A Japanese Ritual For Mourning And Atonement Reaches Women In The US


A Japanese ritual is speaking volumes for women in the States.

The debate on reproductive rights continues to swell on here in the States, especially with the Trump administration already turning its eye on potentially gutting birth control access for women.

But in Japan, despite abortions not exactly being the type of stuff to gather people at the streets shouting their indignation and horror; a combination of traditional Buddhist teachings and modern-day decisions have met in the form of a little stone statue called a mizuko jizo.

The statue, often of a small, smiling figure depicted in deep prayer, can often be seen at Buddhist cemeteries in infants’ clothes, swaddled, and frequently watered.

According to Japanese Buddhist teachings, fetuses and children who died were too young haven’t developed souls yet to ‘earn’ good karma, so they are stuck on the riverbanks of the afterlife, essentially a sort of purgatory; where they thirst for rest (hence the frequent watering of their jizo).

The belief goes that they need the jizo to hide them in his pockets to guide them across the land of the dead and into heaven.

The concept of the jizo however, was popularized in post-war era Japan according to this article, and Buddhist temples across Japan have the statuettes which people can ‘adopt’ and inscribe with the name of the deceased child, for a small fee, ofcourse.

But despite the increasing use of jizo as a way to atone for abortion, the foundation of people’s belief in it originated from ‘making up’ for miscarriages and stillbirths.

The States is catching on the Japanese ritual, largely in part to the Internet.

When writer Angela Elson lost her fetus at 10 weeks, it wasn’t something she could just take a pill for and go on with her life.

She, along with her husband Brady, found themselves looking for a way to remember the baby that never was, and because of a recent trip to Japan remembered the jizo.

Thanks to the Internet, the little statue arrived to their door not too long after, and for Angela, it was like an itch was scratched:

“Brady and I grieved the baby in ways that were different but equally sad. One thing we both understood perfectly, though, was Jizo — why we had to search for the right kind of red yarn, how I had to crochet the smallest hat and coat three times to get it right. It was nice for us to have something to do, a project to finish in lieu of the baby I failed to complete,” she wrote in her New York Times piece.

Elson wrote that where others would put up foundations or charities in the name of their dead child, or create memory boxes and do photoshoots, her miscarriage was simply too early.

“A miscarriage at 10 weeks produces no body, so there would be no funeral. “What do we even do?” I asked the doctor,” wrote Elson.

“She wrote me a prescription for Percocet: “Go home and sleep.””

She continued that despite it feeling odd at first, if it was helping her and Brady cope, then nothing would be too weird.

“It was crazy to fuss over a statue like I did. But I felt crazy, which could have been from the pregnancy hormones still coursing rudely through my body. Or maybe it was the lack of traditions surrounding miscarriage in the States that gave me nothing to take the edge off my grief. Without a prescribed course for mourning, I didn’t know what else to do besides mother this lump of concrete as if he could actually transfer my love to the afterlife.”

Grieving is different for everyone, but if the adoption of a foreign tradition helps one cope healthily with loss, then there is nothing with it.


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