What is Jizo? Introducing Basic Information About the Jizo Bodhisattva Commonly Seen in Japan

English Column

In recent years, there has been a growing interest among overseas visitors in obtaining Jizo statues. Jizo statues, commonly seen in temples and along the roadside in Japan, represent a unique aspect of Japanese culture. What significance lies behind these Jizo statues? This time, we have compiled basic information about Jizo statues.

Jizo statue with hydrangea

What is Jizo?

Jizo, formally known as Jizo Bodhisattva, is one of the Bodhisattvas in Buddhism. The Jizo-sama, born in ancient India, is referred to in Sanskrit as “Kshiti Garbha,” which translates to “Womb of the Earth.” Much like the nurturing earth, Jizo is believed to protect and rescue people from suffering with a heart full of great compassion.

What does Jizo look like?

Smiling Jizo statue

In Japan, Jizo is often depicted in the form of a shaven-headed monk wearing robes. Due to the association with protecting children, Jizo may also have a youthful appearance and a friendly, smiling expression.

Where can you find Jizo?

Jizo statues can be found in various places, particularly along roadsides. In Kyoto, Jizo faith is strong, and there are instances where Jizo statues are enshrined to protect specific neighborhoods. Additionally, Jizo belief has merged with local deities, known as Dosojin, creating a syncretic practice called “Shinbutsu-shugo.” Roadside Jizo statues, in this context, are revered as Dosojin, protecting the area from malevolent forces.

What benefits does Jizo offer?

Jizo-sama is said to bring 28 virtues and 7 benefits. Well-known benefits include rescuing people from suffering and protecting children. Jizo is especially recognized as a guardian deity for children. In ancient Japan, the premature death of a child was considered unfilial, and children had to accumulate merits by enduring mistreatment by demons at the riverbank to cross the Sanzu River and achieve Buddhahood.

Jizo Bodhisattva would actively visit the riverbank, protecting children from demons, guiding them to accumulate merits, and facilitating their path to Buddhahood. From this narrative, Jizo-sama is seen as the guardian and savior of vulnerable children in this world.

How was it? Jizo-sama, with a profound compassion akin to the earth, has been cherished in Japan as a guardian deity watching over and rescuing people. The prevalence of Jizo statues throughout Japan can be attributed to the widespread popularity of Jizo faith among commoners during the Heian period. We will delve into this in another column.

At ISHIMO, we offer a variety of Jizo statues and stone Buddhas hand-carved by craftsmen in stone-producing regions across Japan. Located near Nijo Castle in Kyoto, ISHIMO is easily accessible, making it a must-visit during your sightseeing. We also provide international shipping.

Moreover, our online shop, ISHIMO, allows you to purchase Japanese stone carvings from overseas. Please take a look.

Online shop ISHIMO