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The Japanese Seven Gods of Luck Shichi-fuku-jin

The Shichifukujin are an eclectic group of deities of which only one is actually native to Japan (Ebisu) and Japan's indigenous Shint̄o tradition. Three are from the Hindu-Buddhist pantheon of India (Daikokuten, Bishamonten, & Benzaiten) and three from Chinese Taoist-Buddhist traditions (Hotei, Jurōjin, & Fukurokuju).

In Japanese mythology, they travel together on their treasure ship (Takarabune) and visit human ports on New Year's Eve to dispense happiness to believers. Today, images of the Seven God of Luck appear with great frequency in Japan.

The origin of the grouping is unclear, although most scholars point to the Muromachi Era (1392-1568) and the 15th century. At first, the group's members were not fixed and Benzaiten became one of the seven somewhat later. Each deity existed independently before they were "artificially" brought together as a group. The earliest references to some abbreviated assemblage of two, three, or even five of these deities date to late 15th-century texts about popular narrative tales and comic plays and also mention lost paintings of them.

From the 15th century, the group gained in popularity, especially among urban merchants and artisans, as an auspicious omen and motif of good fortune and longevity, and appear in many painted, sculpted and printed examples.

Probably only in the second half of the seventeenth century did the conception of a set of seven deities of good fortune coalesce. But even then, the set had not become universally standardized.

By the 19th century, most major cities had developed special pilgrimage circuits for the seven. These pilgrimages remain well-trodden today, but many people now use cars, buses, and trains to move between the sites.

The group of seven may derive from the Chinese subject of Seven Sages in a Bamboo Grove (Jp. = Chikurin Shichiken) of the Wei and Jin Period 220-420 AD.

The seven deities are:

Since Chinese influence was prevalent in Japan after the sixth and seventh centuries, the likelihood is that the number, seven, arose from Taoist numerology and the inclination to see odd numbers as favoring qi vitality and energy flows

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