Spotlight on the Collection

February 2014: Jizo Bosatsu

Jizō Bosatsu (Ksitigarbha). Japanese, Heian period (AD 794-1185), about 1100. Wood.  36 × 10 × 5 1/2 inches.  Museum purchase with funds provided by the Estate of Carolyn Quinn, 2005.16a-b.

Jizō Bosatsu (Ksitigarbha). Japanese, Heian period (AD 794-1185), about 1100. Wood. 36 × 10 × 5 1/2 inches. Museum purchase with funds provided by the Estate of Carolyn Quinn, 2005.16a-b.

Jizō Bosatsu, Japanese, about 1100

One of the most beloved Buddhist deities in Japan, Jizō is a bosatsu (bodhisattva), one of a group of enlightened beings who choose to delay entry into nirvana in order to help others. As the protector of children, women, and travelers, his role extends from the physical to the spiritual world. People have historically turned to him during times of uncertainty, grief, or hardship. Placed near temples, cemeteries, and along roadsides throughout the country’s urban and rural areas, figures of Jizō help guide people through personal journeys.

Here, Jizō Bosatsu wears the simple robe and shaved head of a Buddhist monk. He once held a staff in his right hand, and carried a jewel in his left. The staff helps him on his journey, while the jewel allows him to answer sincere pleas of help.

Jizō has special significance for children. Pregnant mothers and parents of sick children often pray for good health and make offerings to him, as do parents of deceased children. According to Japanese legend, children who have died young cannot cross the Sai River on their way to the afterlife, since they have not accumulated enough good deeds and have caused their parents to suffer. As penance, they are stuck piling stones on the banks of the river, where an ugly crone steals their clothes. Jizō rescues the children, hiding them in his robe from the crone and other demons. Parents of deceased children often dedicate a Jizō statue. They dress it in children’s clothing and make offerings of flowers, fruits, toys, or candy to replenish the children whose clothes the crone has stripped away.

—Charling Chen, Goodrich Intern 2013-2014

Join the Conversation!

People grieve in different ways. Some follow cultural or traditional practices, some grieve with others, and some grieve alone. How can art help people cope with hardship, grieving, and healing?

Explore some examples, and join the conversation!

Etched in Collective History, Birmingham Museum of Art, August 18 – November 17, 2013

“Grief,” Andrea Bayer, curator of European paintings, Metropolitan Museum of Art

“The Healing Power of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial,” Pacific Standard, April 23, 2010

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