruma, Doi Daruma Temple 土肥達磨寺 in Shizuoka. Says Gabi Greve: “One of the famous Daruma statues in the compounds is the “Daruma to Cast a Vow” or Gankake Daruma 願掛け達磨. You write your vow on a slip of paper and paste it on the statue. On January first of every year there is a big celebration where all the slips of the past year will be consecrated.” <Photo Gabi Greve>

Kamihari Jizo at Yoshu-in Temple, Nagoya

Paper-Pasted Jizō (Kamihari Jizō 紙張地蔵) at Yōshū-in 陽秀院 (Nagoya). The statue is covered with paper prayer slips. Devotees write their prayers on the slips and then paste the slips on Jizō's body. If one's wish is granted, that person then removes the paper letter. <Photos this J-site>

 Top of Page 

Shinpei Jizō San 心平地蔵さん
Says site contributor Gabi Greve: “The valley where Kenchō-ji Temple 建長寺 is located in Kamakura used to be called "Hell Valley" (Jigokudani 地獄谷). It was a place where the death penalty was enforced and a small temple had been erected to pacify the souls of slain people. This temple was called Shinpei-ji (lit. = land of spiritual peace) and its main deity of worship was a statue of Jizō Bosatsu, now known as the Shinpei Jizō.” <end quote by Gabi. See her site for details and photos.>  Editor’s Note. The Shinpei Jizō is also the 9th stop on the 24-Site Jizō Pilgrimage in the Kamakura area.

Top of Page

Shogun Jizo, Modern Wood Statue
Shōgun Jizō - Modern Handicraft
Courtesy this J-Site.

Shogun Jizo, Modern Wood Statue
Atago Gongen (aka Shōgun Jizō)
Modern Handicraft Statue
Photo Courtesy this J-Site.
Purchase This Statue Online

Shogun Jizo of Mt. Atago, near Kyoto

Above & Below
Shōgun Jizō & Mt. Atago Deities
Edo Era, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
See Photo Here

Shogun Jizo of Mt. Atago, near Kyoto

Yahiroi Jizo, Arrow-Gathering Jizo, Jokomyoji Temple, Kamakura, Naboku Era
Yahiroi Jizō 矢拾地蔵
Arrow-Gathering Jizō
Wood. Height 74 cm.
Jōkōmyōji 浄光明寺 in Kamakura. Early Naboku Era (1336-1392).
Staff is surmounted by arrow.

Shōgun Jizō 勝軍地蔵
Victorious Jizō, Battle-Field Protector, often shown clad in armor. A form of Jizō widely venerated by warriors. Writes scholar Yoshiko Kurata Dykstra: “The idea that Jizō would vicariously receive their injuries and wounds made Jizō immensely attractive among warriors. A story in the Japanese Taiheiki 太平記 (circa 1371) describes how a soldier took refuge in the Jizō Hall of Mibu after fleeing from a battle in the capital. A priest who was the incarnation of the Jizō in the hall appeared and was captured by the enemy in place of the soldier. People later discovered the Jizō statue in the hall was marked as though it had been tightly bound.” (See Shibarare ‘String-Bound’ Jizō for similar stories). Dykstra also writes: “Shōgun Ashikaga Takauji 足利 尊氏 (1305-58), a fervent Jizō devotee, drew a picture of Jizō and worshipped it daily. The deity Shōgun Jizō (Victorious Jizō) of Atago 愛宕 and Shirakawa 白川 was very popular among warriors, who venerated Jizō as protector in battle.”

There are numerous stories about Jizō as a battlefield protector. Jōkōmyōji Temple 浄光明寺 in Kamakura houses a statue of Jizō called the Yahiroi Jizō 矢拾い地蔵, literally Arrow-Gathering Jizō. According to legend, Yahiroi Jizō appeared as a child-monk on the battlefield to save Ashikaga Tadayoshi 足利直義 (1306-52), the younger brother of Ashikaga Takauji, by gathering arrows after Tadayoshi had run out of weapons. Jōkōmyōji Temple is #16 and #17 on the Kamakura Pilgrimage to 24 Jizō Sites.

Within the precints of Tenonji Temple 天恩寺 in Okazaki City (Aichi Prefecture) is a large cedar tree named Ieyasu-ko Mikaeri-no-Sugi (lit. = Cedar Tree Ieyasu Looked Back At). According to legend, Tokugawa Ieyasu 徳川家康 (1542-1616) visited this temple to pray for victory in his campaign to unify Japan. While praying, someone called out his name. As he turned around to address the caller, he saw an assassin hiding behind a huge cedar tree with arrow poised to shoot. Ieyasu narrowly escaped, and as he left the temple for the battlefield, he looked back repeatedly at the tree to show his gratitude, for the voice he had heard was that of Enmei Jizō 延命地蔵 (Life Prolonging Jizō). Enmei Jizō is also one of Six Jizō who protect all beings in the six realms of desire and rebirth. See Six Jizō for details. <Source: Nippon-Kichi>

Says the Flammarion Iconographic Guide: “In certain cases, Jizō may also assume a syncretic aspect, and be represented as a warrior when assimilated with Atago Gongen 愛宕権現, a Kami considered to be a temporary incarnation of Jizō. This kami (Shintō deity), protector from flame and fire, mainly venerated on Mount Atago in Kyoto Prefecture, has also been identified as being Kaguzuchi-no-Kami or even Susanoo-no-Mikoto 須佐之男命 (storm god and brother of the Sun Goddess Amaterasu 太陽神アマテラス) and sometimes even as Izanagi 伊邪那岐命 (Japanese creator god). He is represented with the features of a Chinese warrior on horseback, carrying a pigrim’s staff and a cintamani (Jp. = hōjunotama 宝珠の玉 or wish-granting jewel). Popular imagery sometimes also symbolizes him by statuettes of a horse carrying a cintamani on its back. The support animal or messenger of this Atago Gongen is the wild boar, the symbol of courage, strength, and perseverance. Many legends relate that warriors in difficulty have been rescued by wild boars or Atago Jizō 愛宕地蔵, which charged at their enemies, putting them to flight.” <end Flammarion quote>.

Writes noted scholar Marinus Willem de Visser (pp. 98-99) about Shōgun Jizō: “The Genkō Shakusho 元亨釈書 (Buddhist Records from the Genkō Era), dated to 1322, contains the biography of the Hossō priest Enchin 延鎮, who in A.D. 798 at the expense of the general Sakanoue Tamuramaro 坂上田村魔麿 (758 - 811) built the famous Kiyomizu-dera 清水寺 on a hill at Kyoto, and thence forward lived in this temple. When the Emperor Kanmu 桓武天皇 (737–806) dispatched Tamuramaro at the head of the imperial troops to Oshu (the ancient province of Mutsu), to suppress the rebellion of Takamaru, before his departure the general visited his friend Enchin and requested the latter to assist him by means of the power of Buddha's doctrine. Enchin promised him to do his utmost, and the general marched against the enemy, filled with confidence in this mighty protection. But chance was against him, and after having been defeated in Suruga province he fled to Oshu, pursued by Takamaru. In a second battle a complete defeat was imminent for lack of arrows, when suddenly a little Buddhist priest and a little boy appeared on the scene and picked up the arrows lying on the battlefield. They gave these to Tamuramaro, who then killed Takamaru, defeated his troops and returned in triumph to his imperial master, whom he offered the rebel's head. Thereupon he went to Kiyomizu-dera and asked Enchin, by which doctrine he had protected him so well. The priest answered: "Among my doctrines (methods) there is one devoted to Shōgun Jizō 勝軍地蔵 (Army-Conquering Jizō) and to Shōteki Bishamon 勝敵毘沙門 (Enemy-Conquering Vaiśravaṇa). I made images of both these deities and offered and prayed to them." Now the general understood who had been the little priest and the boy who had picked up the arrows. He entered the temple hall and looked at the images: arrows and swords had apparently wounded them, and their feet were covered with mud! Tamuramaro was struck with wonder and reported the matter to His Majesty, who was also deeply impressed by this miracle.”

De Visser continues: “This story formed the base of Shōgun Jizō’s cult, which soon enjoyed the high favour of the warriors of warlike Japan. It was a secret doctrine, as we learn from the document Kokkyōshū 谷響集 (Collection of Echoes of the Valley, written by Buddhist monk Unshō 運敞 in 1689), which at the question, from which sutra Shōgun Jizō and his secret doctrine were derived, answers that his name is not found in the sutras, but that he is the ’Great Manifestation of Atago’ (Atago Daigongen 愛宕大権現), very much adored by great men of remote antiquity like En no Shōkaku 役小角 (father of Shugendō; late 7th century) and Unpen Shōnin 雲遍上人 (founder of the Hakusan mountain cult; early 8th century). Enchin was a priest of the Hossō sect, the doctrine of which was based upon the Yui-shiki-ron 唯識論, i.e. the Vijñaptimātratāsiddhi-śāstra, a work of Vasubandhu (Jp. Seshin 世親), translated in 650 - 669 AD by the famous pilgrim Huen Tsang. Thus this sect is a branch of the Yoga school, and it is clear why Kiyomizu-dera belongs to both the Hossō and the Shingon sects. The cult of Shōgun Jizō, which started from this temple, was accordingly based upon a mystic doctrine of the Yoga school [Yogācāra 瑜伽行派 school from India], which agrees well with Unshō's statement about its being a ’secret doctrine.’ A similar story, evidently borrowed from this passage of the Genkō Shakusho, was told about the Jizō of Jun-in, a shrine in the compound of Jōkōmyōji Temple 浄光明寺 (Temple of the Pure Light) in Kamakura. The standing image of Yahiroi Jizō 矢拾い地蔵 (Jizō who picked up arrows), was said to have been the mamori honzon 守り本尊 or tutelary deity of Ashikaga Tadayoshi 足利直義 (1306-1352), the younger brother of Shōgun Ashikaga Takauji 足利尊氏 (1305-1358), and in the shape of a little priest to have picked up arrows on the battlefield and to have given them to Tadayoshi, when the latter was about to be defeated for lack of arrows. When after the battle Tadayoshi saw his tutelary image, it had an arrow in its band as a second khakkhara (see pohoto at right). ’Even at the present day,’ says the author of the 1685 document Shinpen Kamakura Shi 新編鎌倉志 (Newly Edited Guide to Kamakura), who relates this story, ’the staff of this Jizō is the shaft of an arrow.’"

Independent scholar Patricia Yamada, a longtime resident of Kyoto, disagrees with De Visser. She convincingly argues that the above Kiyomizu legend from the 14th-century Genkō Shakusho 元亨釈書 is apocryphal. The Shōgun Jizō cult did not originate in the Heian period, she says, and later writings that cited the 1322 Genkō Shakusho should be considered wrong. Writes Yamada: "[The legend that] Shōgun Jizō originated in Kyoto in the early Heian period is based on the tale of Tamuramaro being hemmed-in by foes and rescued by the appearance and aid of a Shōgun Jizō and a Shōteki 勝敵 Bishamonten picking up spent arrows, recorded in the 1322 Genkō shakusho 元亨釈書 Enchin-den 延鎮伝 section. A much earlier account of the history of Kiyomizu-dera [Fusō ryakki 扶桑略記], written in the latter half of the Heian period by the courtier Fujiwara no Akihira 藤原明衡, makes no mention of a Tamuramaro-Shōgun Jizō tale. Moreover, the Kiyomizu-dera Konryū-ki 清水寺建立記 (Annals of the Construction of Kiyomizu Temple), compiled in 1207, states only that a Jizō and Bishamonten attended the Kiyomizu Kannon. Nor does the late 1200s story collection, Konjaku Monogatari 今昔物語 provide a tale of a Shōgun Jizō, although there is one about a priestly, yatori (arrow-collecting) Jizō........Nor is Shōgun Jizō found in the 1318 history Keiran Shūyō-shū 渓嵐拾葉集 (Collection of Leaves Gathered in a Stormy Valley).........The two-roll Kiyomizu-dera Engi 清水寺縁起, compiled in 1517, and later writings wrongly relied on the 1322 Genkō Shakusho story that the Kiyomizu Shōgun Jizō cult originated in the Heian period.." <end quote, pp. 29-30> See Yamada’s story Bodhisattva as Warrior God: The Curious Case of Shōgun Jizō, Japanese Religions, Vol. 34, No. 1, Jan. 2009.

Top of Page

Tawashi Jizō 束子地蔵
Kitchen-Brush Jizō. People suffering from rheumatism use kitchen brushes to wash the part of the Jizō statue corresponding to that part of their body suffering from rheumatism. This is just one of many variations of the Rubbing Tradition.

Top of Page

Edible Togenuki Jizo talismans at Koganji Temple (Tokyo)
Edible Togenuki Jizō
sold at Kōganji Temple (Tokyo)
Photo courtesy this J-Site

Togenuki Jizō 刺抜地蔵
Splinter-Removing Jizō. A Jizō venerated for performing miraculous healing. Says scholar Duncan Ryūken Williams in The Other Side of Zen: “The name is derived from a story found in the 1822 Enmei Jizōson Inkou Riyakuki (A Record of the Benefits of Printing the Image of the Life-Prolonging Jizō). For some time, the Zen monk Saijun had visited the Mōri family household in the city of Edo. In 1716, a female maid servant employed by the family had casually placed a broken needle in her mouth while she was sewing and suddenly, accidentally swallowed the needle. The needle got stuck in her throat and then it worked itself down to her stomach, which caused her a tremendous amount of pain. Numerous medicines and talismans were used, but to no avail. The monk, Saijun, who was visiting at that time, said, ’I have a Jizō talisman that worked a miracle previously; I will give it to you.’ With that, the female servant drank down the talisman with some water. After a short interval, she vomited and the talisman came out. When the talisman was taken away to be cleaned, they discovered the broken needle that had pierced the talisman. Everyone was amazed. Since I didn't hear of this story from just anyone, but from the monk Saijun who came to relate and vouch for this story himself, I have included it in this record of miraculous stories." <end quote>

Writes De Visser: “Accounts of noteworthy places in the city of Edo, such as the 1735 Zoku Edo Sunago Onko Meisekishi, reported a new ’Hayari Jizō’ (lit. = Jizō that's all the rage) at the Sōtō 曹洞 Zen temple known as Kōganji 高岩寺 (in present-day Tokyo), claiming ’those gravely ill or those who have difficult-to-cure ailments, if they get a hold of a talisman of this Jizō statue, will definitely find relief.’"

Top of Page

Uba Jizō 姥地蔵
Old Woman Jizō. Another curious form of Jizō in modern Japan, again cataloged by Gabi Greve, is the so-called Uba Jizō 姥地蔵. For more, see Gabi’s Uba Gongen / Uba Jizō page.

  Top of Page

Wheel Jizō (variant of Shintō’s Hyakudo Mairi traditions)
There is a Japanese Buddhist variant of the Hyakudo Mairi Shintō tradition that involves the beloved Jizō Bosatsu. It is called the Jizō-guruma 地蔵車. This translates as Jizō Wheel (which includes the Afterlife Wheel or Goshō Guruma 後生車, and the Present Life Wheel or Bosatsu Guruma 菩提車). Found in front of many temples. When you say your wish while turning the wheel downward, a wish for the afterlife will be granted. When you turn the wheel upward, a wish for your present life will be granted. For details, please see this J-site.

Jizo Wheel
Jizō Wheel

Jizo Wheel 
Jizō Wheel at Dazaifu Temple. Courtesy of

Top of Page

Women and Pregnancy
There are many forms of Jizō dedicated to the concerns of women. This is not surprising, as the name Jizō can be translated as "Womb of the Earth” and thus, in popular culture, Jizō became closely associated with granting easy delivery and protecting women. These roles were originally attributed to Kannon Bodhisattva, another powerful protector of women, children, and easy childbirth. Jizō and Kannon share many overlapping functions -- both protect the Six Realms of Karmic Rebirth (the Six Jizō, the Six Kannon), both are patrons of motherhood & children (the Koyasu Jizō, the Koyasu Kannon), and both protect the souls of aborted children (the Mizuko Jizō, the Mizuko Kannon). In some scriptures, they even share the same Ennichi 縁日 (Holy Day).

  • Hara-obi Jizo, Belly Band Jizo, Belly Girdle Jizo

    Koyasu Jizo at Obitoke-dera in Nara
    Koyasu Jizō 子安地蔵菩薩
    Central icon of worship at Koyasuzan Obitoke-dera 子安山帯解寺
    (Temple for Loosening the Girdle)
    in Nara. Wood, Kamakura Era.
    H = 182.6 cm. The temple claims it
    was carved by Kōbō Daishi
    弘法大師 (774 - 835 AD).
    Yosegi Zukuri 寄木造 technique.
    Photo =

    Koyasu Jizo
    Modern Statue
    Sold Online at This J-Site
    For more on Koyasu Jizō, jump
    to the Koyasu Jizō section.

    Bellly Band or Belly Girdle Jizō (Hara-Obi Jizō 腹帯地蔵). Said to grant easy birth to pregnant women, who would wear the band when praying to this Jizō and also ordinarily during their pregnancy. Some scholars say it represents a symbolic placenta, protecting the vulnerable belly area (e.g., Ellen Schattschneider). A 1658 work named Kyō-warabe 京童 by Nakayama Kiun 中山喜雲 mentions an earthen Jizō reportedly made by Gyōki 行基菩薩 (670 to 749) that was called the Hara-obi Jizō (Belly Girdle Jizō) and venerated for bringing easy childbirth. The association with Gyōki is unlikely. The work also refers to the cult of Haraobi no Jizō among pregnant women.

  • Child Granting, Child Giving Jizō (Ko-sazuke Jizō 子授地蔵)
  • Child Rearing Jizō (Ko-sodate Jizō 子育地蔵);
    often shown with child on lap.
  • Easy Birth Jizō (Anzan Jizō 安産地蔵);
    Anzan literally means “safe birth.”
  • Easy Birth Jizō (Koyasu Jizō 子安地蔵). Koyasuzan Obitoke-dera 子安山帯解寺 (Temple for Loosening the Girdle, i.e. granting easy birth) in Nara houses a Kamakura-era statue of Jizō known as Koyasu Jizō 子安地蔵 (Easy Birth Jizō). It is considered the oldest extant Koyasu Jizō image in Japan. The temple was built in 851 by Fujiwara no Akiko 藤原彰子, the consort of Emperor Montoku 文徳天皇, to honor Jizō for helping her survive a long and difficult pregnancy. The child later became Japan's first boy emperor. Popular legend attributes the statue to Kōbō Daishi 弘法大師 (774 - 835 AD), but this is unlikely given the Kamakura-era dating of the statue.<Source> For more details, jump to the Koyasu Jizō section.
  • Nipple Jizō (Chichi Jizō 乳地蔵) 18th-century Jizō who specializes in curing women with nipple problems <e.g. Taga Town 多賀町, Shiga Prefecture>
  • Prosperous Birth Jizō (Taisan Jizō 泰産地蔵)
  • Pregnant women still apply sand to their bodies from a Jizō temple in Mibu to be assured of an easy birth. After the birth they return the sand to the temple. See De Visser for many more details.
  • Writes Zen teacher and pediatrician Jan Chozen Bays: “The association between Jizō and pregnancy is implied in the Japanese Jizō statues that are fashioned with small Jizō images hidden within them, much like a baby in the womb. These are called haragomori 腹籠 (hidden in the belly) images. The term for fetus is haragomori no ko 腹籠の児. A story from the 1600s tells of a small Jizō made of aloe wood that was kept by a courtesan on her body. One night a Buddhist priest heard the mysterious crying of a child. He found it was the little Jizō weeping for the immoral company it was forced to keep. The priest retrieved the image and placed it inside a bigger Jizō statue in Nembutsudo Hall 念仏堂 in Nara. It is known as the ’Jizō who wept at night (Yonaki no Jizō 夜泣の地蔵 or Naki Jizō 泣き地蔵).’” <end quote> Editor’s Note: This courtesan story can be traced back to the 1675 work Nanto Meisho Shū 南都名所集 (Collection of famous places of the Southern Capital of Nara), and was referenced by De Visser
  • Writes noted scholar Marinus Willem de Visser (1876-1930): “As to Jizō, a characteristic old custom is still prevailing in Misaki 三崎 village in Izumo 出雲 province. On the bridal night of a newly married couple, young people from the community carry a stone image of Jizō to their house and place it before the gate. The Fūzokugahō 風俗画報 (Illustrated Report on Manners and Customs, published 1894), which mentions this curious custom, says its origin is unknown, but that its meaning is symbolic -- the young woman must be hard, constant, like a stone in keeping her chastity, and she must have love and compassion like Jizō. We are sure, however, that this is only a modern explanation, and that Jizō is placed there to give fertility and easy birth to the young woman. A similar custom is found in Hamada village, Iwami province, where on the evening of a marriage, the young people carry several stone Jizōs to the house of the bridegroom. This is explained to avert divorce, because these heavy images are difficult to move, and the young people [married couple] may be as steadfast as Jizō. In my opinion, however, the real ground of this custom is the same as in Misaki. W.G. ASTON (in Shinto, The Way of the Gods‎, 1905), after having stated that Jizō occupies the place of the phallic gods of the roads, the Sae or Sai no kami, which stood at crossways, remarks that ’the modern practice of bringing the Jizōs of the neighborhood and dumping them down before the couple is no doubt a survival (of the cult of those phallic gods).’ This is very plausible and agrees with Jizō's own nature. Jizō was the proper deity to replace the Shintō gods of fertility, and the continuation of this old custom with his images instead of with those of his predecessors is quite appropriate.”

Top of Page


Yahiroi Jizo, Arrow-Gathering Jizo
Yahiroi Jizō 矢拾地蔵
Arrow-Gathering Jizō
Wood. Height 74 cm.
Jōkōmyōji 浄光明寺 in Kamakura. Early Naboku Era (1336-1392).
Staff is surmounted by arrow.

Yahiroi Jizō 矢拾い地蔵
literally Arrow-Gathering Jizō

The arrow-gathering Jizō was the guardian of Ashikaga Tadayoshi 足利直義 (1306-1352), the younger brother of Ashikaga Takauji 足利尊氏 (1305-1358; founder and first shogun of the Ashikaga shogunate). Tadayoshi was a Jizō devotee.
According to legend, when Tadayoshi ran out of arrows on the battlefield, a child monk suddenly appeared and began gathering fallen arrows. Tadayoshi soon realized the young lad was an emanation of Jizō, for upon closer inspection the child was holding an arrow in one hand and a staff in the other.

Jōkōmyōji Temple 浄光明寺 in Kamakura houses a 14th-century statue of the Arrow-Gathering Jizō.
The statue holds a six-ringed staff in the right hand, but the end of the staff is shaped in the form of an arrow. Jōkōmyōji is #16 and #17 on the Kamakura Pilgrimage to 24 Jizō Sites. The story of the Arrow-Gathering Jizō appears in the Shinpen Kamakura Shi 新編鎌倉志 (Newly Edited Guide to Kamakura), but this 1685 document obviously borrowed the story from a much earlier work entitled Genkō Shakusho 元亨釈書 (Buddhist Records from the Genkō Era). The latter, dated to 1322, includes a story about a small Buddhist priest and a little boy who appeared miraculously on the battlefield to aid general Sakanoue Tamuramaro 坂上田村魔麿 (758 - 811). Just when the general had run out of arrows, these two suddenly appeared to pick up fallen arrows for the general's troops. The two were soon identified with statues of Shōgun Jizō 勝軍地蔵 (Victorious Jizō, Battle-Field Protector, Army-Conquering Jizō) and Shōteki Bishamon 勝敵毘沙門 (Enemy-Conquering Bishamon) -- statues that had been carved by the Hossō-sect monk Enchin 延鎮 to pray for Tamuramaro's success. Enchin had installed these statues at Kiyomizudera 清水寺 in Kyoto, a temple he built in 798 with the monetary support of Tamuramaro. When the general returned victorious to Kyoto and visited the temple, he looked at the images, and discovered they were wounded by arrows and swords and had mud upon their feet. A similar tale appears in the Jizō Bosatsu Reigenki 地蔵菩薩霊験記 (Record of Miraculous Powers of Jizō Bodhisattva), which is considered a work of the mid-Heian Era (early 11th century) although its exact date is unknown.

Top of Page


Jizo at Hase Dera, Kamakura
Jizo at Hase Dera,  Kamakura
Jizo at Hase Dera, Kamakura

Buddhism: Flammarion Iconographic Guides, ISBN: 2-08013-558-9
The name of this Bodhisattva means “He who encompasses the earth.” According to the Tendai monk Genshin 源信 (942-1017), he is also the master of the six worlds of desire and of the six destinies of rebirth. When considered in particular as a Bodhisattva who consoles the beings in hell, he is identical to Yamaraja (Japanese Enma-o), the king of the Buddhist hells (Naraka, Japanese Jigoku). In India, Ksitigarbha, although known very early to the Mahayana sects (since the fourth century), does not appear to have enjoyed popular favour, and none of his representations can be found, either there or in South-East Asia. In China, on the contrary, he was fairly popular since the fifth century, after the translation of the Sutra of the Ten Cakras which lists his qualities.

Ksitigarbha, moved by compassion, is said - like all Bodhisattvas - to have made the wish to renounce the status of Buddha until the advent of Maitreya (Jp: Miroku), in order to help the beings of the destinies of rebirth. In hell, his mission is to lighten the burdens caused by previous evil actions, to secure from the judges of hell an alleviation of the fate of the condemned, and to console them. Thus, in the popular mind, Ksitigarbha has become the Bodhisattva of hells par excellence.

His cult remains immensely popular in Japan, where it spread from the ninth century in the Tendai and Shingon sects. A popular custom made him the confessor to whom faults committed during the year were revealed, in the so-called Confession of Jizō Ceremony.

Top of Page


Jizo Bosatsu - unknown artist and period; found on web at
Unknown artist and period; found on web at

Jizō acts to save people during the long Buddha-less age which extends between the death of Shaka Nyorai (the Historical Buddha) and the coming of Miroku Nyorai (Maitreya, i.e., the Future Buddha). Many images of this deity from the Heian and later periods show him holding a six-ringed staff in his right hand. This staff is based on the belief that this deity does not reside in the Pure Land, but rather remains active in this world, protecting all in the six states of existence.

Most Jizō statues hold a jewel in the left hand and a staff in the right hand, forming the standard iconography of this deity. Jizō is also often portrayed in the “one-foot-slightly-forward” pose to indicate that Jizō is walking in the present world. Although one can easily find images of the seated Jizō, the majority of Jizō images are shown standing.   

In Japan, by the Heian Era (794-1192), there is widespread belief in the Age of Mappō (Decline of Buddhist Law). At the time, the "Days of the Dharma" were divided into three periods, the first phase lasting 500 years (Age of Shōbō 正法) during which Buddhism gains acceptance and spreads; the second phase lasting 1000 years (Age of Zōhō 象法) during which Buddhist practice begins to weaken; and the final phase lasting 3000 years (the Age of Mappō 末法), when Buddhist faith deteriorates and is no longer practiced). Jizō Bodhisattva promised to remain on earth from the time of the Historical Buddha’s death until the coming of Miroku Nyorai (the Future Buddha, who is expected to appear 5.6 billion years from now).


Top of Page

David G. Lanoue, PHD, Xavier University, Louisiana, USA

Jizo statue at RyutakujiNot Your Ordinary Saint: Jizō in the Haiku of Issa. Of the first five thousand haiku of Issa that I have translated for my online archive, only thirteen refer to Jizō, a figure that two of my Japanese/English dictionaries identify as "the guardian deity of children." Statistically, then, it would seem that Jizō is a figure of miniscule importance in Issa’s poetic universe, far less prominent than, for example, Buddha, to whom he refers, in this same sample, 214 times. However, though Jizō appears so infrequently, we should not underestimate his significance to Issa. In fact, one could argue that truly important, truly sacred things must not be mentioned too often or too publicly, or else they might lose some of their power to move and inspire. Jizō is precisely this kind of spiritually forceful image in Issa’s haiku, and, one assumes, in his life beyond haiku.

The dictionary designation of Jizō as, simply, "the guardian deity of children" is confusing for anyone familiar with the fact that Buddhism is not a theistic belief system. Buddhists do not worship a God or gods. How, then, can Jizō, in Buddhist Japan, be a deity? The name Jizō derives from the Sanskrit Ksitigarbha, a compound of ksiti and garbha: "earth" + "womb" (Oozuka 359). In ancient India this "Earth-Womb," as the name implies, served as a fertility goddess whose lineage traces back to the earth goddess, Prthivi (Dystra 179). When Buddhism moved into China, monks translated Ksitigarbha with the Chinese cognates, ti ts’ang: "Earth-store," "Earth-treasury," or "Earth-womb" (Soothill 208). Ti Ts’ang Wang ("King Earth-store") underwent a sex-change somewhere en route from India to China, so that Jizō, the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese characters for "earth" and "storehouse," has spent the majority of his/her time in East Asia as a male.

In Chinese Buddhism, Jizō came to be known as one of the eight Dhyani Bodhisattva, his particular job being that of guardianship over the earth. A Bodhisattva is not a god but an enlightened being who heroically helps others on the road to enlightenment. Bodhisattvas roughly parallel the saints of medieval Catholic tradition: they are heavenly VIPs who intercede, when called upon, for their earthly devotees. Of course, key differences pertain between Christian saints and Buddhist bodhisattvas, not the least being the notion that saints have arrived at an eternal state of bliss whereas bodhisattvas have delayed their entry into Nirvana on a compassionate mission to lead other sentient beings to enlightenment. Still, the English word "saint" seems closest to the mark, so in my own translations I usually designate him as "Saint Jizō."

In Chinese Buddhist myth Jizō became associated with Yama, the overlord of Hell, most likely because of his (formerly her) ancient association with earth’s womb. Nevertheless, in folklore he appears as a savior, not punisher. For example, in one old Chinese tale a son’s filial piety moves Jizō to deliver that son’s sinful, dead mother out of hell. Similarly, in a Japanese story, he appears in the form of a beautiful young boy and rescues a righteous man from hell by offering to suffer in the man’s place (Dykstra 180; 194-95). In Pure Land Buddhism, that branch of Buddhism that relies on Amida Buddha to enable one to be reborn in his Western Paradise, Jizō gained a reputation as one who could assist sinful mortals in their last moments of life, effecting their rebirth in the Pure Land. This is why, in many Japanese temples, statues of Jizō stand on one side of Amida, while Kannon, the Bodhisattva of Mercy, stands on the other.

Jizō’s role in Pure Land Buddhism made him widely popular in medieval Japan, where this movement spread far and wide among the masses. Somewhere along the way, he picked up other duties in addition to helping souls reach Amida’s Pure Land, such as providing protection for travelers. Even today, stone and wood Jizōs can found all over Japan along remote roads, where they watch over those who journey there. (See Dōsojin for more on this topic.) Jizō’s kind, generous, and selfless nature led Japanese people to revere him additionally as a guardian of children. Yet, as we have seen, he is much more than this thumbnail sketch found in dictionaries. <end excerpt by David G. Lanoue> 

Top of Page

Japanese Architecture & Art Net Users System or
Lit. earth repository (Sk: Ksitigarbha). A bodhisattva (bosatsu 菩薩) believed to have been entrusted with the task of saving sentient beings during the period between the death of Shaka 釈迦 and the advent of the next Buddha Miroku 弥勒 who is traditionally expected to appear 5,670 million years after the demise of Shaka. The cult of Jizou does not appear to have been very widespread in India, but in China and especially Japan his popularity came to rival that of Kannon 観音 whose tendancy to manifest himself in many different forms in order to save people from suffering made him immensely popular. In Japan there are records that he was worshipped already in the Nara period [8c], but the earliest extant image of Jizou is that at Kouryuuji 広隆寺 (Kyoto) dating from the early Heian period [9c].

Jizo, Protector of Children, Shiroyama (in Hachioji, Tokyo)
Photo by Andy Gray
Jizo at Shiroyama (in Hachioji, Tokyo)

Jizou is usually represented either standing or seated in the guise of a monk, with a shaven head and wearing monk's robes. In early examples he holds a wish-fulfilling gem (houju 宝珠) in his left hand while his right hand displays the wish-granting mudra (yogan-in 与願印). Later examples, from about the mid-Heian period (10c) onwards show him holding a gem in his left hand and a staff (shakujou 錫杖) in his right, and this has since become the standard form. Some other variant forms are as follows: Yata Jizou 矢田地蔵 (the prototype for which is found at Kongousenji 金剛山寺, also known as Yatadera 矢田寺, Nara prefecture), holds a gem in his left hand and displays the 'mudra for bestowing fearlessness' (semui-in 施無畏印) with his right hand; Enmei (Longevity) Jizou 延命地蔵, seated with the left leg pendent; Hadaka (Naked) Jizou 裸地蔵, with the image clothed in real robes and not carved as part of the image; Hibou (Hatted) Jizou 被帽地蔵 with his head covered. Karate (Empty-handed) Jizou 空手地蔵, holding nothing in his hands; Shougun (Victorious) Jizou 勝軍地蔵, shown clad in armour. Reflecting the great popularity of his cult among the general populace, stone images of Jizou are very common in Japan, and will often be seen even along the roadside.

Because of his mission to save all sentient beings, there evolved the idea of Six Jizou (Roku Jizou 六地蔵), one responsible for each of the six realms of transmigratory existence (rokudou-e 六道絵). The six realms constitute the life cycle of un-enllightened mortals: they are Hell, Hunger, Animality, Anger, Humanity and Heaven. Representations of these Six Jizou are common. The denizens of hell were considered to be especially deserving of his help, and thus Jizou has come to be revered in particular as the saviour of those suffering therein. Both in China and Japan he is sometimes depicted in hell surrounded by the Ten Kings (or Judges) of Hell (Juuou 十王); such a depiction is called a ”picture of Jizou and the Ten Kings“ (Jizou juuou-zu 地蔵十王図). As a result of this compassionate association he was also assimilated into the Pure Land faith (joudokyou 浄土教), and there evolved a version of the Amida triad (Amida sanzon 阿弥陀三尊) with Amida 阿弥陀 flanked by Jizou and Kannon, and an “Amida Pentad” (Amida Gobutsu 阿弥陀五仏) consisting of Amida, Kannon, Seishi 勢至, Jizou and Ryuuju 龍樹 (Skt. = Nagarjuna).

Koyasu Jizo, Temple #22 of the 88 Temples of ShikokuJizou is also regarded as the protector of children, in which role he is known as Kosodate (child-raising) Jizou 子育地蔵 and may be represented cradling a child, and he figures among the so-called Thirteen Buddhas (juusanbutsu 十三仏), presiding over the memorial service held on the 35th day after a person's death. In Esoteric Buddhism (mikkyou 密教), Jizou appears in the Matrix Mandala (Taizoukai mandara 胎蔵界曼荼羅) as the central figure in the Jizouin 地蔵院 where he takes the form of a bodhisattva holding a solar disc in his right hand and a lotus surmounted with a banner in his left hand. In the Diamond World Mandala, (Kongoukai Mandara 金剛界曼荼羅) he is identified in Japan with Kongoudou 金剛幢 (Sk: Vajraketu) among the 16 Great Bodhisattvas (juuroku daibosatsu 十六大菩薩). <end quote JAANUS>   

  Top of Page 


  • Butsuzō-zu-i 仏像図彙, the "Collected Illustrations of Buddhist Images." Published in 1690 (Genroku 元禄 3). One of Japan's first major studies of Buddhist iconography, with drawings by Tosa Hidenobu 土佐秀信 and text by Ito Takemi 伊藤武美. Hundreds of pages and drawings, with deities classified into approximately 80 (eighty) categories. Modern-day reprints are available for purchase at most large Japanese book stores, or click here to purchase online.     
  • Buddhism: Flammarion Iconographic Guides. By Louis Frederic, Printed in France, ISBN 2-08013-558-9, First published 1995. A highly illustrated volume, with special significance to those studying Japanese Buddhist iconography. Includes many of the myths and legends of mainland Asia as well, but its special strength is in its coverage of the Japanese tradition. Hundreds of accompanying images/photos, both B&W and color.
  • Enmei Jizōson Inkō Riyakuki 延命地蔵尊印行利益記 (Records of the Benefits Gained from Printing Talismans of the Prolonging-Life Jizō), written in 1822.
  • Genkō Shakusho 元亨釈書. Dated to 1322. Lit. = "Origin Receiving Buddhist Writings." Authored by monk Kokan Shiren 虎関師錬 of Nanzenji Temple 南禅寺 in Kyoto. Provides various accounts of events and historical personalities related to Buddhism in Japan. 
  • Glassman, Hank. The Face of Jizo: Image and Cult in Medieval Japanese Buddhism. University of Hawai'i Press. 304 pp. January 2012.        
  • Jizō Bodhisattva: Guardian of Children, Travelers, and Other Voyagers.
    By Jan Chozen Bays. View book online:
  • Jizō Bodhisattva. Modern Healing & Traditional Buddhist Practice. By Jan Chozen Bays, a Zen master in the lineage of Maezumi Roshi and a member of the White Plum Sangha. She is also the spiritual head of the Great Vow Zen Monastery in Clatskanie, Oregon. Published 2002 by Tuttle Publishing. ISBN 0-8048-3189-0.    
  • Jizō, the Most Merciful: Tales from Jizō Bosatsu Reigenki 地蔵菩薩霊験記, a monograph by Yoshiko Kurata Dykstra. The Jizō Bosatsu Reigenki is a collection of Japanese stories (setsuwa 説話) about Jizō, dated to the middle of the Heian Era (early 11th century), although the exact date of compilation remains uncertain. Dykstra’s article includes translations of seven Jizō tales, and a review of the Jizō texts that sparked the development of the Jizō cult in Japan. See Monumenta Nipponica, Summer 1978 Edition, Volume XXXIII, #2, pp. 179-200. 
  • Setsuyō Gundan 攝陽群談, a work written in 1698, lists various forms of Jizō such as Indō Jizō 引導地蔵 (Jizō who leads souls to paradise), Mitsu-kane Jizō 三鐘地蔵 (Three-bells Jizō, because in the author's time the bell of the Jizō-dō 地蔵堂 (Jizō Hall) at Tennōji Temple in Osaka was rung three times when funeral processions passed it and arrived at the cemetery), and provides copious information about Jizō's powers to heal the sick, grant easy birth, act as a substitute for people's pain, save souls from hell and lead them to paradise. It also mentions a spot known as Jizō-zuka 地蔵塚 in old Settsu province, thus called because a brilliant light once arose from the earth and led to the discovery of a Jizō image lying in the ground. This same work also mentions a Yo-ake Jizō 夜明 (lit. Daybreak Jizō), whose name might indicate Jizō's function as "Enlightener of the Darkness of Hell," a form of Jizō venerated at Chōshinji Temple 超心寺 in Osaka. <Above text adapted from De Visser; see below citation.> 
  • Shinpen Kamakura Shi 新編鎌倉志, compiled by Kawai Tsunehisa 河井恒久 in 1685. A widely referenced document of the Edo period that described the legends and historic sites of Kamakura, Enoshima, and Kanagawa.  
  • The Bodhisattva Ti-Tsang (Jizō) in China and Japan
    Visser, Marinus Willem de (1876-1930). Read this book online at 
  • The Making of a Savior Bodhisattva: Dizang in Medieval China (Studies in East Asian Buddhism); by Ng Zhiru; Published 2007, University of Hawaii Press; ISBN-10: 0824830458. Ng Zhiru is an associate professor of religious studies at Pomona College and an ordained Buddhist nun.
  • The Other Side of Zen: A Social History of Soto Zen Buddhism in Tokugawa Japan. By scholar scholar Duncan Williams, 2005. Chapter Five of this book, entitled “Medicine and Faith Healing in the Soto Zen Tradition” investigates the close links between miraculous medicine and healing practices at Soto temples. Williams lists a wide range of illnesses that were cured through faith in Jizō Bodhisattva, and translates various mircale stores of healing that center on the time span between 1713 and 1812. Sources such as the Enmei Jizōson Inkō Riyakuki 延命地蔵尊印行利益記 (Records of the Benefits Gained from Printing Talismans of the Prolonging-Life Jizō), written in 1822, allow readers to get a precise idea of how their authors understood the efficiency of specific rituals to cure specific problems. It is fascinating to note that these problems were far from being limited to physical ailments, and also included issues such as “loss of money” or being “about to commit suicide.” < Above review from the Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 33/1 (2006, pages 176 and 177, written by Michel Mohr, Doshisha University. > Book published by Princeton University Press, 2005, ISBN 0-691-11928-7.   

Top of Page

Jump to our sister site selling hand-carved wooden Buddha Statues from Japan, China, and SE AsiaONLINE RESOURCES

Top of Page


  • Kṣitigarbha transliterated from Sanskrit into Chinese as 乞叉底蘗沙.
    Source: Digital Dictionary of Buddhism; C. Muller.
  • Great Vow Zen Monastery (in Clatskanie, Oregon). August 6 and 9, 2005 was the 60th anniversary of the atomic bombing in Japan. In memory of the nearly 300,000 people who died during and after the bombing, we intend to take 280,000 images of Jizō to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We'd like you to participate. -- Zen training center and retreat. -- Another web site by the same monastery. -- Same monastery. -- Jizō for Peace; same monastery
  • Shozuka no Baba. See the Datsueba page for many more details. Says the Flammarion Guide: “In Japan, popular belief holds that a hideous creature by the name of Shozuka-no-Baba strips children of their clothing, then encourages them to make piles of stones to build a stairway to paradise. Ksitigarbha consoles the afflicted children and, to save them, hides them in the wide sleeves of his robe. The Japanese in the countryside often attach small pieces of children’s clothing to the statues representing Jizō, believing that he can thus cloth the children in his protection.” For more details, see Datsueba.
  • Amida Nyorai, Kannon Bosatsu, and Jizō Bosatsu (this page) became extremely popular among the common folk during the Kamakura Period, and today remain the bedrock of Buddhism for the masses. Amida for the coming life in paradise, Kannon for salvation in earthly life, and Jizō for salvation from hell. Both Jizō and Kannon are closely associated with Amida mythology and the Jōdo (Pure Land) sects of Japan. 
  • BELOW: Things not fully researched / incorporated in this page.

  • Considered the "honji" (original source) of Japanese kami such as Atago Myoujin, Kasuga Daimyoujin, and Tateyama Gongen.
  • Visser’s section on the six Jizo, Flammarion section on six Jizo. A work of the Kwan-ei era (1624—1643) gives three lists of names: those of the Sutra on the Ten Kings, those given by the author of the Fukuden Shokushu Sanyo, who wrongly pretended to have found them in the same sütra (see above) and, finally, the following six, which are partly identical with those of the Butsuzou zui: Houshou ("Dharma nature"), Houseki ("File of treasures"), Darani, Hou-in ("Ratnamudra), Zasshu ("Various mantras"), and Jichi ("Holder of the Earth"). As we saw above, Ratnamudra and "Holder of the Earth" are ancient, the other names being inventions of the Tokugawa period. There are six messengers (shisha 使者), manifestations of Jizo's) blessings bestowed upon the six gati. They are: Emma shisha ("Messenger of Yama"), Jihou douji ("Boy who holds treasures"), Tairiki shisha ("Messenger of Great Power"), Taiji tenjo ("Female angel of Great Compassion"), Houzou tenjo "(Female angel, Store of treasures"), and Settenshisha ("Messenger who assists the Devas").
  • From Visser. Pilgrimage 洛陽四十八地蔵願所第十二番札所 in China  NEAR KYOTO. Among the 48 Jizo's, visited successively in the South of Yedo, there are four Koyasu Jizo's (Nrs. 7, 9, 22 and 45), one Hara-obi (Belly-girdle) Jizo (Nr. 41) and one Ko-sodate hara-obi (Child-rearing Belly-girdle) Jizo (Nr. 15). The custom of visiting these 48 Jizo's, as well as 48 others on the Bluff (yama no te) of Yedo, and again 48 other Jizo's in the East of the town, was established in the Kwansei era (1789 - 1800), and is still prevailing. Among those of the Bluff there are three Koyasu Jizo's (Nrs. 29, 39 and 42), one Taisan (Prosperous Birth) Jizo (Nr. 17), and two Hara-obi Jizo's (Nrs. 38 and 40), while the eastern group contains one Koyasu Jizo (Nr. 2), two Anzan (Easy birth) Jizo's (Nrs. 9 and 29), two  Ko-sodate (Child-rearing) Jizo's (Nrs. 18 and 37), and one Ko-sazuke (Child-giving") Jizo (Nr. 41). On examining these numbers we find the remarkable fact that each of the three groups contains six Jizo's of this kind, which number, as we have seen above, plays an important part in the Jizo cult of Japan. Ko-sodate Jizo is mostly represented with a child in his lap.

    Among the 48 Jizo's in the southern districts of Yedo, from the Kwansei era (1789 -1800) visited in a fixed order by many pilgrims, one Shogun Jizo is mentioned (nr. 27). As to Jizo's protection against fire, Hiyoke and Hikeshi (Jizo who averts or extinguishes fire), are Nrs. 11 and of this series

    Jiuhua Mountain in Anhui is regarded as Kṣitigarbha's seat. It is one of the four great Buddhist mountains of China, and at one time housed more than 300 temples. Today, 95 of these are open to the public. The mountain is a popular destination for pilgrims offering dedications to Kṣitigarbha.
  • From Visser. These images, worshipped in the seventeenth Century, were, of course, ascribed to GYOGI 行基菩薩 (670 to 749) only because they were very old and because the believers liked to connect with them a holy name from the remotest antiquity. Some ancient Jizo images were ascribed to GYOGI BOSATSU (670 to 749), the famous Korean priest, who was the first to combine Buddhism with Shinto and to preach the Ryobu-Shinto doctrine, in order to break the resistance of the Shintoists against Buddhism.

Top of Page

bottom bar

Copyright 1995 - 2015. Mark Schumacher. Email Mark.
All stories and photos, unless specified otherwise, by Schumacher.     |     make a donation

Please do not copy these pages or photos into Wikipedia or elsewhere without proper citation !