Autumn in Japan: The Protector

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.

When I took the Shinkansen to Kyoto, my main motivation was to see the Imperial Palace. But getting there proved to be a bit of a challenge. After heading in the wrong direction for about 1.5 hours after leaving the train station, I walked back through it, and down the street to the other side. I was anxious to get to the palace, but couldn’t help but stop to take pictures of all of the interesting shop fronts, people, buildings, temples and shrines along the way. Finally, when I could see the entrance to the Imperial Palace in the (far) distance, I was elated (and a bit surprised!) to also see a Starbucks nearby!! It was about 1:30pm and I hadn’t had breakfast or lunch yet. I was so thirsty and famished. I figured I would at least stop in for my favorite – an Iced Chai Tea Latte. After happily taking my order and heading towards the straws, what I saw out the back window made me stop in utter amazement. The entire back wall of Starbucks was glass, and just beyond the glass – an absolutely amazing temple. I stood there for about 30 seconds, in shock, and then quickly slurped down my Iced Chai Tea Latte so that I could go experience this magical place! Here I spent about an hour, taking in the colors, the Omikuji, ponds and Jizo statues.

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. Textures added from Altered Bits.

© jdub photography 2010

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