Anyway, I told my fabulous friend Fantasy (and anyone else who wants to read) that I had a few posts up my sleeves. They were related to the extended holidays we had here last week and the touring about that I did. Enthusiasm has waned somewhat as remembrance of experience fades, but it may mean that clarity is sharpened as a result. No guarantee, though.
Along the roadsides, near temples, in graveyards (haka) and other innocuous places, you will often see these fellows.
They are known as jizo, or bodhisattva's, or bosatsu; Buddhist saints who have decided not to enter Nirvana after death, but to remain on earth to help humans through their suffering. This can also relate to the suffering of souls passing through various stages of reincarnation. My information is dodgy, so it is best that you visit this site if you want more accurate information.
Anyway, jizo are Master of Six States of Reincarnation, which are: Six States of Existence,Six Roads of Reincarnation, Six Paths of Transmigration, Six Realms of Samsara, Six Directions of Reincarnation, Six Destinies, and the Wheel of Life according to the site above, and again, I am only skimming the surface. I don't have that much knowledge about it. However, they are also the protectors of Children, Expectant Mothers, Firemen, Travellers, and Pilgrims, Protector of Aborted / Miscarried Babies, and Guardian of Children in Limbo.
It is the last two points that interest me the most.
The contraceptive pill is difficult to get in Japan. This article in the New York Times, details how the government had banned access to it for many years, the most recent reasons given (before it was made legal) were due to fears of the possible spread of AIDS (non-use of condoms), possible promiscuity, and the wish to encourage the growth of the Japanese birthrate. Low dose oral contraceptive pills (and IUDs) have been available since 1999, but they are very expensive, not covered by the national health scheme, and can only be accessed by an ongoing prescription from a doctor which is apparently closely monitored . Abortion, for many years, has been popular as a form of contraception. It has been said that the doctors often oppose the contraceptive pill due to the money that they make from abortions (which are also not covered by the national heath scheme), though the technology used for this leaves much to be desired, so the money is not going on being up to date.
Japan is also a fairly inward looking nation and people can often hold views that certain medicines can be harmful to them specifically, even if they are not harmful for other nationalities. For many years, Japanese women have been told that taking the pill is a danger to their health. Now, I am not necessarily a great fan of the pill, either. There are many negative side effects, but abortion is also not the greatest for a woman's well-being as a general matter of course. Don't peg me as a pro-lifer here. The above is just a broad statement of fact. Condoms, of course, are used, but I guess many Japanese men are as (ir)responsible as other men when it comes to wearing them, and they can break, and there is the heat of the moment, and all that. After condoms, withdrawal is the second most popular form of contraception in Japan. Diaphragms, too, are not necessarily easy to get , and women are often told to wait and see if they go in for the morning after pill, which means that a pregnancy has often progressed a fair way along its course before it is confirmed, at which stage the doctor is likely to recommend an abortion.
So, in regards to the above multi-linked paragraph, the mizuko jizo is particularly popular in Japan. This jizo is associated with protecting the journey of aborted / miscarried babies, and children in limbo, so at the base of these jizo, or very near them, you will often see toys left by those wishing to remember or respect the souls that need help along their way, if such things are believed in, or by those who wish to recognise their own experience. However, jizo are also protectors of children, alive and dead, so the toys left may not necessarily be for the above reasons. However, if the jizo is a mizuko jizo, it is likely that the above reasons are the ones for the offering. That is a very confusing paragraph, but it is sometimes very difficult to differentiate one jizo from another.
The jizo (there are six of them traditionally at many temples) are very popular with the people. I like the fact that they are outside, for one, so it is very easy to leave a little prayer or offering (often a pebble), or to just wave hello as you walk past. They are often dressed in clothes that people have knitted or sewn (or bought) for them.
Though I think most societies seem to need some form of image to refer to throughout life, (even those religions that ban images seem to be able to infuse beauty into carvings, buildings, other types of monuments), I cannot imagine my local priest in Perth condoning the idea of placing a knitted beanie on the head of the crucified Christ (it wouldn't match the loin cloth, for one).
Therefore, this common touch appeals to me, as does the outside aspect mentioned above. If one feels like offering a little prayer, or experiencing a bit of peace, or just enjoying the surrounds of a temple, it is easy to do. Everything is wide open. I can have a picnic in the temple grounds, or enjoy a quiet sandwich. My memories of church are sitting for an excruciating hour in a fairly dark building, getting lectured, the only hint of a sandwich being the discreetly released sulphur farts of fellow parishioners , though I guess the Stations of the Cross kept me entertained as I waited for the whole drear process to end.
As much as any other major religion, a lot of Buddhism is about money. And as much as any other major religion, it has had its wars and its suppression of people who do not hold the same views as it, and it acknowledges the rights of women no more than the other religions do. The fact that it is polytheistic, or possibly, nothing-theistic in true belief, maybe means that it is open to more viewpoints than the monotheistic religions, and may therefore be more accepting of other religions and points of view. I am not really sure, as I am, as always, skating the surface. However, sometimes I think worship, or recognising with ritual the beauty, compassion and sorrow that can be in the world, should be outside in the open and in the fresh air, and be easily accessible. It should not necessarily be tied to a weekly schedule, though naturally enough, the devout have their schedule, and times for prayers can be just as rigorous and uncomfortable. Funnily enough, Islam is also very practical in terms of when one can offer prayers and express belief. I say funnily enough only because it is one of the most ferociously monotheistic religions, and its followers therefore may not find a connection with Buddhism, but I digress.
So, last Friday I visited Zenkouji, which is a temple in Nagano. And though the huge halls, and the gilt and wooden temples are a feast for the eyes, it is the bosatsu, with their red caps and bibs, and the offerings of toys and clothes gathered at their feet that people pray will be delivered to their children, that I like to seek out. They sit patiently, obliviously, in moss covered courtyards, by the side of the roads, under the ever changing sun, clouds and rain.