Sunday, June 24, 2012


Last week I posted these pictures and wrote how I wondered about these little statues with bonnets and bibs that you see all around.

A reader posted this comment:
Anonymous June 18, 2012 1:01 PM

Love your blog. I lived in Japan about three years ago before I had my kids and absolutely loved it. We're trying to teach them Japanese and are hoping to return in the future.

Perhaps the statue you saw is Jizo? Google him for more info. I'm definitely not an expert on Buddhism but that's my guess...

So I googled Jizo and I think this reader is correct. According to, Jizo is the protector of women, children, and travelers in the six realms of existence. This web site says that in Japan it is customary to place Jizo statues at the intersections of roads and paths so that the correct way will be chosen. Statues of Jizo can sometimes be seen wearing tiny children's clothing or bibs. Grieving parents place toys and other offerings beside the Jizo statue to invoke his protection of their dead child. Offerings are also made by parents to thank Jizo for saving their children from a serious illness.

The March 31, 2012 Japan Times Online had an article had an article titled A guide to Jizo, guardian of travelers and the weak. This short article includes the following information:

Jizo, protector of travelers: Jizo is the first deity most people encounter when they set foot in Japan. This is because he is the protector of travelers. You'll find Jizo peeking out among the grasses along the road, standing at intersections, overseeing borders, or sitting in a wooden shelter built especially for him. Jizo is at temples too, where sometimes he holds a baby in his arms. He is found at boundaries between places both physical and spiritual, between here and there, life and death.

Dressing Jizo, accruing merit: You may wonder why Jizo statues are dressed with a small red bib around their necks. This practice of dressing Jizo includes hats, robes, or anything one wishes to adorn his figure with. Such red bibs were said to have been worn by children in earlier times. Although the bibs are usually red, a color that represents safety and protection, they can be any color, fabric or pattern. I've even seen bibs with alphabet patterns and Hello Kitty on them.

Local women usually take care of Jizo statues and provide them with hand-knitted hats and hand-sewn bibs. Glassman suggests that the practice of dressing Jizo statues is related to accruing merit for the afterlife, a common theme in Buddhism. Jizo represents a monk, and when people dress a monk statue, they accrue merit. Dressing Jizo gives people a chance to interact with him.

Thank you, Anonymous for helping to solve this mystery in Hokkaido!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yay! Glad to help! And I'm glad I didn't lead you on a wild goose chase!