Guidebook to Japan’s Seven Lucky Gods – August 2013

August 25th, 2013
Jump to the INTRO PAGE for Japan'S Seven Lucky Gods

Cutified modern drawing of the Seven Luckies. Click image to get started.

Japan’s Seven Lucky Gods (Shichifukujin 七福神) are an eclectic group of deities from Japan, India, and China.  Only one is native to Japan (Ebisu). Three are deva from India’s Hindu pantheon (Benzaiten, Bishamonten, Daikokuten) and three are gods from China’s Taoist-Buddhist traditions (Hotei, Jurōjin, Fukurokuju).  In my mind, it is more fruitful to explore the seven within a Deva-Buddha-Kami (Hindu-Buddhist-Shintō) matrix rather than a standard binary Buddha-Kami model. For that reason, special emphasis is given to the three Hindu deva. Although the group’s Japanese origin can be traced back to the 15th century, the set of seven did not become stadardized until the late 17th century.  By the 19th century, most major cities had developed special pilgrimage circuits for the seven. These pilgrimages remain well trodden in contemporary times, but many people now use cars, buses, and trains to move between the sites.  Today images of the seven appear with great frequency in Japanese art and media, but unlike olden times, the seven are now often portrayed as cute, lovable and childlike.  The “cutification” of religious icons in modern Japan is widespread and part of a much larger social trend toward cuteness in billboard advertising, corporate branding, sports mascots, street fashion, product design, and a host of other areas. This integrated primer explores the seven’s historical development in Japanese art and lore.  Enjoy.  Popcorn not included.

Guidebook to Japan's Seven Lucky Gods. Click image to get started.

Guidebook to Japan’s Seven Lucky Gods. Click image to get started.


Statues of these deities can be purchased at our sister site,




Japan’s Doll Festival – March 2013

March 3rd, 2013

Japan’s Doll Festival (Hina Matsuri 雛祭) has a very curious history, one largely forgotten in contemporary times. Held on March three every year since the mid-to-late Edo period (1600-1867), it was originally a day for ritual purification known as Jōshi no Sekku 上巳の節句 (literally “Seasonal Festival of the Snake”) when people would rub their bodies with crude human-shaped figurines made of paper, straw, clay or wood. These figurines served as “scapegoats” for exorcising spiritual pollution and bad karma. The word for snake (Jōshi) sounds like the word for girl (Joshi 女子), and the festival eventually became geared towards girls. The first sekku 節句 (seasonal festival) after the birth of a baby girl, it is now a day when charming dolls are set out for display to symbolize the family’s wish that their daughter will be healthy, free from calamity and able to obtain a happy life with a good husband. But it was not always so. Click the image below to read more, or click here.

The doll collection of Keiko (Kamioka) Schumacher

The doll collection of Keiko (Kamioka) Schumacher


Star Worship in Japan – A Special Report

December 3rd, 2012

Japanese Buddhism & the Deification of the Stars

Japan imported China’s Yin-Yang divination and Feng Shui practices in the mid-6th century CE, including astrological lore surrounding star groupings such as the Seven Big Dipper Stars, the Nine Luminaries, the 12 Zodiac Signs, the 28 moon lodges, and the 36 animals. The most receptive camps were Japan’s esoteric Shingon and Tendai schools, which took the lead in introducing star worship to Japan. The integration of celestial bodies into Japanese Buddhism peaked during the mid-and-late Heian period, but star faith never developed into a major branch of Japanese esoteric art — indeed, the number of extant star mandala and star-related masterpieces in Japan is very limited. Star worship is still alive today in Japan, but it is not a major force in modern religious practice. This 35-page report presents a brief history of the 28 moon lodges in China and the group’s later usage in Japanese star worship. This is followed by a lengthy review of the 28, plus a guide to the deification of other important stars and planets, including the Seven Big Dipper Stars, the Nine Luminaries, and the Pole Star (aka Myōken Bosatsu). All together, some 60 deities and over 100 images are presented. Click the image below to get started. Enjoy the tour. Popcorn not included.

Star Worship and Star Deities in Japan
Explores over 60 deities. Features over 100 photos.

In Japan today, many temples and shrines have “commercialized” religious cosmology based on Chinese astrological concepts. In Japan the system is called Yakudoshi 厄年, which translates directly as “bad luck years.” It is based on the concept of Chinichi 直日 — a specific day on which a heavenly body (or bodies) exert an undue influence on earthly affairs. To determine if one’s fortune will be good or bad requires a knowledge of the movement of the celestial bodies, including those of the Big Dipper, the Nine Luminaries (five planets, sun, moon, comets, eclipses), the Twelve Signs of the Zodiac, and the Twenty-Eight Moon Lodges (this page). For Japanese men, the most inauspicious ages are 25, 42, and 61. For women, the ages are 19, 33, and 61. This is an oversimplification, mind you. During these unlucky years (and others), people are urged to visit temples and shrines and pay money for rites that will provide divine protection from baleful celestial influences. For reasons unknown to me, the worst years are 42 for men and 32 for women. Many of Japan’s temples & shrines aggressively market such beliefs to increase revenues.