They stood guard at six entrances into Edo, smiling benignly at samurai and merchants, pilgrims and courtesans, rōjū and rogues. The names of the roads that carried these travellers are redolent of history: Tōkaidō, Nakasendō, Ōshū Kaidō. You read it, and you recall woodblock prints of weary wanderers walking with bowed heads into cold rain or stopping for a rest at a wayside inn.
|Edo Roku Jizō at Honsen-ji. Jizō carries a staff with six rings that jingle|
to warn animals of his approach and to prevent mutual harm.
A nomad hears the whisper of the roads and her feet start itching, but we'll have to stay inside old Edo for today's story: we're going to focus not on the roads, but on six Jizō (地藏) statues that were erected to offer thanks for a life saved. Here’s the story:
Mukashi mukashi, once upon a time, a young Jizō priest who lived in Fukagawa was struck by an incurable¹ disease. The young man, who was called Shōgen (正元), and his parents prayed to Jizō for mercy, and when a miracle was granted and he recovered, they constructed Jizō statues at six different locations in Edo. The six statues were cast by Oota Suruganokami Masayoshi (太田駿河守正義), and donors' names were inscribed on the lotus-shaped pedestal of each statue.
Originally the six statues stood next to these roads, with their present-day locations included:
Tōkaidō, the road along the southeastern edge of Honshū, Honsen-ji (品川寺) in Shinagawa
Kōshū Kaidō, the road from Yamanashi, Taisō-ji (太宗寺) in Shinjuku 2-Chōme
Nakasendō, the road from Kyoto, Shinshō-ji (真性寺) in Sugamo
Ōshū Kaidō, the road from Fukushima, Tōzen-ji (東禅寺) in Higashi-Asakusa
Mito Kaidō, the road from Ibaraki, Reigan-ji (霊巌寺) in Shirakawa
Chiba Kaidō, the road from Chiba, in Monzen-Nakachō
The first five Jizō statues survive to this day; the sixth one was destroyed by the anti-Buddhist movement during the Meiji period. Some sources say that a Jizō statue at Jyōmyōin (浄名院) in Uenosakuragi has been chosen as a substitute, but the style is clearly very different.
Why six? Especially given that Edo had five famous highways² known as the Gokaidō (五街道)? I couldn't find confirmation, but my guess: Jizō assists beings in the six realms of desire and karmic rebirth, and is therefore often shown in a group of six.
Incidentally, the storyteller in me has fallen in love with the six realms: hell, hungry ghosts, animals, bellicose demons, humans, heavenly beings. I suspect I got stuck with the bellicose demons …
More about Jizō
Jizō, popularly known as O-Jizō-sama, is arguably the most popular deity in japan. He's the patron saint of expectant mothers, women in labor, children, firemen, travellers and pilgrims. He has a long history and has many appearances, but in contemporary Japan he is often portrayed as a small statue with a childlike face.
He's personalized to a greater extent than most other deities, in other words, worshippers have a very intimate relationship with him and have very specific requests. As Ian Reader and George Tanabe write in Practically Religious: Worldly Benefits and the Common Religion of Japan, "Jizō is near at hand, dearly loved, and called by many names and nicknames that allow people to identify with him on a personal basis." (Another deity who shares this characteristic is Inari, the god of rice and fertility.)
You may recall posts I've written about a few of Jizō's manifestations: the god of travellers, the god of criminals, the god who can return stolen goods.
1) Despite laborious Googling, I haven't been able to ascertain the cause of his illness.
2) Tōkaidō, Kōshū Kaidō, Nakasendō, Ōshū Kaidō, Nikko Kaidō
|Honsen-ji in Shinagawa|
|Edo Roku Jizō at Honsen-ji|
|Edo Roku Jizō at Honsen-ji|
|Close-up of New Year's decoration|
|You know I have a thing about roofs ...|
|Taisō-ji in Shinjuku|
|Edo Roku Jizō at Taisō-ji|
|Small white pebbles left at Jizō's statue. Read more about the pebbles here.|
|There's a reason for the close-up of the hand:|
compare this with the photos taken at Reigan-ji.
(If you're wondering what he's holding, it's a wish-granting jewel.)
|Shinshō-ji in Sugamo|
|Edo Roku Jizō at Shinshō-ji|
|Edo Roku Jizō at Tōzen-ji|
|Again, watch the hand and the nails ...|
|Toys left at another Jizō statue at Tōzen-ji. Jizō is the protector of children.|
Please note the little silver Beetle!
|Reigan-ji in Shirakawa|
|Edo Roku Jizō at Reigan-ji. He's my favourite.|
|Look at that beautiful profile. Click on the photos to see bigger versions.|
|Black and white|
|See his hand. He has longer nails than any of the other statues.|
|Longer nails. I'm not making this up! It's mentioned in several sources.|
|Close-up. He could play classical guitar.|
|The substitute sixth Jizō at Jyōmyōin. As you can see,|
it's a very different style. You can read more about
the temple in this previous post.