Somewhere in Japan

Dispatch № 46: Offerings

35°44’37.7514″N, 139°36’51.7644″E

In one hand, the figure holds a staff, used to force open the gates of hell in the course of liberating souls. The standard iconography usually has him holding a light-bearing jewel in the other hand, but here he holds an infant instead. Two more stand at his feet, tugging at his robes.

This is Jizo Bosatsu, a bodhisattva1 known in Japan as a guardian of children.2

Years ago, on a gloomy, wet Saturday in Tokyo, I visited a shrine to him on the grounds of a temple.3 A life-size statue, described above, stood on a plinth, flanked by thirty-four smaller Jizo statues. In front of them all were laid a number toys that sagged with extra weight from the rain. They had been left as offerings, and many appeared to have been there for quite some time.

There was no way to know who had left them or why. No way to know if the offerings had been made for children who had been saved, or lost, or perhaps hoped for by would-be parents.

It’s possible that some small portion of them were offered in thanks of something good, but one knows at heart that most would have been left in solemn circumstances, at best, and at least some of the toys moldering under the low clouds that day were relics of loss, offerings of the bereaved.

Jizo Bosatsu statues at a different temple in western Tokyo
Jizo Bosatsu statues at a different temple in western Tokyo

Sources referenced

  1. In Buddhism, a bodhisattva is one who has achieved enlightenment, but has also vowed to save all beings before becoming a Buddha ↩︎

  2. More thoroughly: a guardian of children, the weak, travellers, lost pregnancies, and also the removal of splinters. More on Wikipedia ↩︎

  3. Chōmeji, a Shingon Buddhist temple Nerima ward ↩︎

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Picture of David R Munson

David R Munson

Photographer, essayist, wanderer, weirdo. Everything is interesting if you give it an honest chance to be.

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