What Are Jizo Statues?

Jizo Bosatsu, also known as Ojizo-sama, is a revered figure in Japanese Buddhism who is believed to protect and guide the souls of the deceased, particularly children.


What are Jizo Statues?

One of the most common questions we’re asked while on tour is, What are these statues with the red bibs and hats? As you wander through Japan’s temples and shrines, chances are you’ll encounter these statues.

Jizo statues stacked at Okunoin cemetery in Mt. Koya

Jizo statues stacked at Okunoin cemetery in Mt. Koya

These small, child-like statues, are called Jizo Bosatsu. They’re found across the country, often near roadsides, on mountain trails, in and around temples and shrines, and in cemeteries. Jizo are the guardians of travelers and children, helping to protect and guide lost souls in the afterlife.

A Brief History of Jizo Bosatsu

The origins of Jizo Bosatsu can be traced back to the 6th century, when the concept of this compassionate guardian was introduced from China.

Originally known as Ksitigarbha in Sanskrit, Jizo is revered as the Bodhisattva of the Earth Treasury. According to Buddhist tradition, he vowed to postpone his enlightenment until he had relieved all beings from suffering.

Pilgrims left offerings for these Jizo statues

Pilgrims left offerings for these Jizo statues

Throughout history, Jizo Bosatsu has been revered by various Buddhist sects in Japan, including Shingon, Tendai, and Zen. The popularity of Jizo grew during the Heian period (794-1185), as Japanese Buddhism incorporated elements of Esoteric Buddhism.

Today, Jizo Bosatsu remains a beloved and widely revered figure in Japan.

The Practice of Praying to Jizo Bosatsu

In Japan, the act of praying to Jizo Bosatsu statues holds deep cultural and spiritual significance. This Bodhisattva, or enlightened being, is often depicted as a monk-like figure wearing a red bib and hat, making him distinctive and recognizable throughout Japan.

Large Jizo statue at Zenkoji in Nagano, Japan

Large Jizo statue at Zenkoji in Nagano, Japan

One of the primary roles of Jizo Bosatsu is to watch over the souls of children who have passed away. Parents who have lost children often pray to Jizo Bosatsu for the well-being of their departed loved ones. It’s believed that Jizo helps guide the souls of deceased children to the afterlife, bringing comfort to grieving families.

In addition to his role as a guardian of children, Jizo Bosatsu is also believed to assist travelers, pregnant women, and those facing other challenges in life.

Jizo statues outside a cemetery in Inuyama, Japan

Jizo statues outside a cemetery in Inuyama, Japan

Travelers often seek the protection of Jizo Bosatsu before embarking on a journey. They pray for a safe trip and leave offerings at Jizo statues along their route, expressing gratitude for the deity’s watchful care.

The practice of praying to Jizo Bosatsu is deeply ingrained in Japanese culture and is a reflection of the country’s respect for the welfare of others. Whether seeking protection for their children or safety on a journey, Japanese people turn to Jizo Bosatsu as a source of both comfort and guidance.

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As you explore Japan, you’re sure to find these eroded and moss covered statues along historical trails, and on paths leading to temples and shrines. They stand as a symbol of compassion and care, and offer protection and strength to everyone that passes by.