Torii at Fushimi Inari-Taisha, southeast of Kyōto.

The Kanman-Ga-Fuchi Abyss

Kanman-ga-fuchi Abyss

Kanman-ga-fuchi
walking map

The Kanman-ga-fuchi Abyss is a short walk from the temples and shrines. It's a path along the Daiya river, lined with statues of Jizō. You can get a map from the tourist office along the main street from the train stations.

Walking out of Nikkō to the Kanman-ga-fuchi abyss.
Walking out of Nikkō to the Kanman-ga-fuchi abyss.

Before long we see the first of the Jizō statues. These were carved by monks led by the abbot Tenkai, who lived 1536-1643.

Long line of Jizō statues in the Kanman-ga-fuchi abyss outside Nikkō.

Jizō

Jizō was known as Kṣitigarbha in the original Sanskrit, meaning "Earth Treasury". A fuller form of his name is "Bodhisattva King Kṣitigarbha of the Great Vow". In Japanese that's Daigan Jizō Bosatsu.

As a bodhisattva, Jizō vowed to instruct all beings in the era from the death of the historical Gautama Buddha until the arrival of Maitreya. He is one of the four principal bodhisattvas known in East Asian Mahayana Buddhism.

Jizō has come to be considered in Japan as the guardian of children, and the patron deity of deceased children and miscarried or aborted fetuses.

Japanese mythology says that the souls of children who die before their parents cannot cross the mythical Sanzu River on their way to the afterlife. They have not had the opportunity to accumulate enough good deeds. They would have to pile stones eternally on the banks of the Sanzu River as penance, but Jizō saves them.

Long line of Jizō statues in the Kanman-ga-fuchi abyss outside Nikkō.

The typical iconography depicts Jizō as a monk with a halo around his shaved head. He carries a Cintāmaṇi, a wish-fulfilling jewel that lights the darkness, and a staff to force open the gates of Hell. He usually stands on a lotus base, symbolising his release from rebirth.

Bodhisattvas are typically depicted dressed as Indian royalty, but Jizō/Kṣitigarbha is shown in a monk's simple robe.

People sometimes make a pile of small pebbles by a Jizō statue in the hopes of shortening the time children have to suffer in the underworld. This is derived from the tradition of building stupas to gain merit.

Long line of Jizō statues in the Kanman-ga-fuchi abyss outside Nikkō.

The red bibs and caps may be placed on the statues by grieving parents. Or, by parents thanking Jizō for saving their child from a series illness or injury.

Jizō is also seen as a protector of travelers and firefighters.

Unique Jizō statue in the Kanman-ga-fuchi abyss outside Nikkō.
Unique Jizō statue in the Kanman-ga-fuchi abyss outside Nikkō.
Walking through the Kanman-ga-fuchi abyss outside Nikkō.

The local people may tell you to count the number of statues as you walk out along the path, and then count them as you return.

Long line of Jizō statues in the Kanman-ga-fuchi abyss outside Nikkō.

The legend is that the statues keep changing places, and the numbers won't agree.

Long line of Jizō statues in the Kanman-ga-fuchi abyss outside Nikkō.

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