Kanmangafuchi Abyss in Nikko was formed by an eruption of nearby Mount Nantai. This small gorge near central Nikko has a pleasant riverside walking trail which I followed to get to the protector statues of Jizo on the side of the hill.
Kanmangafuchi is famous for its row of about 70 stone statues of Jizo, a Bodhisattva who cares for the deceased. Each of these Jizou was carved by follower of Bishop Tenkai, but there were about 100 Jizous at that time. However, some of those were washed away by flooding in 1902.
Jizo is the embodiment of the Bodhisattva Vow, the aspiration to save all beings from suffering. He is the protector of women, children, and travelers in the six realms of existence. The function of this great Bodhisattva is to guide travelers in both the physical and spiritual realms.
Some of the statues were adorned with knitted red hats and bibs, while others were crumbling with age.
Legend says that the statues change places from time to time and a visitor will never see them in the same order twice. It is also said that if you walk and count them you will find that on the way back there will be one more than when you went. They call this the phantom jizo that appears to taunt travelers.
Slowly I counted all the statues as I walked along them and then again as I walked back, but I think I must have just lost count on my way back as I ended up with one more in my count than when I went.