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Narratives of Sorrow and DignityJapanese Women, Pregnancy Loss, and Modern Rituals of Grieving$

Bardwell L. Smith

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780199942138

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2013

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199942138.001.0001

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Architectural, Iconographic, and Doctrinal Features of Mizuko Kuyō

Architectural, Iconographic, and Doctrinal Features of Mizuko Kuyō

(p.31) 2 Architectural, Iconographic, and Doctrinal Features of Mizuko Kuyō
Narratives of Sorrow and Dignity

Bardwell L. Smith

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

Introduces reader to the architecture, iconography, and doctrine of Hasedera, a prominent Buddhist temple in Kamakura. This temple provides a graphic example of how pre-modern and contemporary forms of Buddhist teaching and practice relate to ongoing life concerns. Central to both teaching and practice are the sacred figures of Kannon and Jizō, which continue to be perceived as responding to the needs of women. Recent Tokugawa research reveals evidence of rituals for grieving child loss long before emergence of mizuko kuyō. The chapter discusses the head priest’s comments about when and in what form this practice began at Hasedera. Also included are responses to questionnaires left at this temple by those who came in quest of its healing rituals in the 1980s and 1990s.

Keywords:   Buddhism, architecture, iconography, Hasedera, Kannon, Jizō, Tokugawa, mizuko kuyō

SITUATED HALFWAY UP Mount Kannon on a lovely site in Kamakura, a carefully planned arrangement of buildings compose one of Japan’s older and more prominent temples, namely, Hasedera. However well-known in the past, this temple has been noted more recently for its early response to the problems of abortion by offering memorial services for mizuko and for the visibility of its hillside throngs of Mizuko Jizō. Hasedera has remained independent from the doctrine and control of other sects, though it loosely belongs to the Jōdo-shū (Pure Land) tradition. Legend associates the temple’s establishment with the washing ashore in 736 of an image of Jūichimen Kannon, the eleven-faced bodhisattva, at a place near Kamakura. Historical records preserved at Hasedera indicate that the temple became a site of major proportions in the mid-thirteenth century, during the Kamakura period (1192–1333).

In such a religious complex one sees the architectural and iconographic interplay between doctrinal forms of Mahayana Buddhism and what is customarily identified as concerns for this-worldly benefits or forms of protection. Over the past few decades there has been a changing focus in scholarly understanding of the relationship between paths of enlightenment and human needs and desires. The focus in these studies is more how they relate to each other than seeing them as entirely separate.

It is important to an understanding of mizuko kuyō that it be viewed within the dialectic between the central teachings of Japanese Buddhism and the ordinary lives of human beings. One finds this interplay in the sermons of Buddhist priests as well as in the research of scholars who are attempting to understand the complexity of Japanese religions and the changing social values since the beginning of the Tokugawa period in the early seventeenth century. While mizuko kuyō is a recent phenomenon, (p.32) emerging in the 1960s and still continuing, it incorporates a significant number of religious beliefs and practices that, in many instances, have a long history. It is also clear that in the minds of many critics this movement distorts and misuses what it borrows as well as invents new “traditions” to justify its own existence. The purpose of this and subsequent chapters is to discuss how this long tradition has been employed in the controversial and many-sided phenomena of mizuko kuyō.

Doctrines, Practices, and Cosmologies in Wood, Stone, and Plastic

Entering the temple compound through a gate at street level, one proceeds to climb the hill on which are located various buildings that compose the complex until one reaches the summit. There the main hall dedicated to Kannon stands; in it one finds the central image of that figure. As one enters the main gate at the bottom of the hill, one passes a small hall immediately on the left dedicated to Daikokuten, a prominent deity known also by its Shinto name Daikokujin who is sought for happiness and worldly success, especially in commercial endeavors (Figure 2.1).1

Before continuing up the hill, one may turn to the right, proceed over a small bridge, and enter an area called the Benzaiten Grotto in which is located an unpretentious shrine or hall erected to Benzaiten or Sarasvatī (the Indian river goddess of music, learning, eloquence, and wisdom). On the sides of this hall are engraved images of sixteen children who represent minor deities serving the goddess, each of whom presides over realms such as long life, learning, love, progeny, and other desiderata. In India, Sarasvatī is traditionally associated as consort to the Hindu creator god Brahma and is often supplicated by couples, seeking offspring, for the “flow of children.”2 In Japan, the deities Daikokuten and Benzaiten are incorporated as part of the highly popular Seven Gods of Fortune (shichifukujin), found singly or in combined form throughout the country and whose widespread presence testifies to the ubiquitous concerns for good luck, health and well-being, longevity, and commercial success.

It is no accident that these two shrines or halls exist within a religious compound dedicated to Kannon, the bodhisattva of compassion, or that they are placed where they are, near the entrance. Pilgrims and tourists alike come with desires or needs of one kind or another in body, mind, and spirit. In fact, the majority of shrines and temples in Japan, as with their counterparts elsewhere, acknowledge the universal concern for this-worldly benefits. The point here is that human needs are respected (p.33)

                      Architectural, Iconographic, and Doctrinal Features of Mizuko Kuyō

Figure 2.1 Kaizōzan Jishō-in (diagrammatic sketch of Hasedera temple compound, Kamakura). (Reprinted with permission of Hasedera.) (1) Kannon-dō (Kannon Hall) The central image in this hall, Jūichimen (Eleven-face Kannon), carved late in the eleventh century, is approximately 30 feet high and is said to be the largest wooden sculpture in Japan. (2) Amida-dō (Amida Hall) The central image here is a seated Amida Nyorai (Tathāgata Amitabha), about 10 feet tall, is the Buddha of the Pure Land to the west who grants rebirth in the Pure Land to those who recite or chant the nembutsu or name of the Buddha. Popularly known as the yakuyoke or “good luck” Buddha. (3) Jizō-dō (Jizo Hall) The Bodhisattva Jizō stands “at the border of this life and the next” and “guides the souls of the dead on the way to salvation.” In the last fifty years Jizō is seen as the one to whom women pray for the safety and guidance of their mizuko. (4) Daikoku-dō (Daikoku Hall) The original image of this figure was moved to the Treasure Hall. In its place is the present image known as Daikokuten, to whom people turn for “success in worldly endeavors.” (5) Kyōzō (Sutra Repository) Installed here is the Tripitaka, or Three Baskets of Buddhist scriptures. Rotating the shelves on which these sit represents a symbolic reading of the Buddhist canon and is considered an act of great merit. (6) Shōrō (Bell Tower) The original bell dates back to 1264 and is a precious asset, as it indicates that this temple was flourishing in the Kamakura period (1192–1333). (7) Benten Kutsu (Benzaiten Grotto) is associated with Sarasvatī, goddess of eloquence, wealth, music, and learning, who is surrounded by sixteen minor gods who serve her and preside over the previous areas. (8) Hōmotsu-kan (Treasure Hall) was built in the Meiji Period (1868–1912) and is the repository of many cultural treasures belong to Hasedera.

and, in spatial, architectural, mythic, symbolic, iconographic and ritualistic form, are observed within a temple complex that is dedicated to leading its visitors further along a religious path. While the deeper quest (p.34) for liberation attracts those who sense their spiritual needs to be even greater, the basic concerns of men and women have never been foreign to the Buddhist path. In fact, in the worship of Kannon one finds paths toward enlightenment (awakening) side by side with concerns for protection and worldly benefits. This nonseparation, each element of which is carefully distinguishable, exists at the core of Japanese religious life and thought.

Continuing up the hill, one climbs stone steps en route to the Jizō-dō or hall in honor of the bodhisattva revered today especially for his concern for mizuko. Among the images that stand out in mizuko shrines, none is more dominant than the bodhisattva Jizō. Every student of Japanese religions recognizes the omnipresence of this figure, whose assistance is sought in numerous situations of need. Besides Jizō, two other figures from Japanese religious cosmology are of importance in how mizuko kuyō is constructed by various religious groups: the bodhisattva Kannon and the lesser known deity Hārītī from early Hindu and Buddhist pantheons, known in Japan as Kishibojin. Both of these figures are seen as female.

But the principal actor upon the mizuko stage is unquestionably Jizō. Before reaching that hall, one passes two areas set aside as visual reminders of Jizō’s role in caring for the spirits of dead children. One is a large rectangular wall against which is set a depiction of a typical sai-no-kawara scene with its legend about children piling up pagodas of small stones on a dry riverbed, serving as a liminal zone between this world and that of the dead. It is sometimes said that each stone represents a prayer for parents who mourn the loss of their child. Along come oni or demons that knock down each pile of stones with equal regularity. The scene repeats itself day after day in Sisyphus-like fashion. Onto this scene, portrayed in deeply emotional hues, descends Jizō, savior of dead or endangered children, rescuing them from the implacability of this fate (Figures 2.2 and 2.3).

Conversation with the head priest of Hasedera at that time provided an ingenious way of interpreting this mythic story in popular Buddhism, a story often retold but rarely explored. The question I posed was how to interpret this story. Did most laypeople tend to take this story literally or not? His response was, “Probably many do; others may not.” What about most Buddhist priests? He answered, “Some may, but most may not.” “And you, sir, how do you interpret this story?” Without intending to be (p.35)

                      Architectural, Iconographic, and Doctrinal Features of Mizuko Kuyō

Figure 2.2 Kannon and Jizō, located at entrance to Hasedera temple.

evasive, he said, “No, I think it is too important to be taken literally.” The significance of that comment is threaded throughout this study.

Not far from this illustrated legend and farther along toward the Jizō Hall lies a meadow of small Mizuko Jizō figures, in plastic, bamboo, and stone, virtually mushrooming from the ground. These red, white, or pink-bibbed statues, some with knitted caps and others with rosary-like prayer beads (juzu) atop the shoulders of Jizō, provide in their vast numbers some sense of the legions of children who have been memorialized at Hasedera year after year, and, even more interesting, some feeling for the overlapping congruity of the Jizō and mizuko figures. While the statues are plainly of Jizō, each one represents a particular donor’s belief that Jizō (p.36)

                      Architectural, Iconographic, and Doctrinal Features of Mizuko Kuyō

Figure 2.3 Benten (Japanese name for Hindu goddess of the arts, eloquence, and wisdom) at Hasedera.

does for the dead child what the child (or its parents) cannot do for himself or herself.

Beyond these preparatory “stations” one reaches Jizō Hall, at which the ceremony of kuyō is normally conducted. Here one enters the doctrinally familiar worlds of Mahayana Buddhism, but reminders are everywhere that the worlds of so-called folk religion and canonical tradition are interfused. As the temple brochure comments, “Jizō has spread through Japanese popular religion in various forms, such as Jizō of longevity (enmei Jizō), Jizō of rearing children (kosodate Jizō), Jizō of vicarious suffering (migawari Jizō), Jizō of pulling thorns (togenuki Jizō), and Jizō of stillborn and miscarried or aborted children (mizuko Jizō).”3 The principal, perhaps only remnant at this place from Jizō‘s (p.37)

                      Architectural, Iconographic, and Doctrinal Features of Mizuko Kuyō

Figure 2.4 Jizō and cascading mountain of mizuko figures at Hasedera.

origins in India resides in the Sanskrit name Kshitigarbha (from which the Chinese Ti-ts’ang or Dizang and the Japanese Jizō derive), meaning Earth womb or Earth repository bodhisattva. Jizō‘s prominence originates in his unending vow to rescue all suffering beings, attesting to his resourcefulness and to the virtually infinite forms in which he may be found.

As one passes the Bell Tower (shōrō) and reaches the summit, one faces Hasedera’s largest structure, three interconnected buildings with the prominent Kannon-dō in the center flanked by the hall for Amida Nyorai (Skt. tathāgata) on the right and a sizable Treasure Hall (hōmotsu-kan) on the left. Next to the Treasure Hall is the Sutra Repository (kyōzō) in which the “Three Baskets” (Tipitaka) are stored. This combines a locus for early Buddhist doctrine with symbolic readings of the canon in (p.38) a form of prayer wheel practice. Even as one approaches the two cosmic symbols—the Buddha of the Pure Land (Amida) and his most revered bodhisattva (Kannon)—one catches the worldly juxtaposed with images of universal reality. The central image of Amida located here was constructed, for example, at the behest of the great Minamoto Yoritomo (1147–1199), the first shogun of the Kamakura period, as he approached his forty-second birthday, popularly feared as an unlucky year for males. Today, the image is still called the “good luck” or yakuyoke Buddha, drawing worshipers especially during the times of spring and autumn equinox.

In this juxtaposition of insurance against harm alongside a cosmic symbol for the lofty path of nonattachment, the worshipper is provided a visual sense of the connections between Buddhism’s infinite levels of existence and its numberless means of deliverance. As Stephen Teiser comments, “Scholars working at the intersection of art, architecture, and Buddhist studies have long grappled with questions of representation, ritual, and meaning…A reading of temple architecture, then, does not lead straightforwardly to the discovery of an empirical audience. Rather, the layout of sacred space tells us as much about the implied ritual participant as it does about actual visitors to the site.”4

Jizō and Kannon: Saviors from Hell, Bestowers of Blessings, and Guides to Paradise

In contemporary forms of myth and cosmology in mizuko kuyō one finds the omnipresence of Jizō and Kannon. As soon as one enters the precincts of any temple that offers memorial services for mizuko, one is aware of one or both of these bodhisattvas. Whether one comes as pilgrim, devotee, tourist, or student of religious studies, one enters a scene that is redolent with religious symbols in which the ancient past and contemporary life coexist in ways that each visitor discovers in her own manner. The quest for worldly blessings of one sort or another is typically part of visits to such a place; these may or may not be a cover for more spiritual forms of need. The power of the Hasedera site lies in its abundant depictions of how in Buddhist teaching and practice the paths of awareness and compassion are one yet manifold. In earliest Buddhist teachings they were sometimes called the “two wings of a bird.” The rich symbolism of this temple’s offerings connects these two, though in each visitor they resonate in different ways.

(p.39) Because the present scene is in some sense contemporaneous with the past it seems appropriate early in this study to identify specific elements within mizuko kuyō beliefs and practices that in the past have been associated with Jizō and Kannon. This is not to say that the practice of mizuko kuyō as we know it today existed prior to 1960. Instead, it is to claim that the same deeper needs of people in centuries past are as present now as ever before. Coming to terms with suffering of one sort or another and the fragility of all existence provides a thread linking people across boundaries of time and place. While the worlds of Buddhism are peopled with bodhisattvas, some of these figures have remained prominent.

To examine their roles in “time past” is to understand more clearly why they continue to appeal. The average person who comes to a Buddhist temple for mizuko kuyō may be unaware of how Jizō and Kannon have been sought for one reason or another and how these have always included specific prayers for healing, long life, safe childbirth, and help in countless forms of unrest. At the deepest level the need may be spiritual, but along the way all forms of need are honored. The perceived nature of bodhisattvas, in this case Jizō and Kannon, is to be present in each circumstance.

Within setsuwa or narrative literature, in the Lotus Sutra, and in the Sutra of Jizō‘s Original Vow (Hongan-kyō) there are different strands of a worldview that opens up the middle ground. It is the substance of a bodhisattva’s vow to connect this world with its cosmic ground of “miraculous power,” yet this middle ground represents the possibility of transformation within the world as we know it. In this kind of cosmology, Jizō and Kannon become paradigms that provide the ordinary human world with a cosmic dimension, a dimension that is no less within this world than beyond it.

It is no accident that, when theories about the final age of the dharma (mappō) began to characterize Buddhist worldviews in Heian Japan (794–1185), cults dedicated to salvific figures such as Amida, Kannon, and Jizō emerged. In some cases, salvation was deemed possible only through rebirth in the Pure Land; in other cases, ultimate transformation occurs within the world. That is, Amida’s grace transforms human obstacles, and worldly blessings are bestowed on devotees of Kannon or Jizō. The greater the sense of personal and social dilemma, the stronger became religious yearning. The bodhisattvas Jizō and Kannon emerge as parallel expressions of belief in the power of compassion extended to all social classes. Because each figures prominently in mizuko kuyō, it is appropriate to underscore their historic role over the centuries in meeting the needs of both women and children.

(p.40) Among the many examples of this literature two are central: Tales of Times Now Past (Konjaku monogatarishū), ca. 1120; and Miraculous Stories about the Bodhisattva Jizō, attributed to the mid-eleventh century.5 Each set of narrative tales sparked Buddhist imagination with a sense of hope in the midst of dismal settings. Tales of Times Now Past presents materials that combine two equally strong accents in late Heian Buddhism: one is world affirming, with emphasis upon worldly benefits (genze riyaku); the other preaches deliverance from attachment, with accent on the world to come.6 If human effort is of no avail, human beings need help not only to attain salvation but also to live in this existence without constant sorrow, danger, or fear. These collections of tales provided signs of hope by grounding human needs within a cosmology that saw no separation between this world and the larger cosmos. Signs of miraculous cures and personal protection show up repeatedly in setsuwa literature where one might expect petitions for worldly blessings, but these signs are also within texts like the Lotus Sutra where the ultimate goal is rebirth in the Pure Land.

Stephen Teiser emphasizes this dual concern about Chinese Buddhism in the medieval period: namely, there are more ways so-called orthodox forms of religion intermingle with so-called folk elements or popular religious expression than there are ways these exist separately.7 This is certainly true in the areas of myth, symbol, ritual, pilgrimage, artistic expression, and religious biography in Japan as well. In this sense, the Konjaku is encyclopedic, seeking to help its readers deal with the threatening and bewildering complexity of everyday existence.8

Around the mid-eleventh century another collection of setsuwa appeared: Tales of the Miraculous Virtue of JizōBodhisattva (Jizō bosatsu reigenki, Ch. Dizang pusa xiang lingyan ji). With twenty-five tales devoted entirely to Jizō, these compilations provide a varied sense of Jizō’s role in the late Heian period. The image and function of Jizō as guide (IndōJizō) from the worlds of suffering to the realm of Amida were increasingly prominent in the Kamakura period, with the founding of Pure Land sects, when the dwelling place of bliss (Sukhāvatī) became the goal of those who were devoted to Amida. In this way, the cults of Amida and Jizō were frequently in tandem. The traits of Jizō as savior were seen as parallel to those of Kannon, for both had become symbolic links in this expanding cosmology.9 As connective links, both were guiding spirits in the transition from one circumstance to another.

In her extensive study of Dizang (Jizō) in medieval China Zhiru Ng makes the important point that the “Pure Land connection appears (p.41) often in the history of Dizang worship.” It is precisely in this age without a buddha that Dizang emerges as a soteriological figure. In fact, one finds a “range of soteriologies, especially crafted to suit the exigencies of that period.”10 This distinction in medieval China between two salvific figures—Amitābha (J. Amida) Buddha and Dizang Bodhisattva—had its counterpart in Japan and may be found today in architectural and liturgical forms, as illustrated in the Hasedera temple in Kamakura. To note the origins of such differentiation centuries ago helps one to understand how Jizō continues today to combine the bodhisattva ideal of liberation with his role of alleviating suffering in the everyday world.11 It is also true that through myth, symbol, and ritual Jizō is still viewed as part of a larger cosmology, even as cosmological renderings may have less heuristic significance to the ordinary person.

Faith in Jizō as Savior Figure within the Everyday World

Starting in the Heian period, a number of Chinese Buddhist writings dealing with Jizō were available in Japan. The most central of these was the Sūtra on the Original Vow of JizōBodhisattva (J. Jizōbosatsu hongankyō, Ch. Dizang pusa benyuan jing).12 Copied in Japan in the mid-eighth century and often referred to simply as Hongankyō, this text presents Jizō as a savior figure, with mysterious powers, who appears in countless forms during the extended eons between the death of Shakyamuni and the advent of Maitreya (J. Miroku), the Buddha to come. This is the principal sutra dealing with Jizō’s vow to save especially those trapped in hell or those undergoing excruciating suffering in this life: “I vow to establish many expedient devices in response to living beings who are suffering for offenses.”13 This sutra is an encomium in praise of Jizō’s compassion for all living beings and is said to be the first Buddhist text in East Asia to introduce the possibility of salvation for women.14

Faith in Jizō (Jizōshinkō) was part of a late Heian syndrome that included belief in repeated rebirths for sentient beings within the six realms of existence. Though his emerging prominence in Japan was akin to that of Kannon, Jizō is regarded as more accessible to common folk. With the advent of dynamically construed depictions of human suffering, as one finds in sai-no-kawara legends and in pictorial form at Hasedera, one comes to understand better the extent of the pain that this figure addresses and the forms with which adversity is portrayed. The perception (p.42) of Jizō‘s omnipresence makes graphic the continuing expression of his vow. Dotting the landscape, the figures of Jizō signify imagined cosmologies within the world of ordinary existence. Statues of Jizō may still be found throughout Japan, from deserted but once used mountain trails to crossroads around the land to tiny neighborhood shrines to chapels and main altars in larger temples.

Over time Jizō becomes the central figure in the drama of young children, infants, and the unborn in Japanese Buddhist cosmology and in related ritual. This is clearly the case in mizuko kuyō. As the Jizō cult grew, it found resonance among Japanese women who sought this figure in various conditions of adversity. There is evidence that, at least a thousand years ago, women desirous of conceiving a child turned to Jizō or Kannon in supplication. This was also true where the incidence of early infant death and women’s death in childbirth were high. From the Kamakura period (1186–1333), evidence exists of Jizō-kō or lay associations at which “elderly women prayed for their future deliverance, while younger ones asked for easy childbirth or the well-being of their newborn babies.”15 These meetings, held on the twenty-fourth of each month, were traditionally an observance of Jizō’s festival day (ennichi). Jizō’s role as protector of children grew out of his association with the special needs expressed by women. As early as the ninth century there is evidence that prayers and amulets for fertility, easy childbirth (koyasu), safe delivery (anzan), good health, child rearing (kosodate), and life prolonging (enmei) became central features of how women especially related to Jizō over the centuries.16

The Hongankyō establishes the legitimacy of Jizō as a bodhisattva of major importance in East Asia. As with Kannon, Jizō is revered for purposes of meditation, liturgy, and cosmology as well as for reasons of benefit and protection. Among the features of this sutra is one of manifesting these coequal forms of devotion to Jizō: a quest for deliverance and salvation; and a plea for help in coping with everyday life. In a genuine sense, the path and the goal are inseparable. The intent is to alert persons to their buddha nature but in the meantime to help them through a variety of means to encounter and overcome inner and outer obstacles that becloud their vision and constrain their will.17 In her study of Buddhism in medieval China Zhiru identifies how the unfolding success of Dizang lay in his ability to embody this twofold approach, thus undermining categories “such as elite versus folk, doctrine versus practice, canonical versus noncanonical, textual versus visual.”18

(p.43) It is typical of the Hongankyō that these two levels of devotion to Jizō are virtually in juxtaposition. In the sutra’s final chapter, the Buddha, responding to questions about the benefits of paying homage to Jizō, mentions twenty-eight kinds of blessings, adding that these will accrue to all “good men or women in the future who…hear this sutra or read or recite it; who use incense, flowers, food and drink, clothing, or gems as offerings; or if they praise, behold, and worship him.”19 While no blessing is too inconsequential to be sought, the final blessing is to realize one’s interdependence with other beings, to express this reality to those in intense suffering, and to be reborn in the Pure Land of Amida. While the classical statement on “skillful means” (upāya) is within the Lotus Sutra, Buddhism itself is the practicing of skillful means. Its cosmologies, teachings, symbols, rituals, and forms of meditation are of this order. Hell and heaven, the three so-called ages of the dharma, the six realms of sentient existence, the infinite vows and blessings of the buddhas and bodhisattvas are but means by which people awake to the reality from which they actually start: “emptiness” and “interdependent co-origination.”

In any event, the worldly needs and yearnings of human beings are seen not just as starting points along the path to enlightenment but also as dominant expressions of need to which a bodhisattva responds in wisdom and compassion. As one reviews the shapes of myth and cosmology that were prevalent in Japan beginning with the tenth century, it is clear that considerable overlapping exists among the various religious worldviews. Bodhisattvas like Kannon and Jizō serve as guides, intermediaries, and workers of miracles to meet the needs of suffering beings by using infinite forms of protection, healing, and salvation on all levels of existence. This last worldview dominating the scene in early medieval Japan remains the substratum for many forms of devotional piety even in the present day and is often central to the belief and practice in mizuko kuyō.

Expanded Perspectives on Buddhism in Tokugawa Japan

Due to an enormous uncovering of new source materials over the past forty years dealing with the Tokugawa period, it became possible to examine in detail the social contexts in which temple Buddhism existed and how these temples interacted with one another and their own members. “Beginning in the 1970s, in every region of Japan down to the smallest of villages, local governments established historical archives for the purpose (p.44) of publishing local history.”20 In the process, temples also created their own archives of manuscripts and records. The result was a “complex interplay of customs, beliefs and rituals shared across the spectrum of Japanese religions, such as healing or funerary rituals, [which] often served as the common denominator that bound priest to layperson, as well as members of different sects in the same village.”21

In spelling out the complexity of this picture, Duncan Williams uses the term “management of the dead” to identify ways everyday, practical Buddhism offering this-worldly benefits coexisted with funerary Buddhism offering benefits for the world beyond. Utilizing these new sources, he and others have provided a rich sense of the ordinary or common life of both priests and laypeople. Accenting “the other side of Zen” creates a picture of how the “lived religion” and the “elite tradition” within Buddhism “shared a seamless reality…[in which] most of its priests ignored contradictions and lived in multiple universes of praxis without ever having to explain or integrate the whole.”22

Nam-lin Hur makes a similar point about the commingling of Buddhist belief and practice with popular ideas and customs in the Edo period, though this commingling may be found throughout Buddhist history:

Nevertheless, it should be noted that these Buddhist rituals are not strictly “Buddhist” in either content or structure. Traditional ideas and customs related to death pollution, purification, temporary lodges of deities, deification processes, ancestors, calendars, the other world, grudge-bearing spirits, and so forth were all inseparable from the context within which these “Buddhist” rituals were practiced. This was the religious context of Buddhist death, which contributed to the merging of funerary Buddhism and the ie society of Tokugawa Japan.23

Within these new source materials, there is evidence of both protective and healing rituals that reveal the serious attention paid to child loss and the experiences of women long before the emergence of mizuko kuyō. It is common knowledge that rituals of protection against various kinds of “hungry ghosts” (gaki) for which ceremonies (segaki-e) have existed for centuries. Rituals of this kind were intended to offset possible recrimination by spirits who were not given proper kuyō or by those who died without relatives (muenbotoke), or for women and children who died in childbirth as well as for children who died at a young age.24

(p.45) To Williams, these kinds of practices had the impact of “universalizing funerary Buddhism in Japan by the seventeenth century.”25 The task of rituals was not only to protect the living against the angry dead but also to purify the spirits of those who had died in some unsettled condition and to make it possible for them to join the “collective ancestral body of the household.”26 While it was not customary for deceased children before they had reached a certain age to receive normal funeral rites, there was growing belief during the Tokugawa period that, because children also had spirits, special kinds of funeral rites and separate graves were appropriate for them.27 Fabian Drixler in his study of infanticide in Eastern Japan during the Tokugawa period mentions that “mizuko kuyō (rites in behalf of water-children) were not unknown in the eighteen century. In 1756, a mizuko kuyō stone was erected in Shōgenji in Mamurokawa (in Dewa), just after a terrible famine in the area.”28 He cites also a mabiki jizō and a kosodate jizō being raised and dedicated elsewhere in the region during that period, arguably serving “a similar purpose of appeasing the wronged spirits of fetuses and infants.”29

It would not be appropriate, however, to claim that these rituals in Tokugawa Japan were a foreshadowing, let alone a precursor, of what emerged centuries later in mizuko kuyō. On the other hand, death rituals, some informal in nature, were observed centuries before, “especially for women who had died in childbirth and for miscarried or aborted children.”30 Many of these would fall into the larger category of violent deaths, the kind that augur ill fortune if their “needs” go unattended. Even if no discernible link exists between what Williams describes and the phenomenon of mizuko kuyō, there is a shared train of thought that the welfare of the living depends to no small degree upon the perceived well-being of the deceased. The remnant of such a belief, while ordinarily now appearing in psychological garb, retains a strong motivating power.

In the introduction to their edited volume The Buddhist Dead, Bryan Cuevas and Jacqueline Stone provide a summary of how over the past twenty years in Buddhist studies, and religious studies generally, there has been an increasing shift to “claim as legitimate topics for study a range of hitherto marginalized areas, including Buddhist funerary and mortuary culture.”31

Once dominated chiefly by textual, philological, and doctrinal concerns, Buddhist studies has expanded in recent decades to include the methods of history, anthropology, and sociology, as well as (p.46) literary criticism, cultural studies, gender studies, and other disciplines… Buddhologists are increasingly expected to be familiar with the historical and social specifics of particular Buddhists cultures.32

This is nowhere more prominent than “with beliefs and practices surrounding death.” In this sense, death studies and Buddhist studies came into a new kind of alignment. As one learns about the extent of these practices, it becomes more evident that the feelings and experiences being addressed by the performance of mizuko kuyō are universal, personal, and deeply human ones—even as the ritual itself is idiosyncratically Japanese.

A parallel but strikingly different sort of evidence, also from the Tokugawa period, provides expressions of bereavement experienced in the life and death of family members. Indications of such personal grief are rarely if ever found in the kinds of sources we have just discussed. For this reason, the translations by Harold Bolitho of three separate accounts in journal form by Japanese men who describe their loss of a child, a father, and a wife provide perspectives on the emotions of grief to which there is seldom access in premodern Japan. In fact, it is the contrast between the “wealth of documentation” now available about this period and the relative silence about the expressions of grief from individuals that include the emotions of “fear, anger, joy, love, sorrow” that make these accounts extraordinary.33 “Even discounting their most uncommon feature, their emotional freight, they earn their status simply because they record the ordinary deaths of ordinary people.”34 At the same time, by providing the reader not simply with depictions of loss and bereavement but also with a full spectrum of domestic life, these accounts constitute “an entry into a world still largely unknown.”35

One learns almost in passing that the three men whose accounts of bereavement are portrayed in these testimonies from Tokugawa Japan had “fathered eighteen children, only to bury twelve of them.”36 In the face of such loss and with the evidence that parents “wanted their children, felt responsible for them, took pleasure in them, loved them, worried frantically when they took sick, and mourned them when they died,” it is natural to ask how they faced such sadness.37 In what ways did the cultural beliefs of their day provide consolation? How might the doctrines and rituals of Buddhism have made solace available?


If young children were not usually considered important enough to be given formal funerals, or graves, or offered memorial services, as has been claimed, that news had certainly reached none of these men, who did all those things for the children they had lost. If any of the three thought that young children were either expendable or interchangeable, or at best might be returned to the Buddha…they gave no sign of it in their writings. If they believed in some kind of afterlife, where the dead could be contacted perhaps at the cemetery or the household shrine, or welcomed at the annual Urabon reunion, might be in Paradise patiently waiting the arrival of other family members, they failed to suggest that this in any way eased their grief.38

This discovery by Bolitho implies there seems to have been no “uniquely Japanese defense against grief,” no consolation that is adequate, no solace in the promise of a future dispensation.39 Having to live with this lack of assurance constrains a person to cope with the indelible factor of finitude, of death in the midst of life; also, the source of dignity in a person’s life is that she becomes able to dwell in the coexistence of these two realities. It is intrinsic to the attempt to understand how a woman or a man faces the extent of a loss whose bereavement and consolation remain often in some kind of unsettled tension that is both unique and universal. At its best, in any account of how people face child loss in its individualized forms one may discover in expressions of deep grief not only instances of human dignity but even more the nature and source of human community. This discovery is the process of healing. At its best, analyzing mizuko kuyō can provide glimpses of these realities.

Contemporary Mizuko Kuyō at Hasedera

In that initial conversation with the head priest of Hasedera Kannon, we learned of the agony felt by many women soon after World War II.40 As Japanese people were returning to their earlier ways of life, women especially began to think of all the children who had died during the war or were left behind in Manchuria, which had been occupied by Japan since 1931. Even at that time there was fear that the spirits of these children who died such unhappy deaths would return to haunt the living, inflicting a curse or tatari upon the living.

(p.48) According to this priest, a particular woman came to his temple to dedicate a mizuko statue, presumably of the bodhisattva Jizō (guardian and protector of children), about 1945 or 1946. This small statue aroused considerable attention among other women who shared similar grief and sorrow. Soon the practice of dedicating statues became widespread at this temple. Technically, this was not the beginning of mizuko kuyō, as the practice described by him did not yet include a memorial service. However, it was the earliest known forerunner at his temple of the ritual that began to take shape about the mid-1960s.

One of the points stressed by this priest is that the practice of mizuko kuyō became, for the first time in the 1980s, a major factor in drawing younger women into temple life, normally participated in primarily by much older women. In his words, “You need some kind of en (an intimate, karma-like connection) to be very close to the temple. For these young people, mizuko kuyō is the biggest en, and after their first kuyō the relationship between the young generation and the temple starts. The more often they visit the temple, the stronger and steadier their bond becomes.”41 At that time there were meetings twice a month with an average attendance of about seventy people, mostly women, 80 percent of whom had memorial services performed for their mizuko. (The priest added, “and also for the women themselves.”) This community of women became an active group, a nucleus among a less active membership of nearly one thousand women whose names were listed in the temple register. According to this priest, the members of this core group remain deeply bonded to one another, having similar kinds of feelings with respect to loss, sorrow, and sometimes guilt. Most of these women were in their early forties to late fifties. It was his guess that women in their twenties or thirties were perhaps still too close to experiences of abortion to be willing to share these with others.

Our initial purpose to meeting with the head priest was to inform him of our research project, with the hope that he might invite people attending mizuko kuyō services at Hasedera to respond anonymously to our questionnaire. Over a period of two months (December 1988 to February 1989) we received twenty-six responses from this temple.42 Four of the following six statements are drawn from those collected at Hasedera; the other two are from elsewhere. All but one were written by women. Each provides variety yet represents themes that appear frequently throughout Japan. Each has an unaffected quality, seemingly unscripted by religious doctrine, by fear of tatari, or by commercial pressure. What characterizes them is an experience of loss and a sincere effort to comprehend the meaning of this, untrammeled (p.49) by the judgment of others. These reflections are presented here as a foretaste of a larger sample of what follows in subsequent chapters:

I had a miscarriage when I was two months pregnant…The doctor said there was no particular reason for this miscarriage. From my point of view the fetus was my child from the time of conception. During the week I was in the hospital I frequently talked to the fetus, saying, “We’ll make it! I want to hear the sound of your first voice.” From the bottom of my heart I prayed. Even if it didn’t come into being it remains a member of my family. I requested the temple for a kuyō, offering both candles (rōsoku) and incense. I felt relieved by doing this, and will continue to give kuyō for this lost soul.

Kanagawa-ken, age 28

For me, mizuko kuyō has many meanings. I have heard that some temples perform this as a profit-making scheme. Despite this, I believe it is good that one wants to give kuyō for a mizuko…Every month on the day of abortion I cry, and in my mind I pray. Three years have passed, and I’ve now decided to request kuyō and to express my feelings in a certain form. I came to Hasedera in part because it is not far from my house, and because it is in a beautiful and quiet environment facing the sea…While I do not think that performing kuyō will free me from feelings of guilt, I wanted to discipline myself by continuing to give kuyō. I will try never to forget this child who could not be born.

Kanagawa-ken, age 30

Twice, I have gone through abortion. For the first one, I had a service given at this temple [Hasedera] as well. I was determined then not to go through this again, but, unfortunately, I had another abortion after I married. At that time my husband asked me to give up having the baby. While it was hard on me and I felt more guilt than the first time, I obeyed my husband, but came here to pray for these two lost souls. Fortunately, my husband came with me both times; this was my only relief. I bought a Jizō statue, putting my name on it, and went to the Jizō-dō and the Kannon-dō to pray and offer incense to Jizō. I want to respect the tiny life that could not be born into this world, whether because of stillbirth or miscarriage or (p.50) abortion, and to treat a mizuko as a person, not simply as a medical reality. Whatever happens, I won’t keep worrying about this and will live my life as fully as I can. This will be the best kuyō.

Jōdoshin-shu, Tokyo, age 25

I am hoping there may be some consolation (nagusame) for the child I was not able to bear…I gave the child a name. And, when various things happen, I share them with the child in my heart. I think the best kuyō is to remember it, not forget it. Responding to this survey is another way of confessing that I have sinned, and as such it is part of kuyō. No matter how much kuyō is done, it does not mean that suffering goes away (ki ga sumu). Because I am [still] keeping it secret from others, it isn’t possible to get it out of my system. Aren’t there times where telling someone else of something unpleasant is a release? But such release is not possible for me. Even with kuyō there is still bitterness (nigai) [in my heart]. After a year and a half of kuyō I am now more able to think about the child with calmness (odayaka). At the time of the event I was full of hate (nikumi) for the people who did not allow me to give birth (i.e., my mother, his parents, and others). I will continue doing kuyō. In spring of the year after next, I will probably marry the father of the child. When that happens, I would like to establish a mizuko Jizō, even if it’s small, and to do kuyō.

Yoshizu, kyoto-fu, age 22

A number of features in these comments are frequently found in responses to the questionnaires we left at approximately twenty Buddhist temples and other religious sites in Honshu and Kyushu.43 One feature is how often a woman talks to her mizuko, whether the loss was through voluntary abortion (chūzetsu) or due to miscarriage (ryūzan). In many cases, there is a personalization of the experience, an imagined conversation, an establishing of a relationship. Another common ingredient is a woman’s expression of her own feelings, whether of guilt, regret, sadness, or some resolve about the future. Often mentioned as well is the importance of communication between the so-called parents of the mizuko, though just as often there is the absence of openness between them. As there is no one depiction of this experience, there is the expressed need for some means of coming to terms with the sense of loss, of which mizuko kuyō is one but not the only one. It is significant that the first four comments were written by people between the ages of twenty-two and thirty, while the last two are from persons who are (p.51) forty-four and sixty years of age, respectively. The following two instances are more complex and call for extended comment:

I am 44 years old, and my husband is 48. We have an 18-year-old daughter and a son who is 16. We are a typical Japanese nuclear family. My last pregnancy was six years ago when my daughter was 12 (in junior high) and my son was 9 (in fourth grade). It was coming to the time when I was almost finished raising my children, and so I was hesitant to have another baby. Besides, we had just built our new house, which we could barely afford and which put us in some financial difficulty. Therefore, I started to think about getting a job to help meet these expenses. With all this in mind, at the age of 38, I decided to have an abortion, for the first time. I discussed this with my husband, and he agreed. At that time, I did not take abortion seriously. To me, it was just letting it [the mizuko] flow away like water (mizu ni nagasu). Since then, we did not have anything performed such as mizuko kuyō.

Now, however, after six years I was abruptly reminded of mizuko kuyō, perhaps because I had failed in raising my son. At such times of distress one turns to kami for help. I am deeply ashamed and disappointed with myself for being so selfish; I do not think I deserved to ask the kami for help. It started last spring, when my son who used to be such a good and honest boy seemed to change drastically about the time he entered high school when he was 15. He became rebellious. He started to smoke, wore clothes sloppily, getting to school late or leaving school before classes were over or escaping from school altogether. His behavior became worse and worse and he ended up getting involved in a case of violence.

This whole series of events was devastating, as if the whole life I had created, my belief, my strength, and my enthusiasm had been completely destroyed. For the next six months our whole life was topsy-turvy. However, although we admit that our way of raising children was not perfect, we didn’t think it was far from the norm. We were not extravagant nor too poor, not too strict or too indulgent. We were just ordinary parents; we came to think this was just a trick of fate.

One day while shopping, I happened to see a fortuneteller (uranai) and, for the first time in my life, had my fortune told. As expected, I was told that the mizuko was jealous of my son (p.52) and was therefore disturbing him. [On the other hand] I felt that the problems we were facing were the result of what we had done in the past. In other words, even if we were [conscientious] in how we had raised our son, we were wrong at the root, in our heart (kokorogake) as parents or rather as human beings. I cannot forget the fortune-teller’s words: “Because it is your child just like your son.” Thinking that I would not be pardoned with thousands of “forgive me” (gomen nasai), I was urged to pray. To speak of praying, this humble attitude of praying was what I had neglected. I began to reflect about myself (hansei suru). I used to regard kuyō or visiting a shrine (miyamairi) as a nuisance or as superstition or something out of fashion, pretending that I was an intellectual. How conceited I was. While I do not expect ever to be completely pardoned by performing this kuyō, what else can I do? This is at least a start.

Kanagawa-ken, no religion, age 44

In such a statement, many features draw one’s attention. The first is the devastating sense of failure that can arise when one’s child at whatever age seems, often suddenly, to rebel against family, school, and established norms. As will be discussed in Chapters 5 and 7, this is not an uncommon experience, and, because child rearing has for generations been viewed as a mother’s responsibility, it is she who bears the weight of such behavior. The term kyōiku mama, while a descriptive stereotype, remains normative all too often. And, when taken seriously, this role becomes her ikigai, her raison d’être. The counterpart of the previous point is the question about the father’s role in child rearing. In this particular instance, there seems to have been communication, but in another statement she adds, “I blamed myself, and my husband and I blamed each other. For the next six months our whole life was topsy-turvy.”

A third aspect of such a quandary is obviously, “What constitutes good child rearing?” This may be the single most important ingredient. With this assorted puzzlement, not really knowing the cause of their son’s revolt against authority, she is vulnerable to suggestions and finds herself consulting a fortuneteller (uranai-shi) “for the first time in [her] life.” Even though she was told what she expected, namely, that all of this is attributable to her having an abortion six years ago, an all-too-common diagnosis of unresolved problems in the world of mizuko, the surprising element here is that she did not stop pursuing the real source of her (p.53) family’s predicament. Her sustained quest for understanding is in sharp contrast to attributing the unrest of a jealous mizuko to an abortion. In the end, one recognizes the maturity of this woman who, through a process of self-reflection (hansei suru), comes to detect a kind of conceit in her own makeup that she had not detected before. This is quite remarkable, as are the following comments from a sixty-year old man:

Visits to the graves are made at obon and ohigan. Large cemeteries have been built in the suburbs of large cities, but I am surprised by the number of mizuko Jizō everywhere, and [even] the existence of graves for cats and dogs. It is taught that Jizō-sama is a wonderful (arigatai) bosatsu who travels between hell and this world to save the sufferings of all beings (shūsei). The sight of a smiling Jizō, standing at desolate roads or corners, with a soiled bib, as the “hotoke-sama” of common people, brings back many memories. However, recently in the new (shinkō) cemeteries, small and similar images have begun to proliferate under the name of mizuko Jizō. What is a mizuko? In Kojien it says it is a child very recently born—akago. But now the concept of mizuko has expanded to include aborted fetuses.

According to a survey, the proportion of middle to senior age couples who have experienced an abortion is over 82%. When specialists are asked what current mizuko are, they cannot give a clear answer. This is because differing opinions are held regarding the issue of when life begins. We are warned that trying to decide on a particular point in time is a political issue. However, to become pregnant is to conceive a fetus, so it is a fact that a life has come into being at this point. Even if an abortion is not legally considered murder, it is to be expected that [many people] might have a religious awareness of sin (tsumi), or [at least a sense of] blame.

Even if the practice is widely accepted, when a person involved experiences an awareness of tsumi through a feeling of regret, some means of atonement and repentance must be found. To repent and atone from the heart is to accompany the physical “purging” with a spiritual cleansing. However, this is not done through the erection of mizuko Jizō. Nor is it done through the worshipping of Jizō-sama in the heart, nor will erecting a Jizō save the parents, or the child.

While I do not have a mizuko, many of my friends and acquaintances have had mizuko and there are occasions when we discuss mizuko, (p.54) but people often end up bemoaning the poor fate of their children. If good works do not accompany such feelings, the weight just becomes heavier…To feel sorry for one’s child is natural for a parent, but to take that heart and extend it to others is the way of creating virtue (kōtoku)…When such a kokoro of serving the world and others in some way arises, then both self and others are saved.

Zenshū, hyogo-ken, male, age 60

In a reflective approach similar to that of the forty-four-year-old woman just discussed, one finds in this sixty-year-old man an attempt to understand the phenomenon of child loss, specifically from an abortion. It seems extraordinary for an elderly man to be engaged in this kind of endeavor, which also lends historical perspective to the changes that have taken place in recent decades. In the process of thinking his way through such a decision he grants there may be legitimate afterthoughts of regret and that it is only reasonable to seek some kind of resolution of whatever mixed feelings one may have. Thus far, his is a rational approach to what may remain a moral dilemma. Recognizing that “feelings” may weigh heavy on the shoulders especially of a woman, his tack is gender inclusive in that there are inevitably two parties involved in this decision as there are in the conception of a mizuko. The gist of his argument is that genuine resolution comes by the combination of virtuous behavior (kōtoku) and reaching out to others in compassion, with sensitive feelings. As he says, “If good works do not accompany such feelings, the weight just becomes heavier.” In this vein, he argues for a form of self-reflection that reaches out to others that goes beyond self-preoccupation or doing “religious works” to justify one’s behavior. In other words, true cleansing of one’s spirit may have nothing to do with “erecting a Jizō statue” or even with performing a kuyō in memory of a mizuko without a basic amendment of life.

From Kamakura and Hasedera on the slopes of Mount Kannon we move to two other Jōdoshū temples in the western part of Kyoto. As in the case of Hasedera, these temples have existed in one form or another for centuries, and both have also been active in reaching out to individuals who come with needs of a personal nature, including that of pregnancy loss or induced abortion. Chapter 3 looks at each temple and how its ministry has evolved in recent decades, often relating to those who are not danka or regular members but who come for mizuko kuyō, maybe once, maybe many times. Conversations with the priest at each temple have (p.55) provided a perspective of almost two decades in one case and twenty-five years in the other from the mid-1980s to 2010. In each instance one has the impression of a person who has responded with sensitivity to those who come seeking help. This chapter provides a detailed sense of the concerns that women especially bring to such temples and how these reflect or are congruent with the wider social and cultural anxiety that exists in contemporary life.


(1.) For fuller discussions of Indian origins and the significance of this deity, known as Mahākāla in Hindu and Indian Buddhist traditions, and for other features of Daikoku-ten in Japan, see Dwijendra Nath Bakshi, Hindu Divinities in Japanese Buddhist Pantheon (Calcutta: Benten Publishers, 1979), 77–82.

(2.) After World War II a new religious sect, Benten-shū, was founded, with its headquarters and main shrine dedicated to Benzai-ten located near Osaka, now functioning largely for the purpose of mizuko kuyō . See Bakshi, Hindu Divinities, 107–127, for various Shinto and Buddhist holy places for Benzai-ten in Japan, for the forms in which she is worshipped at shrines and temples and for her role in shops and homes. This grouping of seven deities exemplifies (p.303) the interrelationship of different religious traditions (in this case, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and Shinto), whose favors and blessings are sought for one kind of need or another. For discussion of how “Buddhist cosmology and doctrine were combined with indigenous notions and practices,” see Allan G. Grapard’s analysis of the Kasuga-Kōfukuji multiplex in his book The Protocol of the Gods (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992), especially 186–236.

(3.) Permission to use this abbreviated version of a 1988 brochure of “The Hase Kannon Temple” in Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture was granted by the temple’s office.

(4.) Stephen F. Teiser, Reinventing the Wheel: Paintings of Rebirth in Medieval Buddhist Temples (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2006), 257.

(5.) The Konjaku monogatari-shū was assembled by an unknown compiler about 1100 C.E. Its extant version contains 1,039 stories, 32 of which relate principally to Jizō. In any case, it has twenty-five stories portraying the wondrous actions of Jizō. This text and the Konjaku provide evidence of Heian belief concerning Jizō.

(6.) W. Michael Kelsey, Konjaku monogatari-shū (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1982), 4, 9–10. See William R. LaFleur, The Karma of Words: Buddhism and the Literary Arts in Medieval Japan (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983), 49–59, for a discussion of the many theories of salvation in “medieval” Japan.

(7.) More recently, this has been documented at length in Teiser, Reinventing the Wheel; and Zhiru Ng, The Making of a Savior Bodhisattva: Dizang in Medieval China (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2007). Because of its focus on Dizang (J. Jizō), Zhiru’s work is especially pertinent to our study. Using “indigenous and accretionary scriptures,” art and epigraphy, and narrative literature with an emphasis on “miracle tales,” she presents a view of Dizang and of medieval Chinese Buddhism that exceeds what has been available previously. There was no comparably rich study of Jizō in Japan that utilizes this threefold approach until Hank Glassman, The Face of Jizo: Image and Cult in Medieval Japanese Buddhism (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2012).

(8.) Marian Ury, Tales of Times Now Past: Sixty-Two Stories from a Medieval Japanese Collection (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979), 18. For an outline of the chapters of the Konjaku see Ury, Tales of Times Now Past, 1–13; and Kelsey, Konjaku monogatari-shū , 60–83.

(9.) Yoshiko Kurata Dykstra, “Jizō, the Most Merciful: Tales from Jizōbosatsu reigenki,” Monumenta Nipponica 33(2) (1978): 185. The Reigenki’s Chinese counterpart is Ti-ts’ang p’u-sa hsiang ling-yen chi. See also Hayakawa Seiko, “Heian makki ni okeru Jizō shinkō” [Belief in Jizō in the Late Heian Period], Shichō 96 (1966): 31–52. Iconographically, one begins to see Buddhist altars in Heian Japan with statues of Jizō and Kannon as part of Amida triads. The Chinese version Ti-ts’ang p’u-sa pen-yüan ching describes the compassionate deeds of Ti-ts’ang (Jizō) in previous lifetimes.

(10.) Zhiru Ng, The Making of a Savior Bodhisattva: Dizang in Medieval China (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2007), 49. In her chapter on narrative literature, she notes that these locally transmitted miracle tales serve “as fairly reliable mirrors of religious attitudes and practices observed by the larger population across the diverse social strata of medieval Chinese society… [and thus] offer a de facto vehicle for accessing otherwise elusive dimensions of daily medieval life” (168).

(11.) Zhiru, Making of a Savior Bodhisattva, 117.

(12.) Besides the Hongankyō , two other Chinese sutras should be mentioned: The Sūtra on the Ten Wheels (Ch. Ta-ch’eng-ta-chi-ti ts’ang-shih-lun-ching; Jpn. Jūringyō) and The Sūtra on the Ten Kings (Ch. Yu-hsiu-shih wang-sheng-ch’i-ching; Jpn. Bussetsu Jizōbosatsu hosshin innen jūōkyō). In short form, these are known as Jūringyō and Jūōkyō , respectively.

(13.) Sūtra of the Past Vows of Earth Store Bodhisattva, Trans. Bhiksu Heng Ching (New York: Institute for Advanced Studies of World Religions, 1974), 82. This is the first English translation from Chinese of the Ti-ts’ang p’u-sa pen-yüan ching (Jpn. Jizōbosatsu hongankyō). It is accompanied by lectures on the text by the Tripitaka Master Hsuan Hua. The translation from Sanskrit to Chinese was rendered by Śiksānanda (652–710) in the seventh century C.E.

(14.) Dykstra, “Jizō, the Most Merciful,” 180.

(15.) Ibid., 188Kammon gyoki

(16.) M. W. DeVisser, The Bodhisattva Ti-tsang (Jizō) in China and Japan (Berlin: Oesterheld & Co., 1914), 68. The connection between Jizō and his devotees is spelled out in a spurious sutra, attributed to the famed Tantric master Amoghavajra (704–774 C.E.) and was translated from Sanskrit by a Japanese priest in the seventeenth century. With this text, the Sūtra Spoken by Buddha on the Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha, the Lengthener of Life (Bussetsu emmyōbosatsu kyō ), one has an updated compendium from the early Tokugawa period of what had been believed for centuries about the many blessings accruing from devotion to Jizō (DeVisser, 162–168). It is claimed that this text was written in Japan in the thirteenth century. In it, an intrinsic relationship (en) was felt to exist between Jizō and women. “It is quite logical that the ‘Womb of the Earth’ [Jizō] was believed to be one of the most appropriate deities for giving easy birth and general protection to women” (DeVisser, 108). In this manner Jizō, the earth-womb figure—in touch with the souls of the dead—became the prototype of restorative hope in medieval cosmology.

(17.) Edward Kamens recognizes the role of “expedient devices” as a means of cultivating greater spiritual effort and awareness, not simply to secure benefits (p.305) of a worldly nature. This twofold use of skillful means is central to the message of the Lotus Sutra. See Kamens, “Dragon-Girl, Maidenflower, Buddha: The Transformation of a Waka Topos, ‘The Five Obstructions,’” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 53(2) (1993): 389–442; and Kamens, The Buddhist Poetry of the Great Kamo Priestess: Daisaiin Senshi and ‘Hosshin Wakashū’ (Ann Arbor: Center for Japanese Studies, University of Michigan, 1990).

(18.) Zhiru Ng, Making of a Savior Bodhisattva, 223–224.

(19.) Diana Y. Paul, Women in Buddhism: Images of the Feminine in Mahāyāna Tradition (Berkeley, CA: Asian Humanities Press, 1979), 220–221, 318. All quotes carry the pagination of the 1979 edition. The second edition, Images of the Feminine in Mahāyāna Tradition, was published by the University of California Press in 1985.

(20.) Duncan Ryūken Williams, The Other Side of Zen: A Social History of Sōtō Zen Buddhism in Tokugawa Japan (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005), 4–5.

(21.) Ibid., 4.

(22.) Ibid., 12.

(23.) Hur, Nam-lin, Death and Social Order in Tokugawa Japan: Buddhism, Anti-Christianity, and the Danka System (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007), 195.

(24.) Ibid.,162 n. 74. Duncan Williams, “Funerary Zen: Sōtō Zen Death Management in Tokugawa Japan,” in Death and the Afterlife in Japanese Buddhism, ed. by Jacqueline I. Stone and Mariko Namba Walter (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2008), 243 n. 59, writes that “the age at which children might receive funerals is a complex issue, differing by region.”

(25.) Williams, Other Side of Zen, 38, 54.

(26.) Ibid., 47.

(27.) Ibid., 56. This belief in the spirits of children began to play a role that changed over centuries with the practice of infanticide.

(28.) Fabian F. Drixler, “Infanticide and Fertility in Eastern Japan: Discourse and Demography, 1660–1880” (Ph.D. diss., Department of History, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, 2008), 129, n. 50.

(30.) Williams, “Funerary Zen,” 223.

(31.) Bryan J. Cuevas and Jacqueline I. Stone, eds., The Buddhist Dead: Practices, Discourses, Representations (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. 2007), 9.

(32.) Ibid., 8–9.

(33.) John Bolitho, Bereavement and Consolation: Testimonies from Tokugawa Japan (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003), 9.

(34.) Ibid., 27.

(35.) Ibid., 28–29.

(36.) Ibid., 29–30.

(37.) Ibid., 171.

(38.) Ibid., 186–187.

(39.) Ibid., 187.

(40.) This conversation took place on October 17, 1988, between Elizabeth Harrison, Bardwell Smith, and the head priest of Hasedera. The return to Japan in 1945–46 of thousands of Japanese soldiers, their wives, children, and grandchildren from Manchuria and North China was a process in which Bardwell Smith was involved. At that time, he was in the First Marine Division in Tientsin (Tianjin), North China. His battalion’s responsibility was to repatriate the Japanese troops and their families to Japan in an orderly process over a six-month time period.

(41.) This interview with the head priest at Hasedera Temple occurred on July 29, 1988. The priest’s description of the involvement of younger women in the temple’s life sounded similar to what occurs in many newer, nonclerical forms of Buddhism in Japan.

(42.) Of these, all but five were women. The age range was from nineteen to sixty-seven, with the median at thirty. Most were from Kanagawa-ken and the Tokyo area. The religious affiliations included “none” (3); Shingon-shū (3); Nichiren-shū (1); Jōdoshin-shū (3); Shinto (1); “Buddhist” (3); and “no answer” (6).

(43.) Copies of the Harrison–Smith questionnaire were distributed in 1986–88 to a large variety of religious sites in Honshu and Kyushu. In each case, permission was granted by the head priest, and self-addressed stamped envelopes were provided for the responses to be mailed to us.