All about the Shichi-Fuku-Jin (Japanese Fortune Gods)

SHICHI FUKU JIN (Seven Gods of Luck). This assemblage of household divinities has been variously described, and to each of its number have been given more or less fanciful attributions by Western writers in their eagerness for classification, although the Japanese themselves give little information as to the properties which may have originally been considered peculiar to the individual gods.

Their invention is attributed to the courtier Dai Oi no Kami, on the first day of 1624, to explain a dream of the Shögun lyemitsu. A group of Shintoist divinities appears to have been recognised before the introduction of this semi-Buddhistic septet of worthies which totally eclipsed it and took, from the end of the seventeenth century onward, a prominent place in popular worship as well as in art.

Endowed with human failings and with endless proclivities for enjoyment, the Gods of Luck receive at the hands of the painter or of the carver pleasantly humorous, if irreverent, treatment:

  • the luck bringing Daikoku of Indian origin
  • the supposed son of Daikoku, Ebisu, of Shinto descent,
  • Fukurokujiu the ever-smiling (which Ehon Kojidan states to be another presentment of the Taoist Lao Tsze, and a duplicate of Jurojin) rub shoulder with the rollicking Hotei and the musically- inclined Benten, both of which are Buddhist creations.
  • Bishamon is the only member of this circle who, warrior-like, remains stolid in appearance, and although described as God of Wealth, he is but rarely depicted in comparison with the other six.
  • Kishijöten occasionally takes the place of Jurojin.
  • Kishimojin also forms one of the group in the works published in the early part of the 18th century.

EBISU

Sometimes also named HIRUKO. He is the third son of Izanagi and Izanami, Koto Shiro Nushi-no-Kami, though sometimes said to be the son of Daikoku.

Ebisu is deaf, so much so that he cannot hear the summons which in October calls all the other divinities to the temple of Izumo. His very name means “the laughing God,” and his countenance is altogether that of an happy individual. Bearded, smiling, or laughing, on his head a cap with two points, or a bonnet, generally sitting on his crossed legs and holding a fishing rod and a big Tai fish, Ebisu cannot be mistaken.

He is often shown with Daikoku (q.v.), in more or less humorous groups, and his own emblems are somewhat varied in their treatment: he may be cutting up his fish; or hugging it; or trying to cram the animal into a basket several sizes too small; striking with his rod one of Daikoku’s rats having a fight with the Tai; or dancing with the fish strapped on his back, etc.

Ebisu is the God of honest dealing, he is also the patron of fishermen and the God of food; often coupled with Daikoku as the two Gods whose shrines are the most common in households. This God has a peculiar hatred of cocks, hens and chickens, responsible for the paucity of eggs at Mionoseki.

DAIKOKU

His Shinto name is Oho-Kuni-Nushi-No-Kami or “Deity master of the great land”.

He represents also the Buddhist God MAHAKARA, the black God (Daikokujin), so named because of the colour of its image after being rubbed with oil. The main attributes with which he is represented: a hammer and a rat.

Finally Daikoku is dressed in Chinese guise as a prosperous individual, with a peculiariy shaped cap or hat, and usually shown standing on bales of rice (some say one of rice the other of tea), and with a bag of precious things on his shoulder.

His familiar, the rat, has been held to have an emblematic and moral meaning in connection with the wealth hidden in Daikoku’s bag, and which like all other riches requires constant care and watch to prevent it from dwindling away under the tooth of the parasite.

This rat is often pictured, either in the bale with just its head protruding, or on it, or playing with the hammer; sometimes a swarm of rats is shown.

ROKU DAIKOKU (The Six Daikoku) are given in the Banbutsu Hinakata as:

  • Makura Daikoku, ordinary form with hammer on lotus leaf,
  • Ojikara Daikoku, youthful, with sword in the right hand and vajra in the left,
  • Bika Daikoku as a priest, with shaven pate, hammer in the right hand, vajra hilted sword in the left,
  • Yasha Daikoku, youth, with the wheel of the law (Rimbo or Chakra) in his right hand,
  • Shinda Daikoku, a boy seated, holding a crystal in his left hand,
  • Mahakara Daikoku, seated female with a small bale of rice on her head.

As a modification of the Hindu God of War MAVISHI TEN, he is also shown with MARISHITEN and BISHAMONTEN, as the San Senjin, or “Three Gods of War, in the form of a man with three heads and six arms riding on a boar. This form is also known as SANMEN DAIKOKU, or three-faced Daikoku, and is called San Tenjin Daikoku in the Shaho Bukuro.

BISHAMONTEN

BISHAMON TEN (TAMONKEN), the equivalent of Kuvera, the Hindu God of Riches, is also the God of wealth in the Chinese Pantheon.

He is one of the Shichi Fuku-jin, and also belongs to the Jiu-ni-O (Twelve Deva Kings), and is shown in full armour, with a fierce expression, carrying in his right hand a small pagoda shaped shrine, and in the left a lance. The latter attribute is responsible for his erroneous description amongst the Gods of War.

ldentical with Vaisramana, the Maharajah of the west he is one of the Shi Tenno, and he saved the life of Shotoku Taishi, in the latter’s holy war against the enemy of Buddhism Moriya. According to tradition, Shôtoku Taishi had in his helmet figures of the four Maharajah’s, and Bishamon appeared to him in battle as a venerable old man.

BENZAITEN (BENTEN SAMA, DAI BENZAITEN)

The only female member of the Sichi-Fuku-Jin or Gods of Good Fortune. She is the Goddess of learning and speech, the transformation of SARASVATI, and her attributes are the Dragon and HAKUJA, the white serpent sometimes shown with the appearance of the former: as an old man with white eyebrows and a crown.

She is also the Goddess of Love, andhas fifteen sons.

Benten is variously depicted with eight hands, vajra hilted sword and chakra, rope, axe, bow and arrow, as the Happi Benten, and the Kongo mio Benzaiten, or merely as Dai Benzaiten with the sword and Tama.

JUROJIN

Depicted as a tall old man in the dress of a scholar, with the attributes of longevity, more especially the deer and the crane. He wears a peculiar headdress, upon which is often pictured the circle of the sun.

He carries a roll, or makimono, either in his hand or attached to his staff; he is generally of solemn mien, not so often playing with children as Fukurokujiu, though the latter exchanges attributes with Juro.

It is thought that Jurojin is only a variant of the ever-smiling divinity with the elongated brain pan, Fukurokujiu, but if so the grave and the gay must have parted company at an early date.

HOTEI

One of the Seven “Gods of Luck,” and probably the most popular, judging from his numberless figures.

Fat, almost beyond reason, and generally exhibiting a generous allowance of his bulky stomach, joyously laughing, whether alone or surrounded with children, carrying on his back the linen bag (Ho-tei), from which he derives his name, and in which he stows away the Precious Things, or Takaramono, or which he uses as a receptacle for playful children; often placing himself in it, either to sleep or gaze on his surroundings, or perhaps be drawn as in a barrow by his brother God, the joyous Daikoku.

Sometimes shown in a dilapidated carriage drawn by boys, and then called Kuruma So, the waggon priest, often seen carrying in one hand his bag and in the other a Chinese fan, or balancing on his shoulder, at either end of a coolie pole, the bag of precious things and a boy.

In some cases carrying in his hand a clam shell, playing the role of begging bowl, or interchanging attributes with some of the other Shichi Fuku Jin. However numerous are the varied appearances of this emblem of contentment, it is impossible to mistake the laughing face and the half-clothed mountain of flesh.

Hotei sometimes receives the appellation, Shichi Hiaku Sai, “The Sage of Seven Centuries”. He is usually identified with a Chinese priest of the 10th century, named CHISHI (Keishi), who lived at Ming Chu (the present Nimpo in Chekiang), and who was popularly called Putai no San – Mr. Linen Bag – from the sack in which he carried his scanty belongings and whatever edibles were given him.

FUKUROKUJU

Usually shown with a tall head, sometimes much longer than the whole of his body.

Old and bearded, he is the God of Longevity, and as such, usually accompanied by the crane and the tortoise. His name means Wealth, Prosperity, Longevity, and the first item of it is often represented by the Tama, or sacred jewel, which he carries in his hand.

A stag, also emblematic of long life, is often with him.

The Stag, according to Chinese legend, is a long-lived creature, but instead of becoming white in its old age, it changes to blue when a thousand years old, and to black at its second millenium.

Fukurokujiu is bald-headed, and dressed in old-fashioned garments: some see in him a presentment of Lao Tsze, however other writers would identify him with Jurojin, from whom he often borrows the staff and makimono, or the fan and the peculiar head-gear, but not as a rule the dignified countenance.

In fact, Fukurokuju is more often shown in pleasant or humorous groups. His elongated cranium is particularly attractive to the other Gods of Luck, or even to ordinary boys, who play with the benevolent deity, attaching a scarf around his head in a modified game of Kubi Kubi (neck pulling), climbing on his head, shaving it, standing upon a high stack of tables, etc.

In other depictions, Fukurokuju will exhibit his caligraphic skill with a brush tied to his forehead, or examine some roll of texts, or be depicted exorcising the Oni on New Year’s Eve, or having a chat with the Chinese Emperor, Chen Tsung. He is, of course, often represented in the Tarakabune, or treasure ship, with either the whole or part of the Shichi Fukujin.

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