Japanese Art in the Asia Society Collection

Asia Society

Zen'en (active first half of 13th century)
Bodhisattva Kshitigarbha (Jizo Bosatsu)
Kamakura period, 1223-1226
Cypress wood with cut gold leaf and traces of pigment; staff with metal attachments

In Asia, Kshitigarbha is generally worshipped as a savior bodhisattva who will help the devoted during the age of the decline of Buddhist teachings. In Japan, Kshitigarbha is known as Jizo and has a more specific function: he is widely worshipped as the protector of ailing children and aborted fetuses. As mothers of the deceased young souls, women seem to have been the principle shapers and creators of the Jizo cult, and it flourishes in Japan today. The deity's childlike image encourages the parent to see him alternately as an innocent child and a gentle savior figure. Small crude statues of Jizo, with red bibs and sometimes staffs topped with rings, are placed on temple grounds and public roads in memory of young souls.