Names in this site follow the Japanese custom of family name first.

December 26, 2016

Meyami Jizo, Kyoto

The small temples of Kyoto are very interesting when you happen to stumble upon them, but usually they are not places to seek out on purpose. Meyami Jizo is different - I have often visited this small temple on Shijodori in Kyoto close to Gion with family and friends. The late afternoon or early evening is good time to come by, for when the lamps inside and outside are lit the small temple develops a sort of romantic radiance which it lacks in cool daylight.

[Meyami Jizo Temple, Kyoto]

Officially, the temple is called Chugenji and there is a legend behind its founding. In 1228, the Kamo River was overflowing because of incessant heavy rains. Seta Takamine, the official charged with controlling the river, was able to prevent a larger flood thanks to a divine message from the Bodhisattva Jizo. To express his gratitude, he therefore enshrined a seated statue of Jizo here at a spot close to the river and named it Ameyami Jizo or "Rain Stopping Jizo" - that was the origin of Chugenji.

There is also a theory that the temple was called Ameyami Jizo because people used to take shelter from the rain here - the temple after all stands on the eastern bank of the Kamo River, in the past outside the city proper, and travelers may have been caught by showers in what then was open land.

Anyway, in later times, when the city had grown and it was not necessary anymore to stop the rains or take shelter in the fields, the temple managed to remain in the hearts of the people by a simple but ingenious linguistic shift. "Ameyami" became "meyami," which has nothing to do with rains anymore but everything with eye disease (me is eye en yami is illness). So our "Rain Stopping Jizo" became the "Bodhisattva Who Heals Eye Complaints," a not insignificant task in a premodern society and even of importance today. And of course it was not only a matter of linguistics, people really believed prayers addressed to the Jizo were effective in healing their eye complaints and undoubtedly many stories of miraculous recoveries were passed on from mouth to mouth.

The main hall is occupied by a large, seated Jizo statue, dating from the Muromachi period, so it is younger than the original presumably installed here by Seta Takamine. Note the bald monk's head and the staff he carries as all Jizo statues. The temple also owns a great Thousand-armed Kannon statue in a room on your right when you stand in front of the Jizo hall. Further at the back, also to the right, you will find a jolly fat Daikoku.


And closer to the entrance, on the left, I saw this lovely small Jizo...