Ojizo-san, a deity with a red cloth.

You may see statues wearing red bibs while walking in the countryside of Japan. These statues are the Jizo Bosatsu deity, who is in charge of protecting children.
In this article, I will show you the secret of his cloth and explain why the statues stand outside.

2017-05-15   Culture, Life & Language,


The Jizo statue
The Jizo statue

Why is the statue dressed in a red bib?

Jizo Bosatsu (Jizo) is a popular Japanese deity. It is said that he changes his appearance and comes to save people. Japanese people usually call the deity, “Ojizo-san”.

He is thought to be a deity for powerless people. Many people worship him for successful child birth and to protect their children.
In the ancient times, children frequently died by illness early in life. Some Japanese people think that those children go to an afterlife. In an old tale, children who have passed away, wish to meet their family again by piling up stones. However, devils would always destroy the stone towers. Jizo Bosatsu deeply sympathizes with them and comes to the children as an alternative parent.

the red hood and bib
the red hood and bib

Why do Jizo statues wear red bibs?

Japanese people believe that red is the color to defend against evil since ancient times. Babies are vulnerable, so their parents dress them in red to try to protect them from illness and danger.

Jizo statues also wear red bibs, because the worshippers offer baby bibs and hoods. Some wish for protection and others who have lost their baby, pray for the spirits to go to heaven without suffering.

Another related custom of the red cloth is Kanreki. When Japanese people become 60 years of age (Kanreki), they are often given red cloths for their birthday. Our traditional calendar is on a 60-year cycle, and people who turn 60-year old, return to the same year of their birth. The red cloth is used to celebrate their rebirth.

A Jizo standing beside a road
A Jizo standing beside a road

A Deity standing near a living area

Jizo is likely to be seen outdoors, rather than in Buddhist halls.
This tradition is derived from the ancient belief of Dosojin. Dosojin is a deity who protects travelers. The deity statue was placed on mountain pathways, crossroads, and at the borders of villages. The statues are generally in the shape of a couple.

The Jizo statues took over the Dosojin in terms of placement.
However, the shape of Jizo statues are different. Jizo normally has a bald head, a cane, and Juzu rosary beads in his hands.
It is said that Jizo becomes closer to people who are in trouble. I think he is a very friendly deity who is always with ordinary people.

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Writer/ Translator

I love Japanese folkcraft article, traditional handicrafts and antiques. I’m seeking the Japanese people’s religious outlooks and its origins that are behind Japanese people’s unique sense and techniques rooted in the ordinary life.