Jizo Buddhas, Nikko National Park
July 1989. Nikko National Park is more a destination for Japanese tourists than Western tourists, and it gets a lot of them. Located in the mountains north of Tokyo, it is the home to dozens of centuries-old temples built by the Shoguns. The main areas of the temples are crowded, and after spending a few hours in the crowds, my friend and I decided to explore further afield. We found a path that followed a beautiful river and followed it upstream. Quite unexpectedly, we turned a corner and found ourselves facing over 100 statues along the path, facing the river, many with small piles of rocks in their laps, and some with weathered bibs tied around their necks. They are statues of Jizo, or Ojizo-sama, a Bodhisattva who abandoned his path to Nirvana to act as a protector of the souls of lost children. He is also revered as a protector of travelers, and these statues were most likely erected on this path towards the Nikko temples for that reason. Parents who have lost children often dress these statues in red bibs and caps in the hopes that Jizo will protect their children’s souls. The local lore is that if you count these statues from one end to the other, you will come up with a different number each time, and they will be in a different order each time you pass them.