Higashioka`s Six Jizo Statues – A Closer Examination Raises Some Questions
By Avi Landau
Cycling towards Tsukuba`s old Higashioka neighborhood (just 2 km or so east of Tsukuba Center), I had in mind two things that I wanted to check on. First, whether or not the traditional Fudo prayer meeting (held every other month on the 28th) was still being held at its Fudo Hall during the corona-virus lock-down (no, it was not), and second, whether all the new construction in the area had catastrophically infringed upon my favorite firefly viewing spot in Tsukuba (yes, it had…)
But as I crossed the Hanamuro River and pedaled up the slope that took me past the “Miracle-working Migawari Amida” (near the Hanamuro Intersection and the site of the old Hanamura Castle), another idea popped into my head – why not first drop by and see some friendly old faces! I was thinking of the gentle visages that used to greet me (and give me solice*) in the days when I would have to go to the JA (Japan Agriculture) office in Higashioka every month to pay my gas bill – those of the Six Jizo statues of Higashioka (once considered important cultural assets of the old Sakura Mura Village), which stand at the entrance to an old cemetery between a shabby old Tenmangu shrine and the JA office.
So swinging a couple of turns and coasting down the narrow street that leads to the JA complex, I pulled up in front of the six statues, which on their pedestals were taller than me (which is not saying much!), thinking to myself “long time, no see!” But something was different… there was something missing…too much light… AHHH… the background! These six 18th century carvings had stood, as I knew them, by a path that led through a dark cedar grove to a graveyard. The gray stone was a beautiful contrast to the evergreen trees… and now those trees were all gone -with nothing left but an unseemly gravel surfaced parking lot! How disappointing! The sign that had been put up years ago by the local Board of Education, had changed as well, though the extreme state of rust and corrosion I found it in somehow made it more beautiful than it had been before (though much harder to read!) And the Jizos themselves had not faired very well either, exposed to the elements as they had been for all these years – and perhaps (as some damage might suggest) they had even fallen over when the big quake struck back in 2011.
Anyway, still glad to be seeing them after all the years, I decided to give them a careful (older and more patient) look – something I had never really done before. First I deciphered the writing on the rusted sign (which took a bit of time) and then I carefully studied the iconography of each statue to see if I could identify each of the individual jizos that the sign said were depicted there.
And then, after scrutinizing the statues, going back to the sign, going back to the statues again and so on and so forth, I became a little confused. So I took out my smart phone, went online, and did a search of the names of the Jizos mentioned on the sign. When I looked at what had come up, the puzzle only thickened! The most distinctive of the figures in the Hanamuro Six Jizo set (for me) was the one holding the incense burner (see photo above) with the long handle (because it is so unusual) – and I couldn`t such a figure among the different Jizos mentioned in the sign.
There are, however, different groupings of Six Jizo that have appeared over the centuries, and I DID find the one with the incense burner in a different grouping that appears in the Illustrated Compendium of Buddhist Images (Butsuzo-zui, 仏像図彙) of 1690. It was called 法性地蔵 (Ho-sho- Jizo) – a name not mentioned among those listed on the rusted sign.
So I realized that the Sakura Village Board of Education had listed the wrong grouping of Six Jizos – but that was no big deal, right? I mean Six Jizos are Six Jizos, no matter which grouping they are or what their iconography – six different Jizos, each assigned to assist those in one of the Six Different Realms of Transmigration (ROKUDO, 六道).
The thing was though, that things still didn`t match up. I was able to easliy identify three more of the Higashioka Six Jizos from the same set of illustrations in the Butsuzo-i (shown above and then further below) – the one with the string of beads (Chiji Jizo), the one with the ringed staff and Mani Jewel (Keiki Jizo) and the one with palms together in the Gassho position (Ho-sho- Jizo).
But there were two more stone Jizos, that because of damage, I could not clearly identify. Both of them seemed to be holding a stick of some kind with both hands, and I assumed that one of them was 法印地蔵 (Ho-in Jizo), also called 讃龍地蔵(Sanryu- Jizo), who is shown holding a banner in the iconographic sketches.
But even if one of them was Ho-in Jizo, the “banner holding Jizo” – and BOTH of them seemed to be (though the tops of the banners were broken off) – one of the Jizos which should have been most easily identifiable (because it held a jewel in it`s left hand and held the right hand up in the mudra of abhaya – with palm facing outward and fingers up ) was clearly not there.
In other words, this Roku Jizo set had no Darani Jizo (who aids those wandering in the Realm of Hungry Ghosts – Gakkido) and perhaps two statues of 法印地蔵 (Ho-in Jizo), also called
讃龍地蔵 (Sanryu- Jizo) – who aids those in the Realm of Animals (Chikusho-do).
So the question is: Is there some theological reason behind this? For example did someone want there to be no Jizo for Gakki and two for animals? Or is it just the case of one of the statues having been broken and carelessly replaced with a different statue (made at the same workshop in a similar age) that didn`t actually fit into the set? Remember Jizos are often covered with red bibs so noone would know the difference anyway!
Maybe, if I have the time in the future, I will be able to offer an explanation….
But until then….
- I needed all the solace I could get on those days because my LP gas bills were so high!