Japanese Mythology: the Seven Gods of Fortune

The Seven Gods of Fortune (七福神 / Shichi Fukujin) are a staple of Japanese mythology and folklore and are popular subjects for figurines or carvings. These Japanese divinities are derived from native religious beliefs and traditions derived from Shintoism, Taoism, or Buddhism.

Shichi Fukujin | Steve-kun

Many of the deities in Japanese folklore and all of the Seven Lucky Gods, except for Ebisu, originated from China (some with Indian influence).

The Seven Lucky Gods are mostly depicted on their ship, the Takarabune (宝船), or “Treasure Ship.” Tradition dictates that these gods will arrive on New Year’s Day to give out gifts to deserving people. Children receive envelopes of money with the Takarabune printed on it. Images of the Seven Lucky Gods are also present during festivals and other celebrations.

The Seven Gods of Fortune

Benzaiten (弁才天 or 弁財天)—the Goddess of Everything that Flows is also known as “Benten.” She is said to be the third daughter of the dragon-king of Munetsuchi, and she was derived from the Hindu goddess Saraswati. She bestows eloquence and music.

Bishamonten (毘沙門天)—the God of Fortunate Warriors and Guards is also known as “Bishamon” or “Tamonten.” He carries a small pagoda that stands for the divine treasure house that he guards; he gives away itse treasures to deserving people. He is said to live by the side of Mount Sumeru.

Daikokuten (大黒天)—the God of Wealth is also known as “Daikoku.” He bestows bountiful harvests and a rich household. He  carries a golden mallet and is depicted sitting on top of plentiful bales of rice.

Fukurokuju (福禄寿)—the God of Wisdom and Longevity, also believed to be the reincarnation of the Southern Polestar.

Fukurokuju carving | Marshall Astor – Food Fetishist

He is depicted with a turtle and a crane (which symbolize longevity), and sometimes a black deer. He is said to be carrying the sacred book tied to his staff. The book contains exactly how long each person lives on Earth.

Ebisu (恵比須, 恵比寿, 夷 or 戎))—the Laughing God, also known as “Yebisu” or “Hiruko (蛭子),” is known as the god of luck, fishermen, and workers.  He is the only god that originated in Japan. Legend says that he was born without bones but eventually grew them at 3 years old. He is usually carrying a rod and a red bream (European species of freshwater fish) or a sea bass.

Hotei wood carving | jacobian

Hotei (布袋))—he  is mostly known as the Laughing Buddha and is the most popular among all the Seven Lucky Gods. Hotei is a deity who bestows abundance and contentment.

Jurōjin (寿老人))—he is also known as “Gama,” and he represents longevity. He is depicted oftentimes carrying a fan and staff. The Goddess of Happiness,  Fertility, and Beauty, Kichijōten (吉祥天), sometimes replaces Jurōjin because Jurōjin and Fukurokuju are considered manifestations of the same Taoist deity, Southern Star.