Written by Hilary Keyes
Make Your Own Luck! Visit The Seven Deities Of Good Fortune
Have you ever heard of "Shichifukujin", the Seven Deities of Good Luck? Visiting the temples and shrines dedicated to them is said to bring blessings and good fortune. One of the areas in Tokyo where such a tour can be performed is Azabu in Minato ward.
In Japan, going on a pilgrimage is thought of as a method to boost one's luck. You could try visiting the 88 temples and shrines in Shikoku, or make the journey to Kumano Hongū Taisha in Wakayama prefecture but these options can take a very long time to fully complete.
Those who want to change their luck as soon as possible should look no further than the Shichifukujin meguri or Visiting the Seven Lucky Gods. This sort of pilgrimage requires you to walk to different places where the deities of good fortune are enshrined. It usually takes anywhere from two to six hours to complete.
I decided to stick to a route that would take about three hours and have me visit eight different locations, all within Tokyo's Minato ward, where you can see the best of modern and old Japan in exciting places like Roppongi and Azabu Jūban. I started my tour in Azabu, looped around to the different spots and finished in Nishi-Azabu.
Unsure of what the weather might have in store, I left in the morning and brought lots of water and sports drinks with me; ending up in the hospital with heatstroke seemed counter-intuitive on a walk meant to improve my luck. So, with my step counter set to zero and my most comfortable walking shoes on, I set off.
But first! Who Are the Seven Lucky Gods?
The seven lucky gods - called Shichifukujin in Japanese - are sacred figures from Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist and Shintō traditions that were originally worshiped separately but over time came to be associated together, first as patron deities of different careers, then as representations of the virtues. Their names in Japanese are as follows: Bishamonten, Daikokuten, Benzaiten, Ebisu, Hotei, Fukurokuju and Jurōjin. Allow me to introduce them one by one, while visiting the shrines and temples dedicated to them.
Hikawa Shrine in Moto-Azabu
Hikawa Jinja is a shrine boasting a long history, located uphill from Azabu Jūban Station. Surrounded by luxury apartment buildings and massive Western-style homes, it almost seems strange that such a traditional shrine could be located here.
Hikawa Shrine is dedicated to Bishamonten, the god of fortune in battles. Associated with authority and dignity, he is considered the protector of rule followers. Bishamonten is always depicted wearing armor, and is the most intimidating-looking of the Seven Lucky Gods.
On a side note, fans of the anime series Sailor Moon might recognize this shrine as it was the inspiration for Rei/Sailor Mars' home in the original series. This and the rumor that prayers regarding love relationships get granted here are some of the reasons why it is the favorite shrine of many young women.
Daihōji Temple in Moto-Azabu
Heading back towards the station area takes you onto a different slope, one that is much older and more Japanese in appearance than that surrounding Hikawa Shrine. On your way you will find Daihōji Temple, which was first built in 1597. Not only a temple, but also a family residence, if you look at the left of the picture just beyond the bulletin board, you can just see the edge of a basketball net.
The god Daikokuten is housed at Daihōji Temple, and is a combination of the Buddhist interpretation of the Hindu god Shiva and the Shintō god, Ōkuninushi. Daikokuten is the god of wealth, commerce and prosperity, patron deity of cooks, farmers and bankers, and the protector of crops. Depicted carrying a mallet and bag full of lucky items, Daikokuten is also believed to be a demon-hunter of sorts.
Jūban Inari Shrine in Azabu Jūban
Closest to Azabu Jūban station, Jūban Inari Shrine is a shrine that has been built and rebuilt numerous times over the years, the current building dating from 1997.
One of the first things you will see here are these large frog statues, which are part of the Gamaike legend. According to the legend, while a great fire was raging, a large frog rose up from a pond and sprayed water everywhere, dousing the flames. If you pour water over these two frog statues, you are said to be protected from fire or danger in the future. These frogs also have a second meaning. Kaeru the Japanese word for frog also means 'to return', so making an offering here is meant to bring back something that you have lost.
Although it is an Inari shrine, this shrine has a statue of the Takarabune (宝船) or treasure ship that the Shichifukujin are often depicted riding in. Based on a legendary ship from China, there is also some speculation that the lucky gods are intended to be riding on the waves of fortune, which rise and fall.
If you feel like taking a break at this point, you are very close to the newly opened Snoopy Museum, which has a great little cafe inside. At this point in my walk I was still feeling pretty good, so I continued onwards to Azabudai.
Kumano Shrine in Azabudai
Not that far from Kamiyachō and Akabanebashi stations, you will find Kumano Shrine, located between two very modern apartment buildings. Actually, the shrine office, shop and even the chōzuya (ritual purification fountain) take up the first floor of one of the buildings.
The original building is believed to have been built between 714-724 AD but all records of the shrine were destroyed in a fire in 1703; the shrine location itself has been found on various maps from the Edo era. If you stand back from the entrance to the shrine, you can see Tokyo Tower in the distance.
Ebisu is the god enshrined at Kumano Shrine. The original Japanese god among the Shichifukujin, Ebisu is the god of prosperity and abundance (especially when it comes to food), and is the patron deity of fishermen. He is typically depicted in traditional fishermen's garb and carrying a large fish.
Hōjuin Temple in Shiba Park
Hōjuin Temple is an 8 minute walk from Kumano Shrine and about a 10-15 minute walk from the base of Tokyo Tower. Although less well-maintained than the other sites on this walk, Hōjuin Temple really gives a better sense of what temples in the past were like.
Hōjuin Temple houses the only goddess of the Shichifukujin: Benzaiten, the patron deity of the arts. Here you will find a moss-covered statue of a great snake, her divine messenger, and Benten-ike, a sacred pond dedicated to Benzaiten.
Hisakuni Shrine in Roppongi
On my way from Shiba Park to Roppongi, I got lost and ended up in the wrong area entirely. Walking confused past embassy security multiple times, one kind guard finally pointed me in the right direction and I made it to Hisakuni Shrine.
Located on a quiet side street behind some small businesses and apartment buildings, Hisakuni Shrine has a small community park on its grounds, which makes sense when you consider that its deity, Hotei, is the guardian of children, god of happiness and popularity, as well as the patron of diviners and bartenders.
Tenso Shrine in Roppongi
Walking back along this way may seem rather familiar to you now; you're actually not that far from Hikawa Shrine where we began our walk. In the area around Tenso Shrine there are many other shrines and temples; you could easily spend an entire day just visiting all of them.
According to legend, the votive light of this shrine was lit by a dragon during its founding and as a result you will find dragon statues throughout the grounds. A prominent one sits on the chōzuya, but if you look around you will find even more hidden away. Fukurokuju, the god of happiness, longevity and wealth is enshrine here; he is easily recognized by his "tall" head and arms tucked inside his sleeves.
From the front entrance, this shrine looks like any other, but if you leave through the back, you will find yourself surrounded by ultra-modern buildings and about a 5 minute walk from the National Art Center of Tokyo.
Sakurada Shrine in Nishi Azabu
The last stop, a 20-30 minute walk from Tenso Shrine, puts me almost right back to where I started. Sakurada Shrine was originally built in 1180 in Kasumigaseki, but was moved and rededicated in Nishi Azabu in 1624. You can find this shrine depicted in ink-paintings and ukiyo-e prints throughout Japanese history.
This shrine is dedicated to the god Jurōjin who is quite similar to Fukurokuju in that he is also a god of longevity and the elderly. However, Jurōjin is depicted in traditional Chinese clothing and often with a deer or other animals representing long life.
This completes our Shichifukujin meguri tour in the Azabu area. Feeling any luckier yet?
In my case, it was easier to travel via Azabu station, but if you want to take another route, you could start out at Hisakuni Shrine, near Roppongi-itchōme station. While walking in this area, many interesting things will catch your eye, such as this statue of Kannon Boddhisatva.
If you are planning on taking this walk, you might also want to invest in a goshuin-chō, the special notebook used for collecting goshuin or shrine visitation seals. Unfortunately, the day I took this tour was a national holiday, so most of the shrine and temple shops were closed.
How many steps do you think one takes during this walk? For me, I managed 16,746. (Getting lost added a few thousand to my total, no doubt.) I feel pretty proud of myself for completing this tour, so hopefully this means my luck has changed for the better. How about giving it a try? You will surely enjoy both the legendary background of these temples and shrines, and the elegant area of Azabu.
Azabu Shichifukujin meguri - Seven Lucky Gods Walking Map