The Seven Gods of Fortune
The Seven Gods of Fortune
The Japanese shichi (seven) fuku (luck) jin (beings) have been a popular group of deities since the Edo period. Pictures and sculptures of these gods are seen all over Japan, either alone or as a group, and often on their treasure ship (takara-bune).
Ebisu is the patron of fishermen and favours them with a good catch. He also ensures safe journeys for all seafarers since he himself arrived into Japan from the sea. 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. All this makes him the most popular of the seven gods.
Bishamon is a Buddhist deity from India and a protector of the righteous and a symbol of authority. He lives at the earth's core in the fourth layer of Mount Sumeru, protecting the northern quarter and the teaching seat of Buddha. He is one of Buddhism's 'Four Guardians' (shi-tenno) and carries a small 'treasure tower' or pagoda (tahoutou) in his left hand.
Benten was an angel of one of the three major Indian goddesses, Sarasvati, the goddess of fine arts: music, painting, sculpture, dance and literature. These attributes help to soften the vulgarity of monetary wealth, and therefore this goddess is included in the group of seven. Although Sarasvati is a Hindu goddess, Benten came to Japan with Buddhism.
Fukurokuju is from an old Taoist god who in turn is based on the old Chinese sage Lao Tzu who had kept archives for the imperial court in the Sung dynasty. He was renowned for performing miracles, particularly in the field of longevity and prosperity. Therefore he is the deity of wisdom, good luck, happiness, wealth, virility and longevity. He is thought to share his body with Jurojin.
The rotund Hotei is the only member of the shichifukujin based on a mortal; an eccentric Chinese Zen monk called Pu-tai and thought to be the reincarnation of Maitreya (miroku Bosatsu), a Buddhist saint. 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 stores.
Jurojin is a Taoist god from China and thought to inhabit the same body as Fukurokuju. 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 and an elongated bald head. 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 sometimes flanked by a stag or deer (shika) as his messenger, a tortoise (kame) or a crane (tsuru), all of which symbolize longevity.
Shichifukujin are seen all over Japan; as stone statues, wood carvings, paintings, ice sculptures, and even acrylic stick-on nails (tsuketsume). The set of fake talons in this photo were seen in a Tokyo 'nail art studio' window during the first seven days of January; the best time of year to see Shichifukujin.