The Humble Jizo
by Bennett Katz

雀の子
地蔵の袖に
かくれけり

The young sparrows
return into Jizo's sleeve
for sanctuary

-Kobayashi Issa, 1814

Walking through the Hammond’s 3-acre garden, you may find some small stone statues along the path. While perhaps unfamiliar to native New Yorkers, these statues are familiar sights in Japan.

These stone statues make an appearance in Hayao Miyazaki’s beloved animated film My Neighbor Totoro. They stand guard beside the young Mei who got lost in looking for the hospital her mother is staying at. Audience members that understand the meaning of these stone figures know that Mei will be okay, because Jizo are the dedicated protectors of children. The next time you sit down with the family to watch the movie, keep an eye out for these statues and think about how they direct the plot of the film!

These statues are named Jizo, after the religious figure of the same name in Buddhist mythology, or Kṣitigarbha in his original Indian name.

These stone statues make an appearance in Hayao Miyazaki’s beloved animated film My Neighbor Totoro. They stand guard beside the young Mei who got lost in looking for the hospital her mother is staying at. Audience members that understand the meaning of these stone figures know that Mei will be okay, because Jizo

are the dedicated protectors of children. The next time you sit down with the family to watch the movie, keep an eye out for these statues and think about how they direct the plot of the film!

He is such a common sight along Japanese roads because in addition to children, he is the patron saint of travelers. Whether he’s poking his head out from a bush, standing guard at an intersection, or hanging out at a temple, you know that Jizo himself is watching out for you. It is perhaps no surprise that Natalie Hammond, who designed parts of her garden to feel as if you were wandering through the Japanese wilderness, would place Jizo along the path.

In East Asian myth, stone is considered to have a spiritual power for longevity and strength, hence why the Jizo is sculpted from simple stone. This is also why pebbles are scattered around the statue as seen in the image to the right, which is of one of the Hammond garden's two statues of Jizo. In an old legend, it is said that the souls of lost children sit at the banks of the river to the afterlife in their own special limbo, or Sainokawara in Japanese.

In East Asian myth, stone is considered to have a spiritual power for longevity and strength, hence why the Jizo is sculpted from simple stone. This is also why pebbles are scattered around the statue as seen in the image above, which is of one of the Hammond garden's two statues of Jizo. In an old legend, it is said that the souls of lost children sit at the banks of the river to the afterlife in their own special limbo, or Sainokawara in Japanese.

The Jizo also like being dressed in little red caps and bibs once the colder seasons roll in. Red is a lucky color that wards off illness and disease, perfect for a guardian spirit like Jizo. They also make him more closely resemble the children he protects. Due to the Jizo’s nature as the protector of lost children, thanking him with offerings of stone and red ornaments, it may mean that a childbirth went off without a hitch or a child survived an illness. If you walk by a Jizo statue, consider giving him a pebble or knitting him a red cap so he may protect you and your family.

Jizo in Red Cap and Bib

These lost souls stack up towers of stones for eternity, waiting for them to be taken by their parents. But every so often, mean old demons come by to knock over their towers. As Jizo is the de facto parent of these lost souls, giving stones to the Jizo thus helps him protect those who walk by, as well reducing the workload of the children who live in limbo.

The Jizo also like being dressed in little red caps and bibs once the colder seasons roll in. Red is a lucky color that wards off illness and disease, perfect for a guardian spirit like Jizo. They also make him more closely resemble the children he protects. Due to the Jizo’s nature as the protector of lost children, thanking him with offerings of stone and red ornaments, it may mean that a childbirth went off without a hitch or a child 

survived an illness. If you walk by a Jizo statue, consider giving him a pebble or knitting him a red cap so he may protect you and your family.

This educational section has been made possible through

the generosity of the Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership