I have not yet met a foreigner, who has not perceived the Jizo statues as cute, especially if they were accessorized with a self-made hat and bib. Many pictures are taken to show it as another example of the Japanese cuteness. Outside of Japan little is known about the actual role of a Jizo, furthermore in Japan the actual story behind it is very seldom openly discussed.
Jizo statues found in temples often wear a red hat and a bib, plus toys are placed in close vicinity. There are two intentions: First rejoicing parents, whose child has been cured of dangerous sickness thanks to Jizo’s intervention or then secondly it is a gift requesting help from the Jizo for the deceased child in the afterlife. According to folk belief from the Asuka Period (522 – 645 AD) of the red-colored fire deity, red is the color for expelling demons and illness.
Perhaps the greatest influence on the tradition of dressing Jizo statues in hats, bibs, scarfs, and toys comes from the “Sai no Kawara” legend attributed to Japan’s Pure Land sects in the 14th and 15th centuries. According to this legend, children who die prematurely are sent to the underworld for judgment, where their life is reviewed by the 10 Kings of Hell. These children or unborns may be pure souls, but they have not had any chance to build up good karma, and their untimely death causes great sorrow to them and their parents. Consequently parents too, must undergo judgment. Japanese parents therefore feel a great need to do something to alleviate their child’s suffering, to do something to improve the child’s chance of redemption. More detailed information can be found on an excellent site made by Mark Schumacher http://www.onmarkproductions.com/html/jizo1.shtml
Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (シビル伊藤）