The Seven Lucky Gods of Japan are extremely auspicious.
Originally they were seen separately. During the 15th centuries the seven gods started appearing as a group.
The Seven Lucky Gods consists of six gods and one goddess.
In alphabetic order the Seven Lucky Gods are:
Benten – the goddess and patron of preforming art, music, painters, writers, geisha, sculptures, beauty and knowledge
Bishamon – the patron god of missionaries, priests, soldiers and doctors
Daikoku – the patron god of business, financiers, trade and farmers
Ebisu – the patron god of fair trade, fishers, sailors, wealth, sincerity and good fortune
Fukurokuju – the patron god of magicians, watchmakers, jewelers, athletes, and chess players
Hotei – the patron god of cooks, children, understandings, health and prosperity
Jurojin – the patron god of politicians, teachers, philosophers, mathematicians, scientists, inventors, judges, fortunetellers, and bartenders
Benten is the only goddess among the Seven Lucky Gods. She is obviously easy to recognize as she is the only female in the group. She is also known as Benzaiten.
Benten is most often seen carrying a musical instrument called a biwa.
She came from India originally. In India she was known as the angel Sarasvati. Her name meant “flowing water”.
She was associated with all virtues in movement and in progress. This could be speech, music, preforming arts, knowledge and so on. She was in India considered a goddess of fortune.
The Sarasvati goddess became known in Japan as early as the 6th century. They called her Benten or Benzaiten. In Japan many of her faithful followers were musicians and therefore became the protector of music amongst other virtues.
Benten used to be known as a jealous goddess. Female musician who played in the royal courts used to believe that if they got married Benten would take away their talent and they would no longer be able to play the biwa in court successfully.
Benten is sometimes shown with white snakes. These snakes are her messengers.
Bishamon came from India to Japan just like Benten did. Bishamon was called Vaisravana in India. He was the god of good fortune, treasures and happiness. In others words a highly auspicious god.
The Japanese saw him in a slightly different light. They made him a guardian of the Buddhist faith. He was named Bishamon. His formal name is Bishamonten. He is the guardian of Buddha.
He is tall and has a beard. He may be seen wearing armor and a helmet. He often holds a halberd in one hand.
In his other hand he carries the wealth treasure tower. The treasures he offers are not materialistic. They are the treasures of honor, respect, faith and happiness.
Bishamon was the protector against all evil. Sickness is also considered an evil he protects against. For this reason he is a favorite among many health care workers.
Bishamon fights all evil. He will defend the good, but he will never attack.
The origin of Daikoku is not agreed upon. Some say he originally came from India. Others claim he was one of the prehistoric rulers of Japan.
Daikoku is often seen in close relationship to Ebisu. Many shop owners may favor both Daikoku and Ebisu equally.
Daikoku is shown holding a magical golden mallet of wealth. He is short and has a pointed beard. He is often shown with a big smile on his face. His flat hat is special. It is a kind of beret called Daikoku-Zukin.
Daikoku may be seen holding a sack. This sack is filled with treasures and valuables. Daikoku is a wealth god who brings good fortune.
Daikoku is especially popular among business people and farmers. Many farmers refer to him as “god of the five cereals”. They naturally will honor him when their crop has been harvested.
Daikoku also has a reputation of chasing away demons. For this task he used a branch from a sacred tree in his garden.
Around New Year many Japanese have a tradition of hanging branches by the entrance of their home. This may represent the sacred branch belonging to Daikoku.
Ebisu is native of Japan, an authentic Japanese god. He is the god of wealth and good fortune. He is also the god of fair dealings.
Ebisu loves to fish. It was told that Ebisu went to the stream, river, lake or seashore every chance he had to go fishing. That makes him easy to identify among the Seven Lucky Gods. Ebisu is the one holding a fish or a fishing pole.
Ebisu is the only god among the seven who has a day dedicated in his honor. The day is called Ebisu-ko and is on the twentieth of October.
On Ebisu-ko Day all shops have special sales and discounts on their products. This reflects the fact that fair dealings is of vital importance to Ebisu-ko. The goal of most merchants is to buy a product at a low price and sell the same product for a profit.
Merchants were nervous about upsetting Ebisu. A punishment from the god of wealth and fair dealings could be devastating for business. To keep Ebisu happy shop owners and merchants have a special sale in his honor once a year.
Fukurokuju is easily recognizable by his unnatural long forehead. He is a short man with a white beard.
He is the god of happiness (fuku), riches (roku) and longevity (ju).
There are many theories about his origins. Some believe he is the reincarnation of the Taoist god Xuan Wu. No one knows for sure.
It is told that Fukurokuju can exist without consuming any food. This makes him one of the Chinese sennin.
He is often pictured with a stork, tortoise, snake or a deer. Any one of these four animals is a symbol of long life.
Fukurokuju is the only god among the Seven Lucky Gods that has the power to revive the dead.
Fukurokuju is extremely found of playing chess. He is known to have said; “It is indeed a great man who can look upon a chess game without comment.”
Hotei is the Japanese correspondent of the Chinese Laughing Buddha, Budai.
Hotei is bold and has a big, fat tummy. He is a happy god, always smiling. Hotei carries a bag filled with treasures and will gladly bestow abundance to all those who honor him.
He was a Zen monk who lived over a thousand years ago. There are many stories about Hotei. As a monk he begged for food. He would beg for fish and meat and all the food he enjoyed. This was normally not allowed for monks.
He was an excellent speaker. He could recite most any Buddhist passage by heart. He was a fortune teller. Everything he said came true.
Hotei did not have a regular home. He wandered about and slept outside.
Hotei is the god filled with joy. He is the god of good fortune.
Jurojin is mainly the god of wisdom. Earlier he was also regarded as the god of longevity. Jurojin is seen with a scroll and a staff.
There is a dispute about the contents of the scroll. Some say it contains a record of all deeds, good and bad, of every person on earth. Others say it contains all the wisdom of the world.
Jurojin can be seen accompanied by a deer. In this case the deer symbolizes wisdom. Many people of the East believe the older a deer gets, the wiser it becomes. The deer is a strong symbol of wisdom and longevity.
Unfortunately Jurojin also has a reputation as a heavy drinker and a womanizer. He just loves a party with lots of alcohol and plenty of beautiful women. Being a god he has the ability to be perfectly sober in the morning no matter how much he has had to drink the night before.
The Takarabune – The Treasure Ship
New Year is a wonderful and exciting time, especially for all those who have taken the Seven Lucky Gods to heart. This is when the Seven Lucky Gods just may bless you with good fortune in the year to come.
Every New Year the Seven Lucky Gods board the ship called Takarabune. The Takarabune is a magical treasure ship. On New Year’s Eve the Seven Lucky Gods set sail from heaven. The first three days of the New Year they visit with the humans.
The Treasure ship is magical because it contains gifts of great value. Hotei’s bag filled with all a person needs to get by is one of the items.
The magic golden mallet of wealth is another object. Anyone who shakes it will discover money pouring out of it.
Another money related object is the purse which always stays stuffed with money no matter how much is removed from it.
The scroll of wisdom is naturally on among the treasures of the Treasure ship.
Other items include a hat that makes the wearer invisible. This is quite handy when someone wants to do a good deed without getting discovered. What a great way to get good karma.
It is said the Seven Lucky Gods may hand out a gift of good luck and happiness to all who have strived to live good lives.
Today many Japanese children receive an envelope with a picture of the Takarabune on it every New Year. Inside they will find a money gift.
Some insist on placing a picture of the Takarabune under their pillow on the second night of the New Year. Hopefully they will have a wonderful dream. Their dream is believed to come true under the condition that they do not tell anyone about their dream.
Others say that sleeping with a picture of the Seven Lucky Gods in the Treasure Ship under your pillow on New Year’s Eve will bring good luck.