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The Face of Jizō: Image and Cult in Medieval Japanese Buddhism by Hank Glassman (review)

From: Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies
Volume 73, Number 1, June 2013
pp. 185-189 | 10.1353/jas.2013.0007

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There are many methodological approaches that one might employ in a study of medieval Japanese Buddhism, including, most commonly, focusing on particular charismatic figures (founders and innovators), sects and popular movements, and individual temples and sacred sites. In The Face of Jizō, Hank Glassman takes a novel approach, tackling the woolly world of twelfth- through seventeenth-century Japanese religious culture through an exploration of the trans-sectarian cult of the bodhisattva Jizō (Skt. Kṣitigarbha; Ch. Dizang). In doing so, he obtains insights that he explains might otherwise be "lost in the gaps between sects, schools, and social classes" (p. 8), allowing him to illuminate the functions and meanings of visual representation in Japanese religion as he investigates "the role of images in religious life more generally" (p. 2). Considering its interdisciplinary nature, Glassman's work is likely to appeal to scholars and general readers in a number of fields, including history, visual studies, religious studies, iconography, literature, and the performing arts (dance and drama). The research is expert and extensive; Glassman draws on a broad range of primary and secondary sources in multiple languages (principally English and Japanese, but also Chinese, German, Italian, and French), as well as a variety of textual and artistic mediums, including sutras, inscriptions, statuary, paintings, noh and kyōgen plays, poetry, literary prose (setsuwa, otogizōshi, gunki monogatari, etc.), diaries, temple histories, and even diorama-type temple and festival installations. The book is beautifully produced and lavishly illustrated with sixty-four monochrome figures and eighteen color plates-all in all, a lovely publication.

The Face of Jizō is divided into four chapters, followed by a section of notes and the usual back matter (glossary, bibliography, and index). Chapter 1, "The Iconology of Jizō," functions as both an introduction and an independent chapter. Glassman explains that the overall aim of his book is "to make clear how images of the bodhisattva Jizō were essential to certain men and women at specific times, in specific places, in their efforts to understand this deity, to understand Buddhism, to understand themselves and their place in the world" (p. 2). Glassman takes inspiration from the methodological approaches of the German art historian Aby Warburg (1866-1929), a pioneer of iconography/ iconology, for whom, as Glassman explains, "the image was a site of conflict and contestation, an opposition of ideas encoded or compressed in a gesture that necessarily remains unfinished" (p. 30). Following Warburg, Glassman writes that his own work "is similarly less about the images themselves than about the events, actions, and stories that surrounded them and suffused them with an aura of miraculous efficacy" (p. 5). In other parts of the chapter Glassman provides "A Brief Overview of the Jizō Cult in Japan" (pp. 12-30); his own "fragmentary theory of Jizō" (p. 11), in which he articulates the likely reasons for Jizō's unprecedented popularity in medieval Japan; and a useful overview of the chapters to come.

In Chapter 2, "Monastic Devotion to Jizō," Glassman focuses on the thirteenth century, exploring "the engagement of Buddhist clerics with Jizō images, both in their personal devotional practice and their promotion of the Jizō cult for others" (p. 44). The first part of the chapter deals with the Rockefeller Jizō, an early thirteenth-century image owned by the Asia Society of New York, which Glassman argues was likely created in the 1220s "as part of a set representing Buddhist versions of the Kasuga gods" (p. 52). Glassman discusses ties between the emerging Jizō cult and the Kasuga shrine and Kōfukuji temple in Nara, and concludes that traveling monks of the Nara Shingon-Ritsu schools were instrumental in spreading devotion to the bodhisattva from the Nara region to eastern Kantō, Kyoto, and other locales. Other topics covered in this chapter include the Kōfukuji monk and Hossō reviver Jōkei and his disciples' role in promoting Jizō veneration in opposition to Hōnen's Pure Land movement; the thirteenth-and fourteenth-century proliferation of paintings of the Kasuga deity as Jizō in a solitary welcoming descent (dokuson raigō); and the stone images of Jizō at Hakone Pass, carved circa 1300.

Chapter 3, "The Jizō Dance: Ecstasy, Possession, and Performance," concerns...

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