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Talefeathers: The Latitude 35 Blog

Seven Lucky Gods Walking Tour in Tokyo

A Japanese New Year's tradition that will bring you good luck!

I no longer make New Year's resolutions, but boy, could I use all the luck I can get! After all, someone's gotta win the lottery, right?!

Having spent so much time in Japan, I'm always looking for things to do that are off the beaten path, unique, and non-touristy. The Yamanote Seven Lucky Gods walking tour fit the bill perfectly.

There are several of these walks all over Japan; I chose the one across Minato-ku and Meguro-ku, two of Tokyo's central wards. As soon as possible in the new year, you visit seven lucky gods at seven different temples — or in this case, six temples, as this walk includes a two-for-one.

The seven lucky gods wooden dolls

The Seven Lucky Gods (Shichifukujin), L>R: Bishamonten, Hotei, Jurojin, Fukurokuju, Daikokuten, Benzaiten, and Ebisu.

The Seven Lucky Gods, or Shichifukujin, are a group of deities from Japanese folklore who are believed to bring good fortune. Each god has its own unique origins, often drawing from Buddhist, Shinto, and Hindu traditions, and they are celebrated for their ability to grant various types of luck, from longevity and wealth to happiness and wisdom (yes, please!).

Following is the route I took, along with descriptions of the gods and temples at each stop. I recommend about two to three hours to do the walk, giving you some time to explore each of the unique temples. You can buy the dolls (daruma-style in this case) and the platform (as pictured above) and/or stamps (goshuin) for about 500 yen at each stop. Each one has a hole drilled on the bottom that contains a fortune, which you can try to read with Google Translate.

Kakurin-ji (Seishoukō) temple

1. Bishamonten at Kakurin-ji (Seishoukō)

Bishamonten is the god of warriors and defense against evil, representing authority and dignity. He is derived from the Hindu god Vaiśravaṇa and is often depicted in armor, holding a spear in one hand and a small pagoda in the other, which symbolizes treasure. Bishamonten is not only called upon for physical protection but also for spiritual strength, guiding individuals to overcome obstacles and achieve success. Virtue: dignity.

Kakurin-ji is a temple of the Nichirin sect. It was founded in 1631, with the current main building constructed in 1865, and honors Kiyomasa Katō, a daimyo and military leader who captured Seoul and Busan in the Seven-Year (Imjin) War. He also gruesomely banned Christianity from Japan. The architecture of Kakurin-ji reflects the typical aesthetic of Buddhist temples in Japan. It emphasizes simplicity and serenity in both its exterior and interior design.

Zen garden featuring a lone cherry tree in the middle of a pool at Zuishō-ji

2. Hotei at Zuishō-ji

Hotei is the god of happiness, abundance, and good health, known for his large belly and jovial smile. Often identified with the future Buddha, Maitreya, Hotei carries a cloth sack that never empties, from which he distributes gifts to the faithful. His likeness is a common sight in many homes and businesses, where he is revered as a bringer of contentment and bountiful fortune. Virtue: happiness.

Zuishō-ji was established in 1670 for the practice of the Ōbaku sect of Zen Buddhism. It was severely damaged by fires in 1726 and 1745, but was restored in the 19th century. Its layout includes meticulously designed, modern Zen gardens, part of a renovation its 350-year anniversary. That was my favorite part — the intermingling of ancient and modern. The architecture incorporates elements meant to aid in meditation and spiritual practice, with clean lines and minimal ornamentation. It was designed by Kengo Kuma, who also designed the Japan National Stadium in Tokyo for the 2020 Summer Olympics.

The interior of Myōen-ji, with lots of gold and lacquer embellishment

3. Jurojin & Fukurokuju at Myōen-ji

Jurojin is the god of longevity and the elderly, sharing many attributes with Fukurokuju, including being depicted with a deer or a crane. However, Jurojin is distinct for his association with the southern star and his role as the protector of the aged. He is revered for his wisdom and is said to be a lover of wine, embodying the joys of a long life well-lived. Virtue: wisdom.

Fukurokuju is the god of wisdom, wealth, and longevity, easily recognized by his high forehead and long white beard. He is said to be an incarnation of the Taoist deity Hsien, and his image is often accompanied by a turtle, crane, or deer, all symbols of long life. Fukurokuju is venerated for his ability to bestow longevity upon his followers, as well as for his deep knowledge and insight. Virtue: longevity.

Myōen-ji is austere on the outside and ornate on the inside. This Nichiren Buddhism temple was founded in 1620 and rebuilt in 1954 after being destroyed in WWII. The structural elements of Myōen-ji, from its gate to the main hall, highlight the use of natural materials and the importance of harmony with nature.

Statues of girls, little Buddhas, a gold buddha, bodhisattvas and dragons at Daien-ji

4. Daikokuten at Daien-ji

Daikokuten is the god of wealth, commerce, and trade. Originating from the Hindu deity Mahākāla, Daikokuten's adaptation into Japanese culture sees him holding a magical mallet of fortune and standing over bags of rice, symbolizing agricultural prosperity and financial success. He is often worshipped by those seeking to improve their financial situation, making him one of the most popular deities among business owners. Virtue: fortune.

Daien-ji was founded in the early 17th century and, though features statues of all seven lucky gods, it's dedicated to Daikokuten. It is most renowned for being the starting point of the Great Fire of Meireki. The temple houses several memorial stones and monuments dedicated to the victims of the fire. There's a statue of a little monk with a cooking pot on his head to take heat away from fire. Daien-ji was my second favorite because there were so many small shrines and statues to look at.

The cave at Banryū-ji, showing a small altar

5. Benzaiten at Banryū-ji

Benzaiten is the only female among the Seven Lucky Gods, and she presides over everything that flows: water, words, music, knowledge, and eloquence. Derived from the Hindu goddess Saraswati, Benzaiten is frequently depicted with a biwa (a Japanese traditional lute) or a white snake, embodying beauty, artistry, and wisdom. She is a patron of the arts and scholars, often invoked by those pursuing knowledge or creative endeavors. Virtue: joy.

Banryū-ji, translated as Temple of the Sheltered Dragon, is a small temple founded in 1648. The temple architecture is a blend of traditional Japanese temple design with influences from various Buddhist architectural styles. My favorite thing here was the mini cave. It's smaller than it looks, only about 3 feet high.

The red-painted Ryūsen-ji

6. Ebisu at Ryūsen-ji

Ebisu is traditionally regarded as the god of fishermen and luck, often depicted carrying a sea bream under his arm, a symbol of abundance and prosperity. As one of the only native Shinto gods in the group, Ebisu is especially revered by those seeking success in business and good fortune in their daily endeavors. His cheerful demeanor and association with the sea reflect the hope for a bountiful catch and safe travels over water. Virtue: honesty.

Ryūsen-ji (a.k.a. Meguro Fudoson, translated as Black-Eyed Fudō), was my overall favorite because it was filled with so much art. It is the oldest temple on this pilgrimage, founded in 808, with the current building constructed in 1981. The temple is dedicated to Fudō Myō a deity in Japanese Buddhism known for protection. The name of the neighborhood, Meguro, comes from this statue. Its red paint reminds me more of shrine style.

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And that concludes the Yamanote Seven Lucky Gods walking tour! I hope to hear good news from the lottery commission any minute now! :-)

Which god and temple are your favorites?

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PS: Looking for something to do afterwards? I recommend a stop at the fascinating Meguro Parasitological Museum!

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