Yesterday, I was woken up by the neighbours just before 8 am. They were already up and about on the little street down the steps from our house and chatting and laughing and doing something. Children were also already up and running about – what ever happened to sleeping in in the weekends? There was something going on all day, and in the early afternoon, the party culminated in a little ceremony at the Jizo shrine at the bottom of the steps… This I found worthy of investigation, and, lo and behold, last weekend was Jizo-Bon, the Jizo festival.
Jizo is a Buddhist saint, a Bodhisattva (Japanese: Bosatsu), that means, he has attained enlightenment, but will stay on Earth to save other souls. O-Jizo sama is chiefly the guardian of children, dead or alive, but he also takes care of travellers and firefighters. Thus, he is probably the most popular saint in Japan and his statues can be found everywhere. Often he is depicted as a simple Buddhist monk walking with a staff, and the statues are clothed in little red or white hats or bibs. The idea behind that is that, as Jizo will take care of dead children, he will protect them from harm and cold – and pass on the clothing.
Jizo-Bon is the yearly festival for this saint, and it happens on August 24th (and sometimes also on August 23rd). Traditionally, it has been a day to confess bad deeds to the Jizo and asking for their forgiveness, and probably many people still do that. Nowadays, it is often combined with a children’s festival, Jizo-sai, where the neighborhood children are allowed to do little things like changing the clothing of the Jizo statues or painting their faces, and eat red-coloured food. From the sound of it, it seems that the kids had lots of fun last Sunday!
Note: I will visit a friend in Nagoya for the rest of the week, so my next post will be in September!