Image and Cult in Medieval Japanese Buddhism

The Face of JizoStone images of the Buddhist deity Jizo—bedecked in a red cloth bib and presiding over offerings of flowers, coins, candles, and incense—are a familiar sight throughout Japan. Known in China as a savior from hell’s torment, Jizo in Japan came to be utterly transformed through fusion with the local tradition of kami worship and ancient fertility cults. In particular, the Jizo cult became associated with gods of borders or transitions: the stone gods known as dosojin. Although the study of Jizo is often relegated to the folkloric, The Face of Jizo: Image and Cult in Medieval Japanese Buddhism, a highly original and readable book by Hank Glassman, demonstrates that the bodhisattva’s cult was promoted and embraced at the most elite levels of society.

“By wrapping the Japanese images of the bodhisattva Jizō in their intriguing individual and collective stories, The Face of Jizō emphasizes the movement of this deity, who not only protects travellers but also treks between hell and paradise in his quest to save sentient beings. Professor Glassman has created a major contribution to studies of cult images that extends well beyond art historical analyses to delve into other fascinating areas of inquiry. The author’s thorough research, lively writing style, and deft exposition of exciting tales guide readers on a magnificent journey through the history, literature, performance, and visual culture related to Jizō in Japan from the thirteenth to the seventeenth century. From lavishly colored paintings and sculptures to simple stones, beloved images of Jizō are brought to life in the pages of this book.” —Sherry Fowler, University of Kansas

January 2012 / ISBN 978-0-8248-3581-1 / $25.00 (PAPER)