Mizuko Kuyo

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Mizuko kuyō is a Japanese rite performed at Buddhist temples for the repose of aborted fetuses. Mizuko, literally "water child," is the modern term used for fetus, and kuyō refers to rituals for making offerings. Mizuko kuyō was popular particularly in the 1970s and 1980s, and is still performed at many Buddhist temples.

Japanese Buddhists are divided in their attitudes toward mizuko kuyō. The Shin (true) Pure Land school (Jōdo Shinshū) is opposed officially to this rite on the grounds that it is based on the superstitious fear that spirits of the dead can curse the living. Others criticize the rite as a moneymaking scheme made popular through advertisements designed to make women feel guilty about abortions and the anguish of the aborted fetuses, who will surely curse those who killed them. Defenders of the rite argue that mizuko kuyō provides the same ritual service that funeral and memorial rites do in commemorating and caring for the deceased.

Associated with mizuko kuyō is the practice of dedicating a sculpted image of Kṣitigarbha (Japanese, Jizō), the bodhisattva who protects children, by tying a baby bib around its neck. Parents inscribe the bib with the name of the child, and often include words of apology and regret. While some of these words can be interpreted as expressions of guilt arising from the clear sense of moral wrongdoing, they more often express sadness and regret for having done something circumstantially unavoidable but not morally reprehensible.

See also:Abortion


Hardacre, Helen. Marketing the Menacing Fetus in Japan. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.

LaFleur, William R. Liquid Life: Abortion and Buddhism in Japan. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992.

George J. Tanabe, Jr.