These little plastic statues are of Jizõ Bosatsu (क्षितिगर्भ Kṣitigarbha). His name means “Earth Matrix” or “Earth Womb” and he is the God of hell and the guardian of children. As he is the patron God of deceased children and aborted fetuses, these statues are sold by the temple for parents who have aborted fetuses so that they may PRAY to the God Jizõ Bosatsu that he may see to it that their child’s “soul” may be reborn in a higher realm.
Yes, contrary to the teachings of Buddhism, in Japan it is believed that people do indeed have a soul.
Jizõ Bosatsu carries the monks shakujo staff to open the gates of hell and a hõshu (see my post on those)
From Wikipedia - “the souls of children who die before their parents are unable to cross the mythical Sanzu River on their way to the afterlife because they have not had the chance to accumulate enough good deeds and because they have made the parents suffer. It is believed that Jizō saves these souls from having to pile stones eternally on the bank of the river as penance, by hiding them from demons in his robe, and letting them hear mantras.”
The little plastic statues cost $500.00 each, but are made in China for around $4.00 each.