Ashikaga Takauji’s ]izo-Son – Koan 59

No. 59. Ashikaga Takauji’s ]izo-Son

(Translator’s note: This story depends on a sort of play on a Chinese character of twelve strokes, which means ‘honoured’ or ‘revered’. It is the first element of the name Taka-uji, the general who founded the Ashikaga shogunate, after a spectacular betrayal of trust of a kind not uncommon in Japanese mediaeval history. The same character is added to the name ofjizd, bodhisattva of protection, in which case it is read ‘Son’, and not ‘Taka’. It is similarly added to the word

for ‘protective charm’ (mamori). In order to retain the effect of the story, I am rendering the Ashikaga general’s name as Ashikaga-Son, to keep the assonance with Jizo-Son.)

At Jomyoji temple in Kamakura, there was a picture of Jizo-son by the brush of Ashikaga-Son himself. General Ashikaga Mochiuji (of the same family, later governor of the Eastern Provinces) wanted to have this as a protective charm (mamori-Son) with his armour, and asked priest Daizui whether he could have the loan of it.

The priest said loudly: ‘General!’

Yes?’ he replied.

Who is it that has just said Yes? Jizo-Son is there, and must not go seeking from others.’ The nobleman understood.


  1. Priest Mitsudo of Hokokuji temple tested the samurai Ota with the questions:

Where does Jizo-Son go back to?

What was it that the general understood?

  1. Mitsudo tested Masuda Moto-o: When Ashikaga-Son paints Jizo-Son, does Ashikaga become Jizo, or Jizo become Ashikaga? Say!

  2. He tested general Hosokawa:

When they hold up the picture of Jizo-Son by the brush of Ashikaga-Son himself, if you name it Jizo, well, it is Ashikaga; and if you name it Ashikaga, why it- is Jizo. Then what will you do to give this a name? Say!

  1. He tested Gendazaemon Michinaga:

The governor of the Eastern Provinces, in the 23rd year of Oei (1416), asked to borrow the Jizo-Son painted by Ashikaga-Son himself, to have as a charm-Son in his camp. Now say, what result is there from having Jizo-Son in the camp?

This became a Kamakura Zen koan at the interviews of

Mitsudo (who was abbot at both Jomyoji and Hokokuji temples).

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