Things Japanese/Luck (Gods of)
Luck (Gods of). The Seven Gods of Luck (Shichi Fukujin) are: Fukurokuju, distinguished by a preternaturally long head, and attended by a crane, a deer, or a tortoise; Daikoku, who stands upon a pair of rice-bales and is accompanied by a rat; Ebisu, bearing a fish; Hotei, with an enormous naked abdomen, a bag on his back and a fan in his hand; Bishamon, clad in armour, and bearing a spear and a toy pagoda; Benten, distinguished by being the only female in the assemblage and having it in her power to confer, not only victory and riches, but eloquence and wisdom; the serpent or dragon is her creature of predilection; lastly, Jurōjin, a sort of repetition of Fukurokuju.
The Seven Gods of Luck have been swept together from many incongruous sources—Japanese Shintōism, Chinese Taoism, Indian Buddhism and Brahmanism. Their union in one group is the result of nothing more recondite than popular ignorance and confusion of ideas, and can be traced no further back than the commencement of the 17th century. The reader will find in Anderson's Catalogue of Japanese and Chinese Paintings in the British Museum (pp. 27-46), a full discussion of the origin and attributes of these divinities, and will be surprised to discover how slender is the basis on which their modern popularity has been reared.
Connected with the Gods of Luck is the Takara-bune, or "Treasure Ship," which is supposed to sail into port on New Year's Eve, with the Gods of Luck as passengers and, as cargo, the takara-mono, or "treasures" of popular lore, which are enumerated by Anderson as follows:—the hat of invisibility, the lucky rain-coat, the sacred key, the inexhaustible purse, the precious jewel, the clove, the scrolls, the hammer, the weight (fundō), and the shippō,—a flat object apparently representing a coin. Pictures of this "Treasure Ship" are hawked about the streets at New Year time, and every person who puts one into the little drawer of his wooden pillow on the night of the 2nd January, is believed to ensure a lucky dream. At the side of the picture is printed a stanza of poetry so arranged that the syllables, when read backwards, give the same text as when read forwards.