Many Japanese people are quite superstitious: they believe in luck and fortune tellings. In addition to different kinds of lucky charms, black eggs and several animals, there is a set of seven deities called ‘shichifukujin’ (seven lucky gods) that are supposed to bring you luck. The pictures and sculptures of these deities are worshipped and honored in Japanese culture.
The names of the seven lucky gods are Ebisu, Daikokuten, Benzaiten, Fukurokuju, Hotei, Jurojin and Bishamonten. According to Japanese mythology, people practice the habit of keeping pictures of these seven deities in a treasure boat (Takarabune) under their pillow or bed on the night of 2nd January as it is said to bring good luck. It is also believed that a visit to temples of lucky gods during the first week of New Year brings happiness and prosperity throughout the year. This kind of lucky god pilgrimage is known as Shichifukujin Meguri.
Among these lucky gods, only Ebisu is native of Japan. The other six are adopted from other religions. Daikokuten, Benzaiten, and Bishamonten originated from Hindu mythology; Fukurokuju and Jurojin are from Taoism; while Hotei is from Chinese Buddhism. Each deity represents a different kind of luck and is depicted in a different way that indicates the type of luck they shower onto believers.
Ebisu (pictured above) is considered to be the god of oceans and fishermen. He is worshipped among fishermen and sailors to ensure a safe journey at sea. Ebisu holds a fishing rope in one hand and a sea bream in the other, and wears a pointed cap. He is also believed to be related to god Daikokuten, and because of this they are often depicted together.
Among the seven lucky gods, Benzaiten is the sole female deity. She is the goddess of art, music, literature and usually seen near flowing water like rivers, waterfalls etc. In India, she is known as Saraswati, who is also the goddess of knowledge and art. Benzaiten plays a Japanese mandolin called biwa. She is especially popular among students of fine arts, writers and musicians.
Daikokuten is of Indian origin and worshipped as the god of agriculture and earth. In his right hand, he holds a wooden mallet, which dispenses the granting of wishes or luck when he strikes it, and a rice sack is slung over his left shoulder. He is an emanation of Shiva in Hinduism. Daikokuten is also considered as a food provider, and so you can often find him placed in kitchens of monasteries.
Hotei is the god of happiness and laughter and is also popular in many foreign countries. His image is based on a mortal Chinese monk called Pu-tai, and is believed to be a reincarnation of Maitreya (a future Buddha). His cheerful face and big belly made him well known as the laughing Buddha. Hotei literally means cloth bag, and he carries it to feed the poor.
This is a warrior deity who protects the nation from evil. Bishamonten is the god of wealth and treasure, and the healer of illness. He has a ferocious face, and holds a trident in his right hand, and a pagoda in his left hand. He is worshiped by warriors in order to impose victory in battles. His Sanskrit name is Vaisravana.
Fukurokuju is the god of longevity, fertility and happiness. Fukurokuju and other god Jurojin are said to inhabit the same body. They are often confused in appearance. He has a long forehead and carries a sutra scroll. As per old Chinese tale, he is a Taoist hermit sage who is the personification of the South Star.
Jurojin is the god of longevity. He carries a knobby staff with a scroll attached to it, and is often seen with a deer, animal that represents a long life. Jurojin is a Taoist immortal, and he resembles Fukurokuju in appearance. He is a wine lover, and hence people offer him sake (rice wine) in the hope to get his blessings.
If you need some more luck in your life, or if you just want to take a beautiful walk while visiting Japanese temples, then you can take a Seven Lucky Gods Pilgrimage or Shichifukujin Meguri in Japanese. Below you will find a few links which may be helpful for those who want to carry out a Shichifukujin Meguri. Please do not forget to collect ‘shuins’, which are the stamps given by shrines or temples on a decorative paper called ‘shikishi’.
Go forth and stay blessed!