Jizo by the thousands at Jomyo-in

Jomyo-in sits between Ueno’s National Museum and Yanaka Cemetery, yet it feels off the beaten track and perhaps even somewhat forgotten.  A 17th century Tendai sect Buddhist temple that began its life as accommodation for monks associated with nearby Kanei-ji temple, Jomyo-in’s principle claim to fame these days is the thousands of stone jizo statues that fill its grounds.

As I have written before, jizo is a bodhisattva who remained in this world to help others and particular looks after children and travelers.  Placing jizo statues in temple grounds is a popular way for parents grieving over a lost pregnancy or lost child can manifest their grief, and feel that they are doing something to help the lost child progress to the next stage of karmic rebirth.

While jizo statues are often bedecked with red bibs and skull caps and sporting pinwheels, flowers or sweets, at Jomyo-in most of the statues are more monochromatic, carved as reliefs on rectangular blocks of stone, lined up in rows, standing side by side and back to back.

These statues are also unusual in that they were placed here about 150 years ago, not by grieving parents, but by a particularly devoted priest named Myoun, the 38th head priest of Jomyo-in.  And Myoun’s purpose was also a bit outside the ordinary.

Myoun wanted to emulate the efforts of King Ashoka, the famed third century BCE Indian king who was the first monarch to embrace Buddhism.  According to popular legend, one hundred years after the Buddha left this earth, King Ashoka had 84,000 stupas erected across India among which he had distributed the Buddha’s ashes.  Myoun’s goal was to create 84,000 jizo statues, also to serve as inspiration to those worshiping at his temple.  Just as it is unlikely that Ashoka actually built as many as 84,000 stupas, Myoun also did not erect 84,000 jizo.  It is said there are between 20,000 and 25,000 jizo on the grounds of Jomyo-in.  It’s still a respectable number.

Some of the statues are more individualized, and there are a few that actually do sport the traditional red garb.

While most of the stone jizo stand out in the elements, there are a few housed in their own shelters, together with various accessories.

Perhaps the most interesting jizo at Jomyoin is the replica of the sixth of the Edo Roku Jizo.  The original was cast in 1720 and installed at Eitaiji in Fukagawa (near Monzen Nakacho station in modern Tokyo).  It was destroyed in 1868 during a particularly anti-Buddhist time.  Jomyo-in’s replica was cast in 1906 and installed in memory of Japanese soldiers who gave their lives in the Russo-Japanese war.  Although the replica is only about half the size of the original–which was around 2.7 meters tall–, it occupies pride of place on the temple grounds, to the left after passing through the temple’s 18th century gate.

Whether you visit Jomyo-in while on a pilgrimage of the Edo Roku Jizo, or just wander in for the opportunity to see this enormous collection of stone jizo for yourself while in the neighborhood visiting Yanaka Cemetery or Ueno Park , you will find Jomyo-in an interesting and unusual spot.

© 2019 Jigsaw-japan.com and Vicki L. Beyer
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