Religious Beliefs

Who are some of the principal Shinto male deities, apart from those mentioned in the primal myth?

Hachiman, generally identified as the kami of war, is near the top of the pantheon. It is no surprise that he often appears in painting and sculpture as armed and dangerous. But some of the most famous images portray Hachiman as a meditating monk or a solicitous Bodhisattva. Almost half of all officially listed Shinto shrines—some fifty thousand or more—honor Hachiman.

A curious grouping called the “Seven Gods of Good Luck” (shichi-fuku-jin) brings together figures of mixed background. Daikoku (sometimes called Daikoku-ten) hails from India, mythologically speaking, and probably traveled to Japan with an early influential Buddhist founder named Saicho. Daikoku is associated with accomplishment of one’s goals and with wealth. Stone statues show a jovial bruiser with a sack over one shoulder, sitting on bales of rice and wielding a mallet with which he grants wishes. Also a god of prosperity, Ebisu is popular especially in fishing villages, rice farms, and local marketplaces. Ebisu is deaf and fails to hear deities being called together for his own October celebration! Like Daikoku, Bishamon (also Bishamon-ten) is of Indian origin. In the Hindu pantheon he was one of the four heavenly guardians, presiding over the north. In Buddhist as well as Shinto iconography, Bishamon is heavily armed and holds a miniature pagoda in his left hand as a symbol of his authority. Fuku-roku-ju, who originated in Daoism, stands for happiness, fortune, and long life, as his name indicates. When depicted in the arts he looks very much like his Chinese counterpart, Shou Lao, generally accompanied by a crane or deer. Like the next God of Good Luck, Jurojin, he also has a walking stick to which he has attached a sacred text. Jurojin is another patron of longevity of Daoist origin. Hotei, likewise drawn from the Daoist pantheon, stands for happiness and wealth. Benzaiten, also known as Benten, is the lone female of the bunch.

The septet of good fortune kami have been a favorite subject for popular and charming miniature carvings called Netsuke. A large number of kami are associated with forces of nature. Fujin, kami of wind, carries a large bag, and his companion kami of thunder, the menacing red-faced Raijin (or Raiden), holds a massive drum. A generic group of minor deities called dosojin protect travelers ever since Izanagi brought them into being upon his return from the underworld. A kami called Koshin is one protector of travelers, but some also identify him with farming. His three monkey partners have become popular as “See no evil, hear no evil, do no evil.” Kami keep watch over every conceivable feature of ordinary life. Suijin, a god of water, guards wells and other water sources, for water is the principal means of purification and an essential of life.

Stone statue of Daikoku-ten, one of the seven kami of good fortune. A length of shimenawa girds his pedestal, where he kneels on two bales of rice, holds a sack over his left shoulder, and wields his wish-granting mallet in his right hand.


This is a web preview of the "The Handy Religion Answer Book" app. Many features only work on your mobile device. If you like what you see, we hope you will consider buying. Get the App