Stone Buddhist Image (石仏)
The term "stone Buddhist image" is a collective term of the Buddhist image carved in stone and the image of a deity such as Doso-shin (traveler's guardian deity), and it has a variety of sizes ranging from small one which is seen in the precincts of temples and shrines and on roadsides, to Usuki Magaibutsu (A Buddhist image carved into the surface of natural rock such as a cliff face, a large rock, or a stone cave) and other Magaibutsu carved in a large rock such as Ajanta Caves and Ellora Caves in India, Yungang Grottoes and Longmen Caves in China.
It had been often made by persons of power, ascetic Buddhist monks and priests since ancient times and medieval times around the Kansai region, and in recent times, common people produced it from the background of their pure religious devotion. In the Kanto region, various types of stone Buddhist images were carved. It is said that about eighty percent of existing stone Buddhist images were carved during the Edo period.
The category of the stone Buddhist images
Jizo Bosatsu (Jizo Bodhisattva)
It is so-called 'Ojizo-san' affectionately which is characterized by Shakujo (a priest's pewter staff) in the right hand and hoju (sacred gem) in the left hand. It is seen all over the country. There is a standing image and a seated image, which generally wears clothes and has a shaven head. There are a variety of carvings such as maru-bori (to carve from one lump of material), sen-bori (to carve lines) and relief.
It consists of six Jizo Bosatsu images. Jizo Bosatsu is considered to relieve people of Rokudo (the six posthumous worlds of Jigoku-do (paths to hell), Gaki-do (path of hungry ghosts), Chikusho-do (path of animals), Shura-do (path of bellicose demons), Ningen-do (path of humans) and Ten-do (path of heavenly beings) during the period before Miroko Bosatsu (Buddha of the Future, Bodhisattva of the Present) appears in this world, and it is believed that each Jizo Bosatsu is dispatched to each world.
Kannon-zo (the image of the Kannon)
Bato Kannon (the horse-headed Kannon) is mostly seen. Senju Kannon (Thousand Armed Avalokiteshwara) is the Kannon Bosatsu (Kannon Buddhisattva) who relieves living things with a thousand eyes and with compassion. It has twenty hands on each side, that is, forty hands in total other than the two hands putting the palms of hands together, and has one eye in each palm.
Nyoirin Kannon (the Bodhisattva of Compassion)
It is a seated image drawing its knees up with a finger on the cheek, and generally it has one face and two, four or six hands. It has hoju and horin (Dharma-wheel - cakra) in it's hands. After the mid-Edo period, it has been often worshipped by women and produced as the main image for ceremonies such as a ceremony to wait for the rising moon and that of nenbutsu (Buddhist prayer).
It is often enshrined at mountain path, a border of village or at the foot of a bridge, and is also called 'Saenokami' originating from China. It is a deity originating from folk beliefs that it guards people from enemies and plagues. There are a variety of figures including a harmonious couple, and is also worshipped as a deity of marriage, prosperity of descendants and traffic safety. It is often seen in the places such as Azumino City and Matsumoto City, Nagano Prefecture.
The tower of koshin (57th of the Oriental zodiac)
It stands on the entrance of villages and settlements, on which a monkey (ninth sign of Oriental zodiac), the sun and the moon are drawn. It is a stone tower based on the koshin belief originating from Taoism introduced from China. Since koshin is compared to a monkey in the Oriental zodiac, the three wise monkeys 'which neither see, speak nor listen' are sometimes carved, and since the enshrined deity of the koshin festival is regarded as Sarutahiko no kami in Shinto religion, it is also carved. Especially in the areas around former Sagami Province, many koshin towers had been built.