Hank Glassman. The Face of Jizo: Image and Cult in Medieval Japanese Buddhism. Honolulu: University of Hawaiʻi Press, 2012. 272 pp. $52.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8248-3443-2; $25.00 (paper), ISBN 978-0-8248-3581-1.
Reviewed by Heather Blair (Indiana University)
Published on H-Buddhism (October, 2012)
Commissioned by Mikael Bauer (University of Leeds)
The immensely popular bodhisattva Jizō (Skt.: Kṣitigarbha; Ch.: Dizang) is omnipresent in Japan, appearing in roadside shrines, urban temples, and remote mountaintop halls. Hank Glassman’s study of this important religious figure stands as a major contribution to our understanding of Japanese religious culture and East Asian Buddhism.
Although The Face of Jizō is structured as a historical survey of religious practice between the thirteenth and seventeenth centuries, it is distinguished from other monographs on East Asian religious history by its method, which Glassman characterizes as “iconological.” Explicitly adopting methods advocated by the art historian Aby Warburg, who emphasized the contextual rather than the formal analysis of images, Glassman examines the production and reception of particular paintings, statues, and other representations of Jizō in order to illuminate the development of the bodhisattva’s cult. Happily, The Face of Jizō is exceptionally well illustrated, with eighteen color plates and sixty-four black-and-white figures. These images, which are fascinating in their own right, anchor Glassman’s analysis and provide a rich visual dimension to the book.
Glassman has organized his discussion into four chapters, the first of which serves as a methodological and historical introduction. Each of the remaining three chapters takes up a specific theme paired with a particular time period: clerical devotions in the thirteenth century; performance in the fifteenth; and death and fertility in the seventeenth.
In chapter 1, Glassman presents a number of sculptures and paintings to introduce Jizō as a kinetic figure whose very purpose is to cross boundaries. By extension, the author argues that the bodhisattva is characterized by a fundamental multiplicity, epitomized by his identification with the king of hell, Enma (Skt: Yāma). In Glassman’s analysis, the juxtaposition of Jizō’s compassion with Enma’s frightfulness is amplified by tensions between universality and particularity in the bodhisattva’s iconography. Glassman shows that on the one hand, Jizō has commonly been represented in sets of multiple emanations, usually six or one thousand, in which he travels the realms of transmigration to save all beings. On the other hand, particular icons have often been received as living images--individualized, localized Jizōs with whom devotees have intense personal relationships. Indeed, Jizō’s ability to mediate what appear to be opposed categories becomes a leitmotif for the entire book.
Glassman writes that “the twelfth century marks the true beginning of Jizō worship in Japan;” accordingly, “it is in the thirteenth century that we witness a true explosion of interest in the bodhisattva” (p. 19). This medieval efflorescence, traced from its inception among the “official monks” (kansō) of Nara through its spread at the hands of proselytizing “renunciant monks” (tonseisō) active in eastern Japan, is the subject of chapter 2. Initially, Glassman uses narrative and liturgical textual sources to argue that Kōfukuji monks, including the famous Jōkei (1155-1213), assured Jizō’s popularity in Nara by identifying him with the deity of the influential Kasuga Shrine. Following upon the bodhisattva’s association with the local religious elite, Glassman argues, clerics began to promote him as “a generalized savior and guide to paradise” (p. 75), a development illustrated by raigō iconography, in which Jizō leads the deceased to a pure land. Finally, Glassman shows convincingly that as proseltyzing tonseisō of the Ritsu (Vinaya) school moved into eastern Japan, they used Jizō’s role as intercessor for the dead to attract new followers. In a move that acquaints the reader with a little-known but intriguing aspect of the iconographical record, Glassman analyzes stone images, including those carved into the cliffs near Hakone, as evidence for the Nara-sponsored spread and relocalization of the Jizō cult in the east.
Chapter 3 is devoted to the subject of performance, first in Nara and then in Kyōto; it also casts Jizō as a bodhisattva of and for the margins. Through textual analysis, Glassman succeeds in establishing a close connection between Jizō, the beginnings of Noh, and the activities of female ritualists, performers, and spirit mediums in Nara. Shifting to the burgeoning entertainment culture of fifteenth-century Kyōto, he then queries the ties between the liminal “people of the riverbank” (kawara no mono) and Jizō, and finds that these “ritual specialists, beggar priests, executioners, gravediggers, mortuary technicians, performers, prostitutes and the like” (p. 110) were major forces in the vivid entertainments that helped to popularize sites for Jizō worship in medieval Kyoto. Treating a full range of activities, from impromptu parades and sideshows to the more formal dramatic traditions associated with Seiryōji and Mibudera, Glassman uses literary and visual analysis to show that Jizō played a central role in medieval performance. This is a significant expansion upon previous research, which has tended to focus on Amida-centered nenbutsu and the much-touted influence of Zen upon Noh.
In chapter 4, themes of indigenization, gender, and sexuality come into sharper focus as Glassman argues that Buddhist clerics used Jizō to foster new funerary beliefs and to coopt the cults of older fertility gods. Through a compelling analysis of paintings of the ten realms (jikkai mandara) and narrative hymns from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Glassman demonstrates that Buddhist clerics invented Sai no Kawara, a dreary riverbed in the other world where the ghosts of deceased children and fetuses are condemned to suffer. In doing so, members of the Buddhist establishment recast Jizō as protector of the unconnected dead (muen botoke) in general and children in particular. Jizō’s connection to children also supported his growing association with fertility. In fact, Glassman argues, Buddhists used Jizō to appropriate the cults of indigenous deities connected to roads, stones, sexuality, and fertility. (These gods have been variously known as ishigami, dōsōjin, sae no kami, etc.). According to Glassman, it is thanks to this early modern shift in Jizō worship that we now identify roadside stones as Jizō images, see the bodhisattva garbed with bibs and caps, and associate him with children, whether living or dead. Chapter 4 closes with an extended analysis of Koyasu monogatari, an illustrated early modern tale that dramatically illustrates Jizō’s ties to sexuality and fertility.
Throughout this monograph, Glassman has done a wonderful job of demonstrating the range, texture, and richness of the religious practices associated with Jizō. By the same token, due to his preference for case studies over grand synthesis, readers are unlikely to come away with a clear-cut synopsis of his arguments. Whether or not this is a problem will be a matter of taste.The book might have been easier to read if the author had subordinated evidence to interpretation, or had stepped back more often to comment on how particular cases illuminate macro-level themes. On the other hand, the presentation and the method--detailed discussions of particular times, places, and images--are part of the point. By opting not to reduce historical variation and paradox into neat little packages, Glassman has shown convincingly that differences and details matter. The result is a rich and complex study that will reward careful and even repeated reading.
The emphasis on votive concerns in The Face of Jizō is refreshing and appropriate. Nonetheless, Glassman’s resolute dedication to imagery and narrative does sometimes cut off promising avenues of enquiry. For instance, a collection of miracle tales and two indigenous scriptures are mentioned in the first chapter as significant elements in Jizō’s cult in Japan. The questions of who produced these texts, as well as when, where, and why, are relevant to the cultural context that Glassman seeks to illuminate, and yet they go unaddressed. Similarly, issues of sex and gender pervade the book. Although Glassman’s treatment is engaging, a theoretical discussion of gender would have been helpful, as would pointed consideration of such questions as the relationship between gender and clerical status or fertility and femininity.
Faculty, researchers, graduate students, and undergraduates will all benefit from The Face of Jizō. The book will naturally draw readers from the field of Buddhist studies, where it complements monographs on the historical careers of major bodhisattvas in China, namely Zhiru’s The Making of a Savior Bodhisattva: Dizang in Medieval China (2007) and Chun-fang Yü's Kuan-yin: The Chinese Transformation of Avalokiteśvara (2001). 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.
If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the network, at: https://networks.h-net.org/h-buddhism.
Heather Blair. Review of Glassman, Hank, The Face of Jizo: Image and Cult in Medieval Japanese Buddhism.
H-Buddhism, H-Net Reviews.
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