Lucky Number Seven Gods of Fortune
Today I attempt to go on a pilgrimage. Seven different gods, seven different sacred sites. My first stop is Shingen-ji Temple, Iriya. This temple has two names, Iriya no Kishibojin is the other name used, which just adds to my confusion. Inside the temple, I can hear the sound of monks chanting. Two young Japanese women dressed in kimonos pose for photographs. I wonder to the main building, throw in some loose change, and pray.
The temple not only houses one of the seven gods but also Kishimojin, a goddess of children. Her story goes that she was once an evil goddess, snatching children and then eating them. One day, Gautama Buddha kidnapped the youngest son of this goddess, and it was only after experiencing the sorrow of losing a child, that she became good. Now she is worshipped as the guardian of childbirth and child-growing. She is still a criminal in my mind, all the children that she previously devoured have somehow became forgotten with her forgiveness.
Next to the temple sits Fukurokuju, the god of happiness, wealth and longevity. The first of the seven gods that I am here to visit on this pilgrimage.
My second stop is Eishinji Temple. It enshrines Daikokuten, another of the seven gods of good luck. Daikokuten is considered to bring the belief of commercial prosperity. At the entrance, children play with spinning tops and badminton rackets. This temple gives the opportunity for me to get my fortune for ¥200, and with me currently on a role of good fortune of late, I decide to participate.
The fortune I receive is huge. It contains three separate pieces of paper and one golden plastic frog. My fortune says:
Average luck: Leading to the road of happiness will bless you if you have your own eyes open to the gods. Keeping the person in harm dear in my heart will ensure that no harm is done, and the world will fit into the flame. With love, be aggressive. Take time to contemplate. The person you are waiting for will come but will be very late. Don’t be impatient with your lawsuit. Contemplate. The lost article will be found and returned by someone with kindness. Be honest with money. If you are planning a trip, wait.
As for the little golden frog. This should be placed in my wallet to ensure money always comes back. There is also a mention of rakes and ovals, but I can’t understand what this means. Also, the fortune tells of magical eggplants, but again, no idea. “This lucky charm for us grants the wishes and brings you happiness, please bring it always in a purse.”
At the temple exit, I study the slightly confusing map, and head to temple number three.
Following the map, I end up at Onoterusaki Shrine. This shrine doesn’t house one of the seven lucky gods, but I continue to explore it regardless. A monk on a balcony is hitting drums in a timely rhythm, and something about its calmness draws me inside. The shrine houses a man-made imitation in the image of Mount Fuji.
Apparently, many Japanese people once believed that there was a god that lived inside the mountain, therefore, Mount Fuji became a place of worship for many religious groups. This particular Mount Fuji is called, Fujizuka of Shitaya-Sakamoto, and looks like a big pile of rocks. On 1st July every year, to celebrate the start of the climbing season of the actual Mount Fuji, this miniature mountain is open for the public to climb.
Onoterusaki Shrine is also dedicated to Ono-no-Takamura, who was a scholar of Chinese classics in the early years of the Heian period.
Scattered around the shrine are these unusual white arrows. These arrows, I discover, are known as hamaya. The name is derived from a dangerously popular game for children involving archery and target practice. Nowadays, these arrows, which translate to mean, ‘Demon-breaking arrows’, are a popular way to kill the evil spirits at the beginning of the New Year.
The Grand Buddha Chest Hotei
I leave the shrine and resume my search for the third of the seven gods. Eventually, I arrive at Jueiji Temple. Inside the temple sits Hotei. He is often described as fat and happy. He certainly looks very fat and very happy. He is the god of abundance and good health.
I wait patiently as people before me pray. They put coins in the gaping mouth of Hotei; not that he needs anything else to eat. One guy starts rubbing the chest of the statue with his hand. Eventually, it is my turn. I snap a quick photograph, before wandering back down the stone steps to leave the temple.
As I exit, a man chases me down the street. I stop, completely confused. He hands me a map of the pilgrimage trail. Brilliant, I think. No more confusing maps and getting lost. The only problem is that the map is written entirely in Japanese, and is therefore confusing.
I head next to Shohoin Temple, also known as the Flying God Temple. I am here to meet the fourth god of seven, Ebisu. Ebisu is the god of fishers or merchants and is often depicted carrying a fish. In the temple, a sign says, “Ebisu is the god of candour, cheerfulness, and goog [sic] fortune.”
Sitting beside the god are two statues of Arhat. These are representations of people that have had enough religious training, that they have become worthy after attaining enlightenment. Arhat is often used as a title of honour for those blessed persons who have realised the ultimate truth. What these two statues are doing sitting beside the sacred god of fishing isn’t explained, but at least this temple features some English text.
I head over to Ryusen, to Bentenin Temple. This temple is difficult to find. It is basically in a children’s play park and is tiny. There is no activity going on here, there are no other pilgrims. It is as if this temple has either been missed off the route, or everyone is wandering around the side streets in search of this sacred spot. With no sign of a god anywhere, I snap a photograph that might be but probably isn’t the goddess Benzaiten; goddess of knowledge, art, beauty, and music.
The goddess is usually depicted carrying a musical instrument, but this statue isn’t, which is the reason for my doubt.
Wheel of Misfortune
For the final two gods, I start off in the direction of Uguisudani. My attempt to find Motomishima Shrine is marred by the fact that this area is a massive red-light district, and couldn’t possibly be the location of a sacred shrine. As I stumble through alleyways of neon, I see no signs of god; just prostitutes leaving hotels with presumably married Japanese men.
Eventually, I leave the area to find wireless Internet; stolen as always from a nearby Seven Eleven. I punch the name of the shrine into my GPS and am redirected to the same area I had previously wandered. It is an unusual location for a shrine, an area littered with over seventy love hotels, but somehow I find it, sandwiched between Hotel Exe and Hotel Foxy.
Motomishima Shrine is home to Jurōjin. This is the god of longevity. The god is always followed around by wild deer; said to also symbolise long life. It is said that Jurōjin shares the same body as one of the other Seven Gods of Fortune, Fukurokuju; which is a rather unfortunate fate if you ask me.
It is fair to say that to reach this shrine, I had to jump through hoops. Inside, I have to walk through a hoop to reach the stone steps that lead to the god. Here, I pay my respects with a long bow, before taking my fortune for the last time today, at a cost of ¥200. With all these fortune readings, it’s a surprise I have any money left. Not to worry, I have a frog in my wallet, so all is well.
“Whoever caught this fortune, please read. Further increases the happiness if familiar, money will come to the body when you strive daily and today. We are been obtained by loss. Performing without effort for others is within the range of possibility, always! Rather than hit the thing with the one person that you are waiting for, poor is a small problem, this time. You do not have to worry only for those who carried out jointly because the immediate profit will go up with your results. If you move a large bowl, results should come out.
“Whatever you do for other people, always take action for things in the future. Make yourself aware. Concentrate at the entrance; are you aware of the limits of their fitness? Also, the energy from a long illness in the future will see recovery gradually. Concentration will add enhancement, especially to enhance the energy. No effort should not be in vain. Come back to be sure of the joy of tomorrow.”
Confused as to what all this means, I leave the red-light district and head over to Hoshoji Temple.
Bishamonten stands guard here, carrying a scroll. He is the god of warriors and war, and should be carrying a spear and dressed in armour. Perhaps the statue here is not of Bishamonten, but unfortunately, it is the only photograph I have of this temple; and I am definitely in the right place. No sign of any other statues of gods here though, and no idea who this scroll wielding warrior is; most likely Shōnin or someone. No English signs, nothing else.
With all this good fortune flowing through my veins and having completed the pilgrimage of the Seven Gods of Fortune, you would think that I would actually receive some fortune. In actual fact, the opposite has occurred. Throughout this pilgrimage I have felt like a ghost, floating through life, completely absent of any belonging. Perhaps this is just part of the spiritual journey. Perhaps I should just move a large bowl.
I wander back to Asakusa and am instantly drawn in by the flashing lights of a strange vending machine.
The machine costs just ¥100 and offers a chance to win excellent prizes. The machine is called, ‘Pocket Lifter’, and presumably, it lifts money from my pocket by tricking me into thinking I can win one of the luxury prizes. Hidden behind its polished glass front sits some trading cards, two Louis Vuitton purses, and tickets to Hanayashiki Amusement Park; the oldest amusement park in Japan. Hanayashiki might have to wait a little while longer though, as I am still somewhat traumatised by my recent visit to Tokyo Disneyland.
The machine says, “One-two-three-four-GET!” Winning is as easy as counting. One of the Louis Vuitton purses can be won and can be sold for ¥8,000 at a nearby shop. The address is listed next to the prize, and the gambling loophole is once again exposed. Above the prizes sits a wheel with bright flashing lights. “Let’s Challenge!!” How could I possibly resist? I keenly insert a ¥100 coin, “Thank you,” the machine says, as it swallows my money. The wheel spins, and lands on the number one. The prize shelf moves up a fraction of an inch, then nothing happens. For a limited time only, I can get three tries for my money. I repeat the button pressing process twice, and disappointment reoccurs twice more. No prizes, no amusement, no amusement park, just more bad fortune. Thanks, pilgrimage.