Jigoku, in Japanese Buddhism, hell, a region popularly believed to be composed of a number of hot and cold regions located under the Earth.
Jigoku is ruled over by Emma-ō, the Japanese lord of death, corresponds to the Indian deity Yama. He judges the dead by consulting a register in which are entered all of their sins. The sinner is sent to one of the 16 regions of fire or ice assigned him by Emma-ō for a fixed period of time until the next rebirth, unless saved by the prayers of the living, in which case he is reborn either on earth or in a heavenly paradise. He judges the souls of men, while his sister judges the souls of women.
Emma-ō is usually represented with a fierce expression, wearing a Chinese judge’s cap and holding his mace of office. He is assisted in his examination of the dead by two disembodied heads, which rest on pillars on either side of him. The female head, Miru-me, has the power of perceiving the sinner’s most secret faults, while the male head, Kagu-hana, can detect any misdeed.
Damnation is not eternal; the dead are sentenced to fixed periods of time in one region or to several regions in succession. The sentences can be shortened by the intervention of bodhisattvas (those destined to become enlightened) in response to the prayers of the living.
The Jigoku-zōshi, a late 12th-century scroll, depicts the 8 great hells and the 16 lesser hells in both text and paintings.