Japanese Buddhist Prayer Beads
In Japan, Buddhists use prayer beads called called nenju (Japanese for 'beads used for mindful practice') or juzu (counting beads). The juzu are used to count the recitations.
There is great variety in the types of juzus used by Japanese Buddhists. Juzus usually have 108 beads or a divisor of 108, such as 16, 27 or 54. Most have one or two additional, larger beads, called Guru beads. They usually have tassels as well. Styles and number of beads are often specific to certain schools of Buddhism, such as Zen or Pure Land.
Juzus are made from a variety of materials; juzu beads may be made from:
- Wood from the Bodhi tree
- 'Bodhi seeds' which are really the seeds of the rudraksha tree.
- Wood of the Tulsi plant.
- Rattan seeds.
- Precious or semi-precious stones.
- Crystal, pearl, shell or mother of pearl.
Juzus are most often used to count repetitions of a mantra, prayers, or the name of a deity. A mantra is a sound, syllable, word or group of these, whose repetition is believed to aid in attaining Enlightenment. They can also simply be held in the hand while praying. Some believe that they ward off evil spirits.
When used for counting, one repetition is said for each bead, turning each bead clockwise with the fingers, though some traditions use a counterclockwise motion. The number of repetitions can be from 27 to thousands. When the Guru bead is reached the direction is changed, if more repetitions are being done than there are beads.