New Year is a time for setting intentions for the next year and bringing luck into your life. Like many countries and locations around the world, Japan has its traditions spanning back many years, allowing people to do just that – bring luck into their lives for the upcoming year. So, what exactly do these Japanese New Year traditions have to do with seven lucky gods and a pilgrimage?
Seven Lucky God Pilgrimage: What Is it?
The Seven Lucky Gods Pilgrimage, aka Shichifukujin Meguri, dates back to the 1700s and 1800s. During this tradition, people spend time visiting temples and shrines to pray to the seven lucky gods. At each holy location, visitors collect stamps (also known as goshuin). Some temples and shrines only worship one god, while others worship multiple gods.
This pilgrimage can take a few hours, though it may take up to a day if the locations are far apart for some. The goal is to collect all seven stamps, ensuring that the new year brings good fortune. Typically, this pilgrimage takes place during the first seven days in January. Depending on the starting temple, you may receive a special stamp board to collect each stamp.
About the Seven Gods
The gods are created from Indian, Chinese, and Japanese deities. The seven gods are split: one from Japan, three from the Hindu-Buddhist pantheon of India, and three from China’s Taoist Buddhist traditions.
Before the 17th century, these gods were always depicted separately. In fact, before this time, each deity existed independently. According to Japanese mythology, these seven gods travel on a treasure ship. Leaving an image of these gods under your pillow the night before the next year begins is said to bring in good luck and an abundance of prosperity.
Why Are There Seven Lucky Gods?
There is no clear answer to this question, unfortunately. However, many cultures celebrate seven as a lucky number, and perhaps that’s why Japanese culture has continued this tradition until today.
You’ll also find there are seven Buddhist treasures, so there is a chance that this tradition stems from this idea. Depending on the scripture read, the treasures vary. Sometimes, the treasures are physical goods like gold, silver, and pearl. Some other treasures are more spiritual and include meditating and self-reflection.
Regardless of the reason behind the number of gods, this tradition continues to be important in modern Japan. It draws in many participants around the country.
Who Are The Seven Gods?
At this point, you may be wondering who the seven gods are. Let’s dive into who the seven deities are and what each represents.
It’s important, to begin with Ebisu, as this is the only god of Japanese origin. Ebisu is known as the god of trades, shipping, and fishing; he is often depicted with a fishing rod in one hand and a fish in the other. Those that work on boats or farm the land particularly connect with this god. He also represents honesty.
Bishamonten is an Indian Buddhist god; in images, he is shown in protective gear with two evil spirits or demons underneath him. The intention is to show that he has won and beat these “evil creatures.” He is both the God of Defense Against Evil and the God of Warriors. He stands tall with a weapon in one hand to protect and defend. He represents dignity.
Diakokuten is another Indian Buddhist deity, though the back story behind this god is slightly different. He was initially known as a Hindu god associated with war. However, once he became part of the seven gods, he now represents money and prosperity. This god is typically shown with a sack full of money, a magical mallet, and a giant smile, all while atop a rice bag. He represents fortune.
Benzaiten is the only goddess on the list of seven deities. She initially was the Hindu goddess of water. However, she is known as the Goddess of Arts and Knowledge in Japanese culture. Even though she is a Hindu deity, she is depicted in Chinese-style dress with various instruments depending on the image. This goddess represents joy.
Fukurokuju is one of the Chinese Taoist-Buddhist gods and the God of Wisdom, Happiness, and Longevity. You’ll see this god depicted with a long beard/mustache and a more prominent forehead area. He is typically shown with a walking stick and a scroll; this refers to his knowledge and longevity. Interestingly, he has the power to bring the dead back to life and is the only deity with this ability. Fukurokuju represents longevity.
This god is known in other cultures as the “Laughing Buddha.” This God of Abundance is based on a real person named Budaishi. Images show this Chinese god as a monk with a large smile and a large uncovered belly. As you might guess based on appearance, this deity represents happiness.
Jurōjin is the final god of the seven; he represents wisdom. You’ll see this deity shown as an older man with a walking stick, scroll, and long beard. While he represents similar things as Fukurokuju and even has many images, including a black deer (a representation of longevity), he is a separate god.
Spend Time Visiting Temples
While there are multiple routes you can take with different temples, you may want to check the below course out. Each temple is a few minutes away from each other, either by walking or by subway ride. Keep in mind, the order you visit the temples is important. Follow the order from 1-6 for longevity and a healthy year and from 6-1 for business success and wealth.
Now that you’re an expert on the Japanese New Year tradition of the Seven Lucky Gods Pilgrimage, you can enjoy the trip from temple to temple. Keeping the history of this tradition in mind aids in spreading the history and culture of Japan. Plus, you’ll be ready to start the new year with prosperity, longevity, and happiness.