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FWIW, Jizo (地蔵, "Earth Treasury") is the Japanese version of the Buddhist boddhisattva Kshitigarbha: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kshitigarbha (A boddhisattva being one who is enlightened, but chooses to hang around the mortal planes to help others instead of flitting off to heaven.)

More traditionally, he's considered the patron saint of children (living ones too) and travelers. The "baby Jizo" thing came about when he morphed from being the protector of unborn and recently died children to actually representing the unborn/dead child, and is as far as I know this is an entirely Japanese adaptation.

Also, Jizo statues are common memorials for children who died young as well. Every now and then, you run into one with a child's sandals, toys, snacks etc beside it, which is pretty heart-breaking because you know that only a few months ago there was a little toddler running around in those tiny pink flipflops that are now bleaching in the sun and rain.

I was once at Hase-dera in Kamakura, which has an exceptionally large collection of baby Jizos. There was an American tour group stomping through and laughing at all these statues decorated with bibs and Hello Kitty figures and even little bottles of sake, because isn't Japan just so wacky and crazy? If they only knew the amount of heartbreak and pain they represent...






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