August 24, 2010
The Seven Gods of Fortune (七福神 – Shichifukujin) are a group of very popular gods in Japan. But just one of them, Ebisu, actually originated from the Land of the Rising Sun. Daikokuten, Bishamonten and Benzaiten are native to India; and Hotei, Jurojin and Fukurokuju from China. All of them come from Taoist and Shintoist beliefs.
Ebisu is a god of good luck and also of fishermen. He’s usually represented with a fish on his left hand and a fishing rod on his right hand, although the latter may vary. The Japanese, fish lovers, usually favor Ebisu as god of fortune over the others.
Pic of an Hotei at the entrance of a sushi restaurant.
At the end of the 19th century, “Japan Beer” (company that ended up being called Sapporo afterwards) started selling a beer called Yebisu (ancient form of Ebisu, the Y is not pronounced) in honour of the god of fortune Ebisu. At that moment, “Japan Beer” had most of its factories on the South-West side of Tokyo and decided to build a train station called Ebisu to enhance their distribution system. Today, the Ebisu station is the next one right after Shibuya on the Yamanote line.
Yebisu beer logo.
Ebisu, apart from being the god of fishermen, has also become the god of shopkeepers and farmers, whom normally have an Ebisu figurine in the kitchen beside one of Daikokuten.
God native to India that was adapted to the Japanese tradition in order to help enhance wealth, business, agriculture and, more specifically, food making! It is the god that brings food to the family. Its figure is usually represented on top of two rice bags and with a lucky mallet on his right hand.
On the right-hand side there are two Daikokuten.
She’s the only female among the Seven Gods of Fortune. She’s the patron of music and fine arts in general. All temples in honor of Benzaiten are usually close to the sea (in Enoshima there are a couple of them) and the figurines representing the goddess normally show a very beautiful woman playing a biwa beside one or several white snakes. As the legend goes, goddess Benzaiten can transform into a snake. Many Japanese people believe that if a white snake appears in your dreams, it’s a sign of good luck.
He’s the god of happiness according to Chinese beliefs. Plump and smiley, with a bag full of stuff to give to the poor.
God of wisdom and longevity. Near Fukurokuju figures there’s usually a tortoise.
God of longevity originated from China. He’s the oldest of the gods of fortune. His statues normally have a long beard and a parchment with all the death dates of all live creatures written.
God of war, of warriors, he has the power to heal. He normally wears an armor and holds a sword in his right hand.
Figurines of the seven gods of fortune. Can you tell them apart?