Autumn in Japan: Letters to the Children

Jen Waltmon

Sydney, Australia

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Artist's Description

From my “Autumn in Japan” series.

I’ve wanted to visit Asia since I was a teenager, and in October of 2010, my wish finally came true. I spent about 10 days in Japan.

My fascination with Asian culture and traditions finally became a reality to me, and the photographer in me went into overdrive. In 10 days, I captured 2,500+ pictures. I hope you enjoy my first (but hopefully not my last) perspective of this beautiful & amazing country.

These little statues honor unborn, miscarried or aborted children. I witnessed them throughout my travels to temples in Japan. They made me stop and take in the somber and sad, yet sweet tributes to these children. These were found at the Chōhō-ji (頂法寺 Chōhō-ji), also known as Rokkaku-dō (六角堂 Rokkaku-dō) Buddhist temple in Kyoto, Japan, behind a Starbucks (of all places!)

From Wikipedia:
“Mizuko kuyō (水子供養?) or “fetus memorial service”, is a Japanese ceremony for those who have had a miscarriage, stillbirth, or abortion. This practice has become particularly visible since the 1970s with the creation of shrines devoted solely to this ritual. Reasons for the performance of these rites can include parental grief, desire to comfort the soul of the fetus, or even fear of retribution from the vengeful spirit. Mizuko (水子?), literally “water child”, is a Japanese term for a dead fetus or, archaically, a dead baby or infant. Previously read suiji, the Sino-Japanese on’yomi reading of the same characters, the term was originally a kaimyō (posthumous name) given after death. The mizuko kuyō ceremony was used to make offerings to Jizō, a bodhisattva who is believed to protect children. In the Edo period, when famine sometimes led the poverty-stricken to infanticide and abortion, the practice was adapted to cover these situations as well.

Today, the practice of mizuko kuyō continues in Japan, although it is unclear whether it is a historically authentic Buddhist practice. Specifics of the ceremony vary from temple to temple, school to school, and individual to individual. It is common for temples to offer Jizō statues for a fee, which are then dressed in red bibs and caps, and displayed in the temple yard. American religious scholars have criticized the temples for allegedly abusing the Japanese belief that the spirits of the dead retaliate for their mistreatment, but other scholars believe the temples are only answering the needs of the people."

Captured in October 2010 with my Nikon D90. Photo filters added from CS5, typewriter texture added from Altered Bits, and digital frame added from Photo Radar.

© jdub photography 2010

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