Religion16 Dec 2009 10:06 am
Mizuko kuyō, or “fetus memorial services”, is a popular ceremony is Japan for those who have had a miscarriage, stillbirth or abortion. The practice of Mizuko kuyō has existed in some form in Japan for at least two centuries, and is generally included among Shinto practices involving ancestor worship. Mizuko kuyō ceremonies traditionally make offerings to the bodhisattva Jizō, who is believed to protect children.
Historical upheavals, overpopulation and shifting values have contributed to the widespread practice of abortion in Japan. Abortion became particularly widespread after the ravages of World War II, in response to acute poverty and the need to control a growing population in a country with limited living space and no system of adoption. Moreover, while abortion is widely accepted in Japan, parents still express concern for the souls of their unborn babies. Thus, the practice of Mizuko kuyō reflects an effort to resolve parental grief, comfort the soul of the fetus and/or prevent retribution from the vengeful spirit.
Men and women of all ages and socio-economic classes practice Mizuko kuyō. At each temple, a notebook is provided in which parents can write messages to their babies. It is common for these temples to offer Jizo statues for a fee, which worshippers dress in red bibs and caps and display in the temple yard as a representation of their lost child. Some prominent Japanese figures have spoken out against Mizuko kuyō, claiming that the practice has become too commercial and that these temples advertise in a manner that exploits people’s fears of retaliation by the dead. However, many defend the practice on the grounds that it addresses important emotional needs of the people.
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