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Tuesday, August 24, 2010


Jizou-bon(地蔵盆) is an festival held to celebrate Jizou(地蔵,Ksitigarbha in Sanskrit) in Kansai Region including Kyoto, Osaka. It is not really prevalent in Kanto Region including Tokyo, Yokohama.

The festival was originally held on the 24th day of the 7th month in the lunar calendar. Because The Bon festival starts on the 1st of the 7th month when the lid of hell's caldron is taken off and ends on the 24th that is a day believed to have a special relation with Jizou in Buddhist beliefs.

Jizou is one of Buddhist bodhisattvas. His mission is to save people between Buddha's death and the appearance of Maitreya(弥勒菩薩, Miroku-bosatsu).
Yama(閻魔大王, Enma Daiou) is the lord of death and give sentence on the dead. Jizou and Yama are opposite sides to the same coin.

Ancient people associated Jizou with a belief in a travelers' guardian deity, so its statues were located to hornor it by roadsides around Japan.

He is also regarded as the guardian of children because he saves children who have to pile stones eternally on the bank of the Styx like Sisyphus due to living less than their parents.
So the festival is dominated by children.

Worshipers cleanse away and dress a Jizo statue in a new red baby's cap and bib, make offerings of food and flowers and place red and white lanterns around the statue. Now this is more like a event for children than a religious rite.

Confections in the shape of the swastika are sold at Japanese-style confection stores in Kyoto.
The swastika is derived from the Sanskrit word svastika and is used as a symbol of Buddhism in Japan. Originally it is one of the oldest symbols of regeneration used in Asia, Central America and Northern Europe.

I saw people in the Andes on TV enshrining mummies in their homes and supposed most Japanese feel an affinity with their tradition.

We don't have a tradition of enshrining mummies, but their way of treating mummies is similar to our way of treating Jizou. We worship him and feel something familiar to him. He is there for us.

Parishioners of some small Buddhist temples got away during wartime or in a fire, carrying their Buddhist statues on their backs. It seems that they treat their Buddhist statues as a member of their family or a former teacher.

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