In detail

SHICHIFUKUJIN

Origin

The shichi (seven) fuku (luck) jin (beings) are a group of deities from Japan, India, and China and have been an important part of Japanese culture since the 15th century (Muromachi era). One is native to Japan (Ebisu) and Japan’s Shinto tradition. Three are from India’s Brahmanism tradition (Benzaiten, Bishamonten, Daikokuten) and three are gods from China’s Taoist-Buddhist traditions (Fukurokuju, Hotei, Jurojin). Seven has been an auspicious number for a very long time in Japan. There are seven basic principles of the Samurai's philosophy, the Japanese Star Festival tanabata is on the seventh day of the seventh month, a baby's birth is celebrated on the seventh day, a death is mourned for seven days, and again after seven weeks. In Buddhism, people believe in seven reincarnations. Although most of these characters are of scholarly appearance, they were popularised by farmers, merchants and artisans. Consequently their treasures are practical things like rice, fish and cash, rather than gold or jewels.

Special focus is placed on these seven deities in the New Year. The gods arrive each 31 December on their treasure ship (Takara-bune) to dispense gifts of happiness and luck to believers. Traditionally, before going to bed on New Year's Eve, children are told to place a picture of the gods under their pillows and if they have a good dream that night, they will have a happy and lucky new year. During the first seven days of the year, whole families will visit temples and shrines to pay their respects to the shichifukujin. Many of these places are dedicated to just one of the gods, so people often make a tour of seven shrines to see them all, to ensure they benefit from all types of luck. This pilgrimage tour (shichifukujin meguri) is not restricted to the New Year and usually takes place in the same neighbourhood. The tradition has been popular since the beginning of the Edo period (17th century). Now, there are over one hundred in Japan as a whole.

Detail

Ebisu or Ebisuten

Ebisu is the patron of fishermen and favours them with a good catch and safe journeys. In the countryside, he is considered a guardian of the rice fields and agriculture in general. Land merchants, caterers, farmers and other tradesmen have adopted Ebisu for prosperity in return for their hard work.

His trademark is a large fish; usually a red sea-bream (red snapper) (tai), carp (koi), cod (tara) or sea bass (suzuki). The fish either dangles from a rod in his right hand or is carried under his left arm. Ebisu has a cheerful smile behind his neat beard and wears a pointed hunter's cap. Ebisu is the son of Daikoku and they are often depicted together in carvings and paintings.

Daikoku or Daikokuten

In addition to giving a good harvest to farmers, he also ensures prosperity and wealth in commerce and trade. He is also guardian for cooks and all kitchen workers. People who dream of financial riches tend to worship this god.

Daikoku wears ancient courtly hunting clothing with a hood or bonnet. He stands or sits on bulging rice bales and his portly belly implies he's well-fed and prosperous. In the sack slung over his left shoulder, he carries treasure. In his right hand he holds a lucky wooden mallet (uchide-no-kozuchi) that dispenses good fortune whenever he strikes it. The mallet often has the auspicious tomoe kamon motif

Benten or Benzaiten

She is the goddess of luck, love, eloquence, education, the arts, science, and patron of students, artists, geishas, and entertainers in the eating-and-drinking business. Her virtues also include happiness, prosperity and longevity. She can protect us from natural disasters and gives wisdom to succeed in battle.

Benten is the only female deity among the Shichifukujin and always carries a Japanese mandolin (biwa). Often she sits or stands on a lotus leaf, and sometimes rides a white dragon, sea serpent or snake. These creatures represent jealously, so married couples often do not visit her shrine together.

Hotei or Hotei osho

Hotei, like Daikoku, is a god of abundance. He is also the god of laughter and the happiness you can achieve by being satisfied with what you have. He is the god of joy and satisfaction in trade, hence a Hotei statue is often positioned at the entrance of department stores and shopping malls.

He is depicted as a laughing man with a huge belly symbolising his benevolent soul. He carries a ceremonial fan (ogi) and a large bag of riches (usually rice) over his shoulder. The supply of rice from his bag is never exhausted so he can afford to be generous. He is also wrongly called the laughing Buddha.

Fukurokuju or Fukurukujin

He is the deity of wisdom, good luck, happiness, wealth, virility and longevity. He is thought to share his body with Jurojin. He wears a long, flowing Chinese costume, and holds a sturdy walking stick to support himself in his advancing years. On the walking stick is tied a parchment scroll (makimono) on which is written sacred teachings and all the wisdom of the world.

He usually also carries a folding ceremonial fan (ogi). He has a high forehead, a dome-shaped bald head topped with a scholar's cap, and a long white beard symbolising wisdom and age. By his side is usually a stag or deer (shika), a tortoise (kame) or a crane (tsuru), all symbolizing longevity.

Jurojin

He is the god of wealth, wisdom and happiness for our long lives. Jurojin's appearance is similar to Fukurokuju's: a smiling old man dressed as a Chinese sage, long white beard. He also has a staff with a scroll (makimono) attached, which contains a life study of the world and the secret of longevity.

He is also sometimes flanked by a stag or deer (shika) as his messenger, a tortoise (kame) or a crane (tsuru), all of which symbolize longevity. He sometimes carries a drinking vessel, as he reportedly loves rice wine (sake).

Bishamon or Bishamonten

Bishamon is the god of prosperity (symbolised by the 'treasure tower'), the god of war and patron of warriors (symbolised by the defensive armour and offensive weapon). He brings good luck in both battle and defence. He is protector of the Buddhist law and defender of peace.

The bearded Bishamon is identified as a fierce warrior wearing a full suit of armour, helmet and armed with a sword, spear, trident or pike (hoko) in his right hand. From the pagoda, he dispenses treasure and good fortune to poor, worthy people. Having given people their riches, he uses his skill to protect them from evil and guard their treasure. However, since he meets few 'worthy' people, he is usually forced to destroy the treasure.

In our online catalogue

Click here to see those we have in our online catalogue