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Sanzu River

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A depiction of the Sanzu River in Tosa Mitsunobu's Jūō-zu (十王図). The good can cross the river by a bridge while the evil are cast into the dragon-infested rapids.

The Sanzu-no-Kawa (三途の川, lit. "River of Three Crossings", or the "Sanzu River") is a mythological river in Japanese Buddhist tradition similar to the Chinese concept of Huang Quan (Yellow Springs), Indian concept of the Vaitarani and Greek concept of the Styx.[1]

Before reaching the afterlife, the souls of the deceased must cross the river by one of three crossing points: a bridge, a ford, or a stretch of deep, snake-infested waters.[2] The weight of one's offenses while alive determines which path an individual must take. It is believed that a toll of six mon must be paid before a soul can cross the river, a belief reflected in Japanese funerals when the necessary fee is placed in the casket with the dead.[3]

The Sanzu River is popularly believed to be in Mount Osore, a suitably desolate and remote part of Aomori Prefecture in northern Japan.

Similarly to the Sanzu-no-Kawa, there is also the Sai no Kawara (賽の河原, lit. "Riverbed of Death"), a boundary by which the souls of children who died too early cross over to the realm of the Dead, with the help of Jizō, a Kami/Bodhisattva who helps the souls of children who died too early to avoid the attentions of the Oni and of Shozuka-no-Baba and Datsueba.

Real Sanzu Rivers in Japan[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Stone, Jacqueline Ilyse; Walter, Mariko Namba (2008). Death and the afterlife in Japanese Buddhism. Honolulu: University of Hawaiʻi Press. pp. 184, 259. ISBN 978-1-4416-1977-8. OCLC 657757860.
  2. ^ "River of Three Crossings | Dictionary of Buddhism | Nichiren Buddhism Library". www.nichirenlibrary.org. Retrieved 2019-12-07.
  3. ^ "Meido: The Japanese Underworld | Matthew Meyer". 2014-02-23. Retrieved 2019-12-07.