The first overnight trip I made in Japan was to Kamakura. I met up with two of the teachers who had done GEOS training with me in Vancouver, and we spent a night in Kamakura and a night in Tokyo. Kamakura had been my idea. I was three months in Japan, and I hadn’t yet had a chance to do any sight-seeing, though I had wanted to do some for a while. I discovered Kamakura through some online research and decided it wouldn’t be too far for the three of us to get to, spread out across the main island as we were.

the view of the bay from Hasedera

At the time, I did not know the significance of the Jizou-do, which is a small area set one level up from the main garden. Hasedera was built upon a hillside, with stone steps leading from one level to another. The level above the Jizou-do could probably be consdiered the main level, as it has two temple buildings (one to house a gilt statue of buddha, the other for a large eleven-headed statue of Kannon, the goddess of mercy and compassion). There’s also a lovely view of the bay from that level. A pathway continues up the hill, twisting around and providing some wonderful overlooks of the area. It’s an old temple, founded in 736. I generally prefer shrines over temples, but I’ve always loved Hasedera. It can be a very relaxing place at times.

On October 10th, the day Lauren was due, we made a trip to Kamakura specifically to go to Hasedera. During my second trip to the temple, I had learned that the Jizou-do was a special place for remembering “mizuko” – literally, “water children.” The word typically refers to babies lost to miscarriage, but it can also be expanded to include stillbirths and abortions. When I was still in the hospital, Geordie and I had talked about the possibility of visiting a few places before leaving Japan. A while ago, I had promised to take him to Kamakura, and he mentioned that he’d still like to go. I remembered then about the Jizou-do, the little area that before had meant so little to me but now meant everything. We agreed to go and pay our respects there and perhaps find some comfort.

Jizou is a Buddhist patron of children, a bodhisattava, a term which often translates to English as “an enlightened being.” It’s usually applied to persons who become enlightened and, motivated by compassion, continue to seek enlightenment for everyone. Bodhisattvas are therefore considered to be among the most merciful and loving of beings, as they have chosen not to enter a state of nirvana but to remain as they are to help others. Jizou’s special realm is children, particularly those unborn or who died very young. He is a protector and a guide, and he is one of the most famous Buddhist figures in Japan. His statue can be seen along roadsides and innumerable small shrines; he is also considered a patron of travelers.

Hasedera in April

Hasedera is most beautiful in the spring, when the flowers of the garden are in bloom. In early spring, azaleas brighten the area with their vibrant colors, and April brings the pillowy softness of the sakura with it. But Hasedera is most famous for its hydrangeas, which I have sadly not been able to see. Winter can be a haunting experience at Hasedera, the trees bare but still beautiful, an atmosphere of patience and serenity coming over the place as it waits for the return of spring. It’s a temple that is very much grounded in the natural aspects of Kamakura, and it’s for that reason that I’ve always been fond of it.

The Jizou-do can be one of the most peaceful areas of the temple. The small structure housing the statue of the Happy Jizou is surrounded by hundreds of smaller Jizou statues, each one of them representing a baby lost too early. Several statues of Jizou are placed about the area as though to show the completeness of his role as warden over these souls. Geordie and I had come to this place to leave a piece of Lauren and her memory to be watched over by Jizou.

Jizou surrounded by the memorial statues

 We went up to the main hall – where stands the benevolent Kannon carved from a single piece of camphor wood – and arranged to have a Jizou statue blessed and placed for Lauren. We could not place the statue ourselves, nor would we be able to search for it amongst the many others at the Jizou-do. This suited us. Lauren’s statue will remain at the Jizou-do for two years, at which point it will be given in offering to Jizou and Kannon. Also, the sutras will continue to be said in memory of her, which is something that does give me some peace of mind. Lauren’s little statue was also a comfort, though a far more difficult one to deal with. I burst into tears as soon as I touched the statue; it was another goodbye, another parting with my baby. But it was something I needed. I had not been able to touch Lauren, but the statue was a stand-in for her, and as I brushed my fingers along it, I was reaching for her too. As much as it hurt, it felt good to feel something solid and to imagine it was her. I needed that contact – that connection – more than I’d realized.

Geordie placing flowers before Jizou

Afterwards, we went and prayed before Kannon and saw some of the rest of the temple grounds. Then we went back to the Jizou-do and paid our respects. We lit incense and cleansed ourselves, and we bought flowers to place before the large outdoor statue of Jizou. I had seen pictures of the smaller Jizou statues dressed in infant’s clothing, but we found only one and did not feel comfortable adorning one with Lauren’s things. Geordie took Rabbit-sensei’s bow and put it over a statue’s head, and that was sweet. We had brought with us a bib we had bought for Lauren, a cap Geordie’s mother had sent for her, and a pacifier; we left these with the statue of the Happy Jizou amid the other offerings that had been left.

Geordie putting a bow on a memorial statue

 Then we went on our way, leaving behind a bit of our grief along with Lauren’s memory. There is nothing we can do that will completely relieve of us our grief, but each step we take, each action we take, eases it little by little. I know that I will never forget Lauren, just as I know I will always feel the loss of her in my heart and in my life. Perhaps in the future, the sharp sting of her absence will dull into something softer and gentler, and comfort will be easier to find. For now, we must only do what we can.

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