Have you noticed a small miniature shinto shrine while wandering around streets in Kyoto? These miniature shinto shrines are called Hokora enshrining Jizo, a guardian deity of children and travellers. On the weekend of late August after the famous Gozan no Okuribi (Daimonji ), each neighbourhood organizes a Jizo-bon festival.
What’s the Jizo-bon Festival?
Jizo-bon is a festival that is held on weekends close to the 24th of August (the 24th of July according to the lunar calendar), the commemorative day of Jizo Bosatsu (Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva). It is a festival for children since Jizo is a guardian deity of children and protects them from evil spirits. On the festival day, people in the neighborhood pray and wish for children’s healthy growth and children can play with toys under the tents set up next to the Hokora and receive snacks and presents. It’s like a dream day for children!
Jizo-bon festival is held mainly in the Kansai region including Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe. I didn’t grow up in Kyoto, so it was actually after we had a baby and moved into a house in Kyoto that I knew about Jizo-bon festival.
Our neighborhood Jizo-bon festival starts with Nokyo (offering of a sutra to Jizo) followed by Juzu-mawashi (Children and adults pass along a rosary with many beads while a monk chants), children play time including Suikawari (Japanese traditional game that involves splitting with a stick while blindfolded!) and ends with a bingo game involving all the households in the neighbourhood. There are some great prizes, which are usually household goods such as rice and cooking oil! Currently it’s a one-day event, but some older ladies told me the festival used to last for two days when there were more children in the neighborhood. Kyoto is the place of origin of the Jizo-bon festival but recently some areas with few children do not organize this festival any more.
This year, I participated in the Jizo-bon festival from the organizer side as a neighborhood association member. It was such a busy day and lots of preparation was involved. However, I realized how important it is to pass on this traditional event that adults warmly watch over the growth of children in the neighborhood community. Jizo-bon festival is an event that anyone in the neighbourhood can participate in, regardless of nationality or religious belief. I believe this is a great opportunity for foreign residents to communicate with local residents and immerse in the local culture!
In my little community there were several people from different nationalities. It was great to celebrate children together. If you have any visa inquiries, immigration questions, or would like to know about changing your status of residence, please don't hesitate to ask.