If you've ever wondered what the little statues covered with knit red caps and bibs you see around Japan are, they're statues of Jizou (地蔵), Buddhist guardian of children in general and especially those who die young or unborn.
Jizou statues are a common sight, often sitting by the roadside next to nothing in particular, though there are also clusters of them around some holy sites and graveyards. While those near temples might be cared for by the priests, other statues might not have an explicit caretaker. In that case when their clothes get old they might be replaced by someone in the neighorhood ("to keep him warm"), or sometimes mothers will knit clothes as an offering praying for a child's health or protection in the afterlife for a child who died.
While the basic idea of Jizou as a protector of children is agreed on everywhere, specific customs or explanations for statues vary wildly and are sometimes contradicting. Additionally, while red is by far the most common color for his clothes, white is also common, and you'll even see other colors occasionally.
- Jizou in Kanagawa with frequently changing outfits
- Neighborhood women change clothes of 50 Jizous in preparation for a festival
- Wide range of explanations for Jizou statues
- Woman asks for advice on making a bib for a Jizou