Pretty much anywhere in Japan, you tend you see a lot of Jizo. He’s a very merciful Buddha especially known for looking after children, and there are statues of him everywhere. It’s not uncommon to find them in seemingly random places in the middle of a field or standing in an onsen, outside of shopping centers, or huddled together near temples.

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Although they follow the same basic pattern–dark stone build, pleasant face, red frock and hat–there can be some variation in the poses and styles. Some are solemn, while others are downright chibified. Then you get some strong ones, ready to take on all the burdens of those who seek their aid. Superhero-like Jizo-sama such as these aren’t afraid of anything!

Take, for instance, Genki Jizo, a local hero of Matsue’s Hokki district, striking what is known in Japan as the “guts pose”!

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Almost anyone with any experience using Japanese–or even just living in Japan and not knowing much Japanese–will smile at the sound of the word genki, which slips just as well into English conversation because there’s not really an appropriate equivalent term. The kanji, 元気, could be clumsily translated as “base mood” or more whimsically as “source of spirit” but neither really catches the meaning of the basic greeting, O genki desu ka? “Are you well?”

Appropriately located outside of a center for genki old folks.

Appropriately located outside of a center for genki old folks.

But someone described as genki is not only well–they are healthy, they are cheerful, they are spirited. This isn’t usually only a state, it’s a disposition. Japan doesn’t strive to raise healthy kids, it strives to raise genki kids. It doesn’t encourage friendly greetings, it encourages genki greetings.

And you, readers! Are you genki?

Genki Jizo wants you to be genki!

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