I’ve been travelling for the past ten days on a “once-in-my-lifetime” work trip to Tokyo, Beijing, and Shanghai. When this trip presented itself, I viewed it as a “silver lining” opportunity. Meaning, it was a last minute trip which most of my colleagues with kids couldn’t or didn’t want to take on. While I certainly don’t like being away from the hubs or our home for that amount of time, it is a little bit easier for us to pull it off logistically than it would be if we had little ones. And while I’ve never really had Asia on my personal bucket list, I was happy to be able to experience it on someone else’s dime (and get some good work done too, of course!).
I was especially excited to find some time in Tokyo to visit the Zojo-Ji Temple and its Jizo statues. in Japan, Jizo is the protector of travelers, women, and children, and Jizo statues are commonly found at temples as a symbolic place for parents to grieve lost children and pregnancies. I first read about them a few years ago in Peggy Orenstein’s book Waiting for Daisy. In the book, which I highly recommend, Orenstein writes of the struggles that she and her husband endured to conceive and ultimately adopt their daughter. She spends time in Japan, where her husband is from, and described the tradition of the Jizo statues. I remember thinking how civilized it seemed for a society to acknowledge and allow for this grief, instead of hiding it behind a curtain of inappropriate sharing. Clearly the Jizo tradition stuck with me.
So on the second morning in Tokyo I took advantage of my time-zone warped internal clock to take a sunrise jog down to Zojo-Ji. It was a warm and misty morning, and I was amazed at the lack of people on the street at that hour. As the largest metropolitan area in the world I figured Tokyo would be jam packed and chaotic, but I found it instead to be mostly orderly and clean. The mile plus jog to the Temple felt great (the joy of running at sea level after living in the mountains) and I easily found the Jizos on the side of the Temple just as Peggy had described.
The stone statues are a little over a foot high each, and there were many more than I had envisioned. Most were clothed in traditional red hats and neckties and each had a bud vase next to it filled with a bright colored pinwheel or real flowers. In addition to those Jizos clothed in the traditional garb, there were a few clearly adorned by foreign visitors, for example one that was wearing a Gap Baseball hat and button down shirt, and another a Canterbury football jersey. The older Jizos in the back of the garden had moss growing all over them, signifying a return to the earth. Given the solemn nature of the Temple and its garden, the bright colors of the Jizos felt almost playful.
As I visited with the Jizos I felt a profound sense of peace and gratitude for this place to acknowledge and feel my grief, which nowadays mostly resides in the background of my daily life. I also felt grateful that the Japanese culture gives parents who have loved their children so fiercely a place to openly express that love and their loss, something that is hard for us in the States to do. October is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, and while I’m glad to see it is getting some solid media coverage and that many more people are sharing their personal stories, it is far from the cultural norm.
I sat in that garden for a long time before slowly making my way back to the hotel, feeling raw but refreshed for the day ahead.