- Challenge for the Yanaka 7 Lucky Gods, the oldest Seven Lucky Gods of the Edo period!
- ①Fukurokujyu（Togakuji Temple）
- ②Ebisu（Seiunji Temple）
- ④Jyurojin (Choanji Temple)
- ⑤Bishamonten (Tennoji Temple)
- ⑥Daikokuten (Gokokuin Temple)
- ⑦Benzaiten（Shinobazunoike-Bentendo Temple）
- Fukue (Good luck Picture) that you should get in the Tour of Yanaka 7 Lucky Gods
- What kind of Gods are the 7 Lucky Gods?
Tours for visiting the shrines or temples of the "Seven Lucky Gods" (called "Shichifukujin" in Japanese) are annually held all over Japan from January 1st through 7th.
In Tokyo, there are many temples and shrines dedicated to the 7 Gods in areas like Nihonbashi, Asakusa, Shinjuku, Haneda, Itabashi, and so on.
In this article, I report on the Yanaka 7 Lucky Gods, regarded as the oldest in the Edo period.I actually toured the temples of the Seven Lucky Gods and happily collected red-ink stamps in the special card with good-luck drawings, called Fukue!
Challenging myself with the Yanaka 7 Lucky Gods, the oldest Seven Lucky Gods of the Edo period!
In Japan touring the shrines and temples of the Seven Lucky Gods every New Year has been a custom since the Edo period. Why do we tour the shrines of the Seven Lucky Gods? It is to bring us happiness for the coming year by visiting the temples that enshrine each of the so-called 7 Gods, which are Daikokuten, Fukurokujyu, Benzaiten, Bishamonten, Ebisu, Jyuroujin, and Hotei.
The Seven Lucky Gods in the Treasure Ship
Each god has a power to bring you different kinds of luck, so by touring all the gods, you are said to receive all the luck available, such as eternal youth and longevity, booming of business, safety of the home, etc.
In the Tokyo area, there are many shrines and temples dedicated to the 7 Lucky Gods that have been worshipped since old times.
At many places in Tokyo, such as Nihonbashi Shichifukujin, Asakusa Shichifukujin, Kagurazaka Shichifukujin and Shibamata Shichifukuji, a tour of the 7 Lucky Gods is held annually for 7 days from January 1s through 7th.
List of the Yanaka 7 Lucky Gods
Among these shrines and temples, the tour I chose this time is the tour of Yanaka 7 Lucky Gods. This tour is recognized as the oldest Shichifukujin of Japan, and dates back to the Edo period.
All of the shrines and temples dedicated to the 7 Lucky Gods are found within the 5-station distance starting from Tabata Station, going through Nishi-nippori and Nippori Stations, and ending at Ueno Station. For this area, the tour is held a bit longer than other places, for 10 days between January 1st and 10th. During this special period, the statues of the gods that are normally behind closed doors will be exhibited in public, allowing you to see them on your visit! (Benzaiten, is exhibited separately in September.)
Now, let’s tour around the Yanaka 7 Lucky Gods to receive our fortune for the coming year!
This year, I toured the 7 Lucky Gods on January 10, 2020, the last day of the Yanaka Shichifukujin Tour. While you can tour the 7 Lucky Gods any time of the year, note that at some of these temples, the statues are on display and red-ink stamps (Goshuin) for your stamp-books are offered only during this period. Their opening hours are between 9am and 5pm.
JR Line, Tabata Station, North exit
The starting point of the tour is the JR Line, Tabata Station. At the north exit, you can pick up a map for the route showing the Tour of the Yanaka 7 Lucky Gods. On the back, you will find a detailed description of the path from Tabata Station to Togakuji Temple.
The map for the 7 Lucky Gods Tour placed at Tabata Station. The blue one is the English version.
I took one copy of the map, and walked for 5 minutes. Then, I found a sign showing the route to Togakuji Temple. I soon arrived at Togakuji Temple that enshrines Fukurokujyu, the first of the 7 Lucky Gods.
Signage of Togakuji Temple at the corner
Akagami Nio Statue in front of Myo-o Hall
The Togakuji Temple belongs to the Buzan sect of Shingon Buddhism, whose principal god is "Fudo Myo-o". In front of the temple stands "Myo-o Hall", and two statues covered with red Japanese papers stand in front of the Hall. These two, called the Akagami (red paper) Nio-son, were built in 1641. These are “Kongo-rikishi statues”, typically coming in pairs with an “Ah” statue with an open mouth, and “Un” statue with a closed mouth. Although you will not be able to see them through the red paper that covers them, the one on your left will be the “Ah”, and the right the “Un”.
Why are these two statues covered with red papers? That is because worshippers purchase pieces of red paper beforehand, and apply it to the statues on the same part of their body that has an ailment. The belief is that this will heal whatever problems your body may have. Furthermore, there is a custom to purchase straw sandals and present them to the Kongo Rikishi Statue, if they are actually healed. It is believed that the Akagami Nio will walk around, wearing those sandals!
Receive the stamp on the left side office after praying at the main hall of Togakuji Temple
This day was a week day and the last day of the Tour of 7 Lucky Gods, I saw some worshippers within the precincts. I prayed to the principal god, and received the red ink stamp for my stampbook. Fukurokujyu, enshrined at Togakuji Temple is a god said to give you popularity and trust in your community. His figure is an elderly man, characterized by a long head and beard.
After leaving Togakuji Temple, I headed toward Seiunji Temple, located very close to Nishi-nippori Station. It takes a slightly long walk of 18 minutes from Togakuji Temple. On the way to Seiunji Temple is the residential area which retains the nostalgic old-town sceneries. The road led me to a larger street, from where I could see the entrance to Nishi-Nippori's shopping street, Yomise-dori on the opposing side.
Route to Seiunji Temple
When you come to the big street facing Yomise-dori, turn left and go straight
I didn’t enter Yomise-dori but kept going toward Nishi-nippori Station…then there it was! The entrance to the approach to Seiunji Temple was there. Seiunji Temple is belongs to the Myoshinji sect of Rinzai Buddhism, which enshrines Ebisu, the god of business prosperity. Because this temple was popular as a cherry blossom viewing spot, it was also referred to in the Edo Period as "Hanami-dera", or “cherry blossom viewing temple”.
You will see the signage of Seiunji Temple from the narrow street
Main hall of Seiunji Temple
I could see the statue of Ebisu in the main hall. After praying to Ebisu, I received a red-ink stamp. Within the precincts, they had a commemorative stamp for you to remember your tour of the Yanaka 7 Lucky Gods by. Each of these temples has a unique commemoration stamp.
Commemmorative Stamp of Seiunji Temple
This stamp is available for anybody, free of charge. This same stamp is also given by the temple for your stamp book, but if you are not collecting the red “goshuin” stamps, it might also be fun to collect these commemorative stamps on your map or stamp book.
The next destination is Shushoin Temple, 2 minutes on foot from Seiunji Temple. Shushoin Temple is surrounded by a pink-colored wall, with an image of a god carrying a big sack. This is the god Hoteison, who is characterized by his big belly and large sack.
On the wall, there are drawings of Hoteison for every season
At Shushoin Temple, you can actually enter the hall and see Hoteison. Since shoes are strictly prohibited, I took my shoes off at the designated place and entered to see the figure of Hoteison!
Since the chief priest said that photography is allowed I decided to take a picture of Hoteison. The relaxed posture of the large wooden statue of the smiling Hoteison, seemed like a representation of his big heart.
The statue of Hoteison in relaxed posture
The area around Shushoin Temple and Seiunji Temple was much-loved in the Edo Period by residents, as a sight-seeing spot in the vicinity of Edo. This area used to be called Higurashi no Sato, meaning a village of sunset (The current town name, Nippori, is said to be based on this history). It was always crowded with many tourists, since you would not get bored even if you stay there until sunset. Shushoin Temple was also loved as a cherry-blossom viewing temple, just like Seiunji Temple. There used to be a Myoryuji Temple right beside, but this temple was merged with Shushoin Temple in the Meiji period.
The Main hall of Shushoin Temple
④Jyurojin (Choanji Temple)
Next, I walked toward Nippori Station, headed for Choanji, where I will find Jyuroujin, the god of longevity.
Along the way, I saw the famous Yanaka Ginza Shopping Street, but I didn’t stop there. Instead, I climbed up the stairs, called ‘Yuyake Dandan’ and headed for Choanji Temple. You may even want to combine a visit to Yanesen with your tour of the 7 Lucky Gods. This will allow yourself a chance to explore the shopping street and treat yourself to food and shopping, along with a short break.
Yanaka Ginza Shopping Mall that you will see along the way
After I walked a narrow residential street, I saw Choanji Temple on the corner. Choanji is a temple of the Myoshinji sect of Rinza Buddhism. It was approximately a 13-minute walk from the previous Shushoin. Having walked through its small precincts with some tomb stones, there is a hall entrance. Here, you enter the hall, take off your shoes, and see the statue of Jyurojin.
Choanji Temple in the residential area
The Main Hall of Choanji Temple. There is a cemetery in front of it.
If you receive the stamp from the temple, they will give you the pamphlet that contains the legend and the origin of how Jyurojin was enshrined in this temple. This statue was said to be dedicated to the temple by the Shogun, Ieyasu Tokugawa. It is made of parquet sculpture, built to the size of a grown adult.
You will also see the tombstone of Hogai Kano, an artist belonging to the Kano School, in the cemetery of Choanji Temple.
⑤Bishamonten (Tennoji Temple)
After leaving Choanji Temple, a quick walk leads to Yanaka Cemetery, very close to Nippori Station. A 6-minute walk through the calming serenity of this path, adorned with cherry blossoms on both sides, leads to the next destination, Tennoji Temple.
Yanaka Cemetery, the cherry blossom avenue will show up in spring.
Tennoji Temple has a very solemn atmosphere. The main hall is an structure with an antiquated design, imitating the Jyurinin Temple in Nara. There is a perfect harmony of the conservative architecture of the temple and the modern design of the gate.
The impressive modern design of the gate of Tennoji Temple
Currently, Tennoji Temple belongs to the Tendai sect, but originally it belonged to the Nichiren sect, and was called Choyozan-Kannoji-Sonchoin Temple. In the Edo period, "Tomikuji", the old version of a lottery, was held in this temple and gathered many people. Due to its popularity, this place used to be called "Edo-Santomi", meaning ”Three Fortunes of Edo", alongside Megurofudo Ryusenji Temple and Yushimatenmangu Shrine.
You will find the statue of Amida Nyorai in the main hall as well, but our purpose is the Tour of 7 Lucky Gods. Our target, Bishamonten is enshrined in the small hall, Bishamon-do, located across from the main hall.
Bishamon Hall in Tennoji Temple
On the door of Bishamon hall is written the mantra, “On Bei Shramaoya Sowaka.”. This mantra is written in Sanskrit and dedicated to Bishamonten. Some temples have a different version of the mantra, spoken as “On Beishraman Daya Sowaka”, due to the dialect.
The mantra means the true words of Buddha, and grants good luck upon chanting them. How many times you repeat the mantra doesn’t matter, but 3 times, 7 times and 21 times are supposed to be the most preferable. There are some temples that designate a specific number of repetitions, but Tennoji Temple doesn’t have a rule.
⑥Daikokuten (Gokokuin Temple)
So far, it’s taken me about an hour to get to this point. From here, I will head for the last 2 temples. Since it takes about 20 minutes on foot to get to each temple, I recommend you take a break somewhere in the middle of this tour.
The main hall of Gokokuin Temple
Next, I headed for Gokokuin Temple that enshrines ”Daikokuten", popularly called "Daikoku-sama". It actually took about 17 minutes on foot to get here from the Tennoji Shrine.
I can feel the long history from the wooden main hall that survived a fire. I heard that when it was first built as a sub-temple of Toueizan-Kaneiji Temple in 1625, it was extremely gorgeous. I was told that as of 1625, when Gokokuin was built as a sub-temple to Toueizan-Kaneiji Temple, its appearance was the pinnacle of majestic beauty.
Here, again I entered into the main hall, taking off my shoes. The interior of the hall was spacious, so I could easily imagine that this used to be a luxurious temple. I located the statue of Daikokuten, donated to the temple by the 3rd Commander in Chief of the Tokugawa Feudal Government, Iemitsu Tokugawa.
Now I head for the final spot of The Yanaka Tour of 7 Lucky Gods, the Shinobazunoike-Bentendo Temple. This temple enshrines Benzaiten, the only Goddess among the 7 Gods. It took about 20 minutes from Gokokuin Temple. I walked down the side road of Ueno Zoo and arrived at The Shinobazuno Pond where the Benzaido Temple is located. From there, I could see the entrance of Ueno Zoo just next to it.
The entrance of Ueno Zoo
Although Shinobazu Pond was covered with dried-up lotus leaves as of the time of my visit, summertime will bring their dainty pink flowers to a full bloom across the pond, creating a sight that makes this a popular lotus-viewing location. At the back of the pond, you’ll find beautiful Bentendo Temple, belonging to the Tendaishu-Toeizan-Kaneiji School of Buddhism.
Because of its location within Ueno Park, it was the most crowded with visitors than any of the other temples I toured.
Benzaido Temple at the Shinobazu Pond
Benzaiten is known as the goddess of music and performance arts, holding and holds a Japanese lute. However, this particular Benzaiten is "Happi-benzaiten". That means she has 8 arms to hold weapons like a sword, a club and a bow in her hands in order to destroy worldly passions. Among the Yanaka 7 Lucky Gods, Benzaiten is the only goddess who will not be exhibited between January 1st and 10th, and instead during the Minarukane Grand Festival in September.
Offering of little wooden charm for prayers shaped like a Japanese lute related to Benzaiten
After dedicating a prayer, I received the temple’s red-stamp at the outside tent. I have now collected all of the stamps, and completed the Tour of Yanaka 7 Lucky Gods!
After completing the tour, I recommend that you enjoy the Ueno Zoo, relax at Ueno Park, or take a break at a nearby café.
The goal is Ueno Station, Shinobazu exit
By the end of my tour, my total walking time was 2 hours, over a distance of 6km and 5 stations. The tour was my focus, and I didn’t make any extra stops at all, but I recommend you relax and take a break here and there, such as at a Soba restaurant or cafe, and take it slowly. You could even divide the tour to two separate days for an even more leisurely experience.
This area of the tour is called "Yanesen", and it retains an atmosphere of a quaint old town. This area has a lot of history and culture to offer, so consider spending some time here too! You will be assisted by the many signs that tell about the history and the architectures along the way.
The signage describing the sightseeing spots (This one is for old Yoshida liquor shop )
Fukue (Good luck Picture) that you should get during your Tour of Yanaka 7 Lucky Gods
You can collect red stamps in your stampbook, but you can also purchase the special Japanese paper-made card, sold for ¥1200 at each temple (These are pre-stamped with their respective temples’ goshuin seals). At the center of this card, you will find a picture of the 7 Gods in the midst of a cheerful discussion. The names of all the gods are printed around the picture.
The good-luck card with the picture of the 7 Lucky Gods. Purchased at Togakuji Temple
If you purchase this card, you can receive stamps on the corresponding name of the god, at a cost of ¥200 at each temple. If you choose to receive stamps in your own stampbook, the stamp fee will be ¥500 at each temple.
The completed card with all 7 temples’ stamps looks like it would attract luck just by being displayed! To protect the card, it is better to roll it up, not fold it. I suggest you bring a cylinder-shaped case so that you don’t have to fold the card.
If you purchase the card, you will also receive the large tour map of the 7 Lucky Gods. If you forget to pick up the map at Tabata Station, you can use this map on your tour.
The map comes with Fukue
What kind of Gods are the 7 Lucky Gods?
Lastly, I would like to tell you what kinds of gods these 7 gods are. I will introduce the gods, one at a time, that have been worshipped in Japan since ancient times.
The image often evoked by the 7 Lucky Gods is the cheerful sight of them sailing together in a treasure ship. This image is said to originate from the drawing that the shogun, Ieyasu Tokugawa ordered Tanyu Kano, an artist of Kano School to draw. It is said that this image implies that even if you are hit by the rough waves of life, as long as you have a faith in the 7 Gods and be are blessed by their 7 virtues, you will be able to overcome them.
Daikokuten holds a lucky mallet and a big sack. He is sometimes depicted as a figure sitting on a straw rice bag. Daikokuten originates from the Mahakala, an incarnation of the Hindu god of destruction and creation, Shiva. Daikokuten is also a god of earth, and is said to grant fortune and abundant harvest.
Fukurokujyu is characterized by a long head and beard. He is often pictured with cranes and turtles, symbols of longevity in Japan. He is said to grant health, longevity, prosperity of descendants, and respect from others.
Fukurokujyu originated from a hermit worshipped in China, and is the incarnation of Canopus. The name was derived from the 3 virtues in Taoism : “Fuku”, meaning prosperity of descendants, “Roku” meaning prosperity, and “Jyu” meaning longevity.
Among all the 7 Lucky Gods, Benzaiten is the only goddess. She is the Hindu goddess of water, Sarasvati, from East Indian mythology. Benzaiten is pictured as a beautiful figure holding a Japanese lute.z
As this image shows, she is supposed to grant good luck with success in music and other performance arts. Her blessings also extend to good luck with money, prosperity, academic success and increased charm. Her name is also spelt as being talented, in Japanese.
Bishamonten originates from the Hindu god Kubera, and is also called Tamonten. He was originally worshipped as a god of treasure in India, but he became a god of war in Japan. He is shown as a masculine figure in armor, holding a pike and a sword in his hands. He has been also worshipped by commanders of samurai warriors since he is said to grant martial fortune.
Ebisu is the only god of the seven who originates from Japan. It is said that he is Hirukonomikoto, who was born from Izanaginomikoto and Izanaminomikoto of Japanese mythology. He is depicted holding a fishing rod in his right hand and a big sea bream in his left hand.
In most of the pictures, he bears a big smile. He is famous as a god of fishery and farming, and is said to grant good luck and prosperity in business, fishery and farming.
Jyurojin is an incarnation of the southern polar star, and is pictured as an old man with a beard, just like Fukurokujyu. He is accompanied by a deer and holds a fan and peach, both of which are symbols of longevity. Jyurojin once used to be regarded as another name for Fukurokujyu, and was excluded from the member of the 7 Gods. Currently, he is worshipped as a god governing longevity, health and good luck.
Hoteison is a god bearing a gentle smile and a big belly. He is generally described as holding a big sack and lovingly called Hotei-sama. There are different versions of his origin, but the most popular one is Shakukaishi, a Chinese legendary figure and incarnation of Maitreya. His sack is for holding treasures, said to be handed out to the faithful people. Hoteison is a god of money and good luck.
Let’s wish good luck for the coming year by the Tour of Yanaka 7 Lucky Gods!
Throughout this tour, at every temple, I was welcomed by the head priests with kind voices of ‘Thank you for coming,’ and ‘Take care!’ with gentle smiles. I enjoyed these heartwarming experiences as I toured the Yanaka 7 Lucky Gods. Why don’t you experience this same tour, practiced since the Edo period, to wish for yourself good fortune for the whole coming year? I suggest you get your own Fukue, a good luck picture that you won’t be able to get any other time of the year!