The Face of Jizo: Image and Cult in Medieval  Japanese Buddhism
304pp. January 2012
The Face of Jizo: Image and Cult in Medieval Japanese Buddhism
Author: Glassman, Hank;
“Farther on, I find other figures of Jizo, single reliefs, sculptured upon tombs. But one of these is a work of art so charming that I feel a pain at being obliged to pass it by. More sweet, assuredly, than any imaged Christ, this dream in white stone of the playfellow of dead children, like a beautiful young boy, with gracious eyelids half closed, and face made heavenly by such a smile as only Buddhist art could have imagined, the smile of infinite lovingness and supremest gentleness. Indeed, so charming the ideal of Jizo is that in the speech of the people a beautiful face is always likened to his—‘Jizo-kao,’ as the face of Jizo.” —Lafcadio Hearn, Glimpses of an Unfamiliar Japan (1894)

Stone 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, Hank Glassman, in this highly original and readable book, demonstrates that the bodhisattva’s cult was promoted and embraced at the most elite levels of society.

The Face of Jizo explores the stories behind sculptural and painted images of Jizo to reveal a fascinating cultural history. Employing the methodologies of the early twentieth-century renegade art historian Aby Warburg, Glassman’s focus on the visual culture of medieval Japanese religion is not concerned with the surface form or iconographical lineages of Jizo’s images, but with the social, ritual, and narrative contexts that bring the icons to life. He skillfully weaves together many elements of the Jizo cult—doctrine, ritual, cosmology, iconography—to animate the images he examines. Thus The Face of Jizo is truly a work of iconology in the Warburgian sense. Glassman’s choice to examine the cult of Jizo through the medium of the icon makes for a most engaging and approachable history of this “most Japanese” of Buddhist deities.

82 illus., 18 in color

”A thoughtful and thought-provoking work that I recommend wholeheartedly to specialists and advanced students of Japanese cultural studies, religion and art history. Glassman’s attention to images and their stories in illuminating Buddhist cultic practices makes the book a valuable contribution to the growing scholarship on animated images in Asian religious traditions.” —Impressions: The Journal of the Japanese Art Society of America (34, 2013)

“Glassman’s book is the culmination of decades of interest and research on the cult of Jizō. He is interested in how Jizō came to take such a prominent place in Japanese Buddhism and religious life and practice. His book is extremely well written and accessible, conveying through numerous stories and narratives the life this particular bodhisattva has had in Japanese religious history.” —New Books in Buddhist Studies (10 May 2012)

“A rich and complex study that will reward careful and even repeated reading. . . . Faculty, researchers, graduate students, and undergraduates will all benefit from The Face of Jizo. . . . It will also be required reading for anyone working in the field of Japanese religions, where it makes exciting departures from established work in the areas of doctrinal and institutional studies. Furthermore, this book is strongly recommended to readers in religious studies, who will find Glassman’s engagement with issues of ritual, representation, performance, gender, and death to be of great interest.” —H-Net Reviews (October 2012)

“Well-researched, richly illustrated. . . . Glassman skillfully unpacks some of the tensions involved in the medieval Japanese Buddhist employment of religious images, while simultaneously–via the work of Aby Warburg—raising important questions about traditional approaches to historical scholarship, particularly scholarship on religious images. . . . A valuable resource for undergraduate courses in Japanese religion or East Asian art history. . . . Highly recommended.” —Choice (49:11, August 2012) 

“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

“Glassman's focus in this book on a single deity allows him to explore in depth key issues in Japanese religiosity, especially from the 13th to the 16th century. The book is particularly impressive in the variety of methodologies employed, including religious studies, folklore, art history, and literary and textual research. This is an excellent study of an important topic likely to be of interest to scholars in a wide range of fields.” —Donald F. McCallum, University of California, Los Angeles

The Face of Jizō serves as the culmination of years of ground-breaking research. Glassman’s work is characterized by a wonderful sensitivity to Buddhist artistic production, ritual life focused on the cult of bodhisattvas, and an interest in how Buddhism intersects with the social life of the Japanese, particularly in the areas of gender and notions of the dead and the afterlife. The book will make a tremendous contribution to the field of Japanese religions and East Asian Buddhism and can be recommended for both specialists and generalists alike.” —Duncan Ryuken Williams, University of Southern California
Author: Glassman, Hank;
Hank Glassman teaches at Haverford College. Primarily interested in the investigation of lived religion, he has published articles on medieval Japanese Buddhist literature and visual culture, as well as studies on rituals of burial and mourning.
Read an extract (PDF).
Chapter 1 The Iconology of Jizo  
Chapter 2 Monastic Devotion to Jizo 
Chapter 3 The Jizo Dance: Ecstasy, Possession, and Performance 
Chapter 4 Stones, Fertility, and the Unconnected Dead 

Works Cited  

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