The following is an extract from a piece entitled ‘Mourning My Miscarriage’ By Peggy Orenstein and tells the story of her experience of miscarriage while in Japan. She reflects upon her opportunity to say goodbye in the context of Japanese mourning rituals
Published: April 21, 2002 (New York Times Archive)
“EI heard the bells before I saw them, following the sound across the courtyard of Zozo-ji, a Buddhist temple in Tokyo. There they were, lining a shady path: dozens of small statues of infants, each wearing a red crocheted cap and a red cloth bib, each with a bright-colored pinwheel spinning merrily in the breeze. Some had stone vases beside them filled with flowers or smoking sticks of incense. A few were surrounded by juice boxes or sweets. A cap had slipped off one tiny head. Before replacing it, I stroked the bald stone skull, which felt surprisingly like a newborn’s.
The statues were offerings to Jizo, a bodhisattva, or enlightened being, who (among other tasks) watches over miscarried and aborted fetuses. With their hands clasped in prayer, their closed eyes and serene faces, they are both child and monk, both human and deity. I had seen Jizo shrines many times before. They’re all over Japan, festive and not a little creepy. But this was different. I hadn’t come as a tourist. I was here as a supplicant, my purse filled with toys, ready to make an offering on behalf of my own lost dream.”
Full essay link:
Jizo is the patron saint of travellers and the souls of deceased children. Many dolls commemorate babies lost through miscarriage or abortion. They believe the souls will not feel cold if they are dressed.
Jizo Sculptures at Zojo-ji temple