January 6, 2008. The day dawned bright & clean in old
Edo (Tokyo) - well, I assume the dawn was bright & clear because that's how
it was when I awoke at 07:30 to begin preparations for our pilgrimage to the
six different shrines & temples we need to visit today to gather our
collection of the 7 lucky gods.
90 minutes & three trains after leaving home we met
our friends, Michael & Chikako, at Horikiri train station, which is waaayyy
over on the other side of Tokyofrom where we live. From there we set off
on our course along the Sumida River to find our seven
little friends who are going to bring us all good fortune & good luck in
this new year. The pilgrimage trail we chose to follow was devised in 1804 by
Sawara Kiku, a retired curio dealer & a man who liked to dabble in Chinese
culture. Sawara owned land in the vicinity that he had turned into a garden,
Hyakkaen. He installed a small statue of the Chinese deity Fukurokuju. Once
this task was completed he searched the temples and shrines in the vicinity to
complete the set of the lucky seven gods and so the pilgrimage was born.
Stop one was at the Tamon Temple
(Tamonji). Tamon is another name for Bishamon, the Lucky Deity of this temple.
Bishamon/Tamon is known as a protector of Buddhism from evil forces and he also
serves as the guardian of the other six Deities of Good Fortune. Tamonji Temple stands in the northern part of
Mukojima, which means the "Side Yonder of the River," and therefore
acts as the protector of the area. The temple sports a nice thatched gate, the
only one left in the whole of the metropolis.
Before we got to the next stop we spotted what must be
the original JC Penney - can't be anything but, right(!), given the locale
& the age of some of these temples? Not sure what they sell since they were
closed (it was Sunday), but gotta wonder about that name!
Next stop, Shirahige (White Whiskers) Jinja (Shrine),
where we bought (yep, they actually do NOT give these little statues away)
Jurojin, the deity of longevity. Shirhige is a deity of Korean origin. However,
he is not one of the 7 gods of good fortune, but like Jurojin he sports a long
white beard so the two are easily associated with each other. Jurojin was
originally a Chinese god of longevity and he also carries a long staff and is
dressed in the clothes of a scholar.
From there we headed for Hyakkaen (of Mr. Sawara Kiku
fame, noted above). The garden area covers about 3 acres and the plants and
flowers of the garden were all selected based on association with Chinese
literature. This is because of the Chinese centered interests during the Edo period, whichi was the era when this garden was completed.
There is a small shrine in the garden dedicated to Fukurokuju, the Chinese
deity of Good Luck, Fortune and Long Life.
Out of Hyakkaen we spotted this baby (doll) in a glass
case (see the pictures). We figured they probably were not selling babies
there, but we had to walk around the corner to find out that the place is
actually for maternity yoga and baby massage courses. Ah well, at least it is
an eye catching display!
On to Chomeiji, the temple of long life and the home of
Benten, the only female of the 7 lucky gods. Benten is the deity of music and
fine arts. She is not of Chinese origin, but harks back to an Indian water
sprite. Chomeiji also has a link with water and there is a sacred spring on the
grounds. It is purported that the water from this spring cured Iemitsu, who was
the third Tokugawa Shogun (war lord) of a stomach ailment. Yep, we drank the
water, so the old tummies should be in great shape for this new year of the rat
(according to the Chinese Zodiac).
A short 50 meters from Chomeiji put us at Kofukuji, a
Chinese style temple that was founded in 1673 although the present day
buildings were done in 1933 after the destruction of the 1923 earthquake. This
temple houses Hotei, the jolly Chinese priest with a huge belly and a big
smile. Hotei is the god of happiness and contentment. He dispenses gifts from
his treasure bag - sort of the Chinese Santa Claus!
We're almost there - the last stop on the pilgrimage -
which is Mimeguri Jinja. Mimeguri was founded in the 14th century, but its
history goes even further back. However, the central structure that stands
there today was built in 1850. This shrine possesses two of the 7 lucky gods.
Ebisu is the patron of fishermen, commerce, and good fortunre and carries a
fishing rod as well as his catch, a large sea bream. Daikoku, the god of
wealth, farmers, and the kitchen is a mingling of an Indian god and the
Japanese Okuninushi. He stands on rice bales and carries a mallet that he uses
to scatter money around. Both gods are very cheerful and extremely popular in Japan.
Now we have our 7 gods and we even have the boat, their
treasure craft, that they sail into the harbor every New Year's eve.
Finishing off our tour we decided to take a different
route home so we boarded the water taxi in Asakusa and floated (powered of
course) on down the Sumida River to Hinode Pier which is at the mouth of the
river. From there a couple of trains rides later we were back home &
putting our 7 lucky gods into their treasure craft where they are working hard
to bring their treasures of health, wealth, good fortune, and happiness to us
and all of our friends throughout this year.