Seven Lucky Gods
1. Benzai ten (Sarasvati), Hindu goddess of music, wisdom, wealth; associated with ancient Indian river, thus often near spring or creek; depicted as court lady with flowing robes, holding a lute. Giver of wisdom and wealth.
2. Daikoku ten (Mahakala), the great black one, ancient Indian god of wealth; depicted as squat figure with hammer, often standing on sacks of rice or gold.
3. Bishamon ten (Vaisravana), form of Indian wealth god Kuvera, one of the four heavenly kings of Buddhism, protector deities depicted or in statues at temple gates. Shown as strong warrior with armor, helmet, holds lance with trident; sometimes thought of as Indian version of Poseidon.
4. Ebisu (Hiruko, abandoned Shinto god), giver of good life and well-being, squat figure with fish under arm or casting a fishing line; also carrying sack, usually wearing knitted cap.
5. Bodai (Butai), fat laughing Buddha, Chinese medieval Buddhist monk who grew fat and enjoyed life and always had time and toys for children. Depicted sitting with big belly, grinning from ear to ear, carrying big sack like Santa Claus with toys for children.
6. Shojin (God of long life, stylized Laozi), Daoist god of longevity and healthy old age, depicted with enormously elongated head and long white beard, dressed in flowing court robes of ancient China, hold staff, smiles.
7. Fukurokusho (Fulushou), Chinese god of happiness, high income, and long life (posterity, prosperity, and longevity); in China three figures, smiling men in court robes, one with children, one with high office, the third the god of long life; here in one figure, dressed in formal court robes, with headdress, otherwise nondescript.
Foxes are the servants and messengers of the rice god, a relative of the food goddess (Ukemochi), the daughter of the original world parents Izanagi and Izanami. She is enshrined in the outer shrine of the sun goddess center in Ise, is celebrated particularly at the harvest festival, then goes into hiding in winter.
The rice god (Inari) is often thought identical with Ukemochi. His main shrine, first established in 711, is located on Mount Inari in Fushimi (south of Kyoto). Over the centuries, he has grown into the god who watches over human prosperity in every aspect—supplicated by the wife who wants her husband to be faithful, the wrestler who wishes for victory, the geisha who needs a wealthy protector; the victim who wants his stolen property restored, the sufferer who wishes to avert cold germs and other illnesses, the traveler who hopes to reach his destination safely, the business man who strives for success and prosperity. A very efficient deity, Inari is represented in a shintai of stone, in a wooden tablet with his name on it, or as an elderly man with long beard, riding upright on a white fox. The foxes, who are commonly depicted in pairs, are his servants and messengers, but many people take them for the deity himself and venerate them accordingly.
Tenmangu is the god of learning and calligraphy, worshiped especially by children learning to read and write and students hoping to pass entrance examinations. Originally an imperial official called Sugahara Michizane, he was born in 845 in a family with a long reputation for high learning. He established a system of national education and became known as the “father of letters.” In 901, he fell into disfavor and was (wrongly) exiled to Kyushu where he died in 910. After his death, his ghost haunted the government with various deaths and plagues. After an inquiry into his wrongful banishment, he was pardoned posthumously but is not appeased. In 929 he created terrible storms and caused the emperor’s abdication. In 943, he appeared to a woman and ordered a shrine built to him in Kyoto. In 947, he finally delivered an oracle through a small boy: “All the thunder gods and demons, as many as 168,000, have become my servants. If anyone does evil, I have him trampled to death!” People erect the Kitano Tenmangu shrine to him in Kyoto. He is finally appeased in 1004 and now serves as to help in learning and grant success in examinations.