Midorogaike Jizo

Posted on Sunday, February 11, 2018, under , , ,

It is odd to imagine that once upon a time this stately piece lay buried in a peat bog on the outskirts of Kyoto city. The handsome fella is in fact a bodhisattva Jizo statue, and the bog none other than our Midoroga pond. This Jizo is believed to be one of six similar statues carved from a single tree by one Ono-no-Takamura, a scholar who lived, died, then lived again in the early Heian period. The legend tells how the man passed, spent time in the underworld, then rose from the dead after some serious worshipping the Jizo. Once back on earth Takamura set about carving the six statues in the heat of religious verve.

The finished products were individually distributed to guard each one of the six ancient routes linking Kyoto with various towns and municipalities, such as Fushimi, Toba, Nagoya etc. Kurama-kaido connected Rakuchu (inner Kyoto city) to Shiga and beyond. It had the statue – affectionately known by locals as Kuramaguchi, or Midorogaike, or Aneko Jizo – posted at the road’s entrance, serving as a safe journey guardian.

Kurama-kaido used to pass by Midoroga pond. Tradition has it that nearby lay ‘a demon gateway’. The demons were supposed to reside in Kurama and Kifune, a few kilometres north of the pond. In order to keep the wretches at bay, the custom of bean-throwing (mamemaki, 豆まき) sat about at a nearby Yoshida shrine and has been continued to this day as part of the Setsubun (節分) celebrations at the start of spring (Feb 3rd).

It remains unclear though how this particular statue ended up in the bog, or the way it was found and retrieved from its muddy cradle. Currently the statue, all spruced up, sits enshrined at Jozenji near the present day Kuramaguchi subway station – once a boundary separating the inner city (rakuchu) from the suburbs (rakugai), or ‘the world beyond’.

Jozenji is one of those local ‘B-temples’, exuding a certain dose of neglect and lack of refinement (an odd carton box in the worship hall, a motorbike casually stationed by the main entrance). At the same time this semi-lax atmosphere lends it an air of intimacy that is largely absent from its more famous, touristy cousins. In late August pilgrims flock to the temple for the Kyoto Rokujizo Meguri – a pilgrimage to Six Jizo temples. The ceremony involves the worshippers walking along the route connecting the points of the ancient roads, as well as hanging paper amulets (ofuda) outside their homes for exorcising unquiet spirits. The powers of superstition drag on.

* A pond about 1,500m in circumference
* Creatures surviving since the Ice Age
* Biological communities designated as natural treasures 
* A pond of many legends
* The name’s origin unknown. One link to the discovery of      "Miroku Bosatsu Bodhisattva statue" inside the pond
* Midorogaike 深泥池: a straight reading of kanji impossible, loosely translated as ‘a bottomless muddy pond’

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