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Japanese Gods and Goddesses

By Gekko Ogata 1859-1920

Gekko's Essay - Founding Gods

Gekko's Essay - Founding Gods

This article is the continuation of Japanese Mythology and introduces a few more of the Japanese gods and goddesses like the sennin Tobosaku and other strange beings like the Shishi dog.

God Izanagi and Goddess Izanami

God Izanagi and Goddess Izanami were married to each other. Izanami could give birth to anything. One day she created the island of Japan. Izanami died when she gave birth to the god of fire from deadly burns during labor. By then she had given birth to 14 islands and 35 gods.

God Izanagi was desperate about the loss of his beloved companion and went down to the underworld to search for Izanami. He also found her. Izanami told Izanagi to wait for her. But he should not turn his head and try to look at her until she would be back.

Guess what - of course, the guy did not do what his wife told him and followed her instead. In the palace of the underworld he found her in an appalling condition. Terrified, God Izanagi ran away and blocked the entrance to the underworld with a huge rock so that his wife could not follow him.

The story has a striking similarity to the old Greek legend of Orpheus and Eurydice. Do both legends have a common root or did the Greek story, that is at least 2,500 years old come to Japan one day?

Sennin

Sennin are immortals living in the mountains - some kind of hermits. They are capable of a lot of magic tricks like flying on an animal in the air. Sennin may appear mortals in their dreams. There are about 500 of them. Like in life, only a few of the sennin are frequently mentioned and depicted. The rest belongs to the "silent majority". By the way, the Japanese mythology knows not only male but female sennin as well. Here are the best known - the sennin celebrities.

Seiobo

Seiobo is also called the "Queen Mother of the West". She cultivates a garden of peach trees that blossom only every 1000 years. However one of these peaches eaten, gives eternal life.

Tobosaku

Tobosaku is the bad guy in the Japanese mythology who stole not only one, but three peaches out of Seibo's garden. So he became immortal. No wonder that Tobosaku is always shown as an old man, with a broad smile and a peach in his hand. Happy old man!

Gama-Sennin

Gama is a benign sage with a lot of magical knowledge about pills and drugs. He is always accompanied by a toad and he can assume the shape of a toad. He could also change his skin and become young again.

Chokaro

Chokaro traveled a lot and had an elegant solution to the transportation problem. He had a magic pumpkin. He only had to blow into the pumpkin and out of it came a horse. Chokaro therefore is always shown with a pumpkin of which a horse is peeping out.

Shishi

Shishi is a funny-looking being - something like a dog wanting to be a lion. The origins of the shishi character are in China. Shishi dogs are the equivalent of the Chinese foo dog. Shishi were posted right and left of temple and house entrances as guardians. They can also be found on roofs.

Shishi dogs are depicted either with their mouth open (to scare off the evil demons) or with their mouth closed (to keep the good spirits in). The thing that they hold in their hands, which looks like a globe, is called a tama, the Buddhist jewel. A shishi really looks like the perfect watch dog, sorry - watch lion.

The Seven Gods of Luck

In the Japanese language, the seven gods of luck are called Shichi Fukujin, which means "seven happiness beings".

Benten

The Goddess of luck, love, eloquence, wisdom and the fine arts. Benten is the patron of the geishas and the art folks. She is shown with eight arms riding on a dragon.

Bishamon

Bishamon is the patron of the warriors. Therefore he is shown in full armor with a spear in his hand.

Daikoku

He is the god of wealth and the patron of the farmers. His attributes are a sack of rice and rats and he is shown as a fat man (for prosperity and wealth).

Ebisu

Ebisu is the son of Daikoku and the patron of the fishermen. He is shown with a huge carp and a rod for fishing. He was worshipped by the fishermen and had a temple in the coastal region near Osaka.

Fukurokuju

The god of wisdom, good luck and longevity. He is shown with a very high forehead. Mostly he is accompanied with a stag, a symbol of longevity, sometimes by a tortoise and a crane.

Hotei

Like Daikoku, he stands for wealth. But he is also the god of laughter and happiness by being content with what you have. He is depicted as a laughing fat man with a bag of rice over his shoulders and kids. On some pictures, he is shown sitting in a cart drawn by children.

Jurojin

The god of longevity and happiness in your old days. The attributes in his company are a tortoise and a crane. And he is depicted with a smile on his face. Another happy old man!

Dieter WanczuraAuthor: Dieter Wanczura