The Seven Patrons Of Happiness

: Japanese Fairy World

Every child knows who the Shichi fuku Fin or seven Patrons of Happiness

are. They have charge of Long Life, Riches, Daily Food, Contentment,

Talents, Glory, and Love. Their images carved in ivory, wood, stone, or

cast in bronze are found in every house or sold in the stores or are

painted on shop signs or found in picture books. They are a jolly company

and make a happy family. On New Year's eve a picture of the Treasure-ship

(Takare-bune) laden with shipp[=o] (the seven jewels) and all the good

things of life which men most desire is hung up in houses. The ship is

coming into port and the passengers are the seven happy fairies who will

make gifts to the people. These seven jewels are the same as those which

Momotaro brought back from the oni's island.

First there is Fukoruku Jin the patron of Long Life or Length of Days. He

has an enormously high forehead rounded at the top which makes his head

look like a sugar-loaf. It is bald and shiny. A few stray white hairs

sometimes sprout up, and the barber to reach them has to prop a ladder

against his head to climb up and apply his razor. This big head comes

from thinking so much. His eyebrows are cotton-white, and a long snowy

beard falls down over his breast.

Once in a while in a good humor he ties a handkerchief over his high

slippery crown and allows little boys to climb up on top--that is if

they are good and can write well.

When he wants to show how strong and lively he is even though so old, he

lets Daikoku the fat fellow ride on top of his head, while he smokes his

pipe and wades across a river. Daikoku has to hold on tightly or he will

slip down and get a ducking.

Usually the old shiny head is a very solemn gentleman, and walks slowly

along with his staff in one hand while with the other he strokes his long

eyebrows. The tortoise and the crane are always with him, for these are

his pets. Sometimes a stag with hair white with age, walks behind him.

Every body likes Fukoruku Jin because every one wants to get his favor

and live long; until, like a lobster, their backs are bent with age. At a

wedding you will always see a picture of white-bearded and shiny-pated

Fukoruku Jin.

Daikoku is a short chubby fellow with eyes half sunk in fat but twinkling

with fun. He has a flat cap set on his head like the kind which babies

wear, a loose sack over his shoulders, and big boots on his feet. His

throne is two straw bags of rice, and his badge of office is a mallet or

hammer, which makes people rich when he shakes it. The hammer is the

symbol of labor, showing that people may expect to get rich only by hard

work. One end of it is carved to represent the jewel of the ebbing and

the flowing tides, because merchants get rich by commerce on the sea and

must watch the tides. He is often seen holding the arithmetic frame on

which you can count, do sums, subtract, multiply, or divide, by sliding

balls up and down a row of sticks set in a frame, instead of writing

figures. Beside him is a ledger and day-book. His favorite animal is the

rat, which like some rich men's pets, eats or runs away with his wealth.

The great silver-white radish called daikon, two feet long and as big as

a man's calf is always seen near him because it signifies flourishing


He keeps his bag tightly shut, for money easily runs away when the purse

is once opened. He never lets go his hammer, for it is only by constant

care that any one can keep money after he gets it. Even when he frolics

with Fukuroku Jin, and rides on his head, he keeps his hammer ready

swinging at his belt. He has huge lop ears.

Once in a while, when he wishes to take exercise, and Fukuroku Jin wants

to show how frisky he can be, even if he is old, they have a wrestling

match together. Daikoku nearly always beats, because Fukuroku Jin is so

tall that he has to bend down to grip Daikoku, who is fat and short, and

thus he becomes top-heavy. Then Daikoku gets his rival's long head under

his left arm, seizes him over his back by the belt, and throws him over

his shoulder flat on the ground. But if Fukuroku Jin can only get hold of

Daikoku's lop ears, both fall together. Then they laugh heartily and try

it again.

Ebisu is the patron of daily food, which is rice and fish, and in old

times was chiefly fish. He is nearly as fat as Daikoku, but wears a court

noble's high cap. He is always fishing or enjoying his game. When very

happy, he sits on a rock by the sea, with his right leg bent under him,

and a big red fish, called the tai, under his left arm. He carries a

straw wallet on his back to hold his fish and keep it fresh. Often he is

seen standing knee-deep in the water, pole in hand, watching for a

nibble. Some say that Ebisu is the same scamp that goes by the other name

of Sosano[=o].

Hotei is the patron of contentment, and of course is the father of

happiness. He does not wear much clothing, for the truth is that all his

property consists of an old, ragged wrapper, a fan, and a wallet. He is

as round as a pudding, and as fat as if rolled out of dough. His body is

like a lump of mochi pastry, and his limbs like dango dumplings. He

has lop ears that hang down over his shoulders, a tremendous double chin,

and a round belly. Though he will not let his beard grow long, the

slovenly old fellow never has it shaven when he ought to. He is a jolly

vagabond, and never fit for company; but he is a great friend of the

children, who romp over his knees and shoulders, pull his ears and climb

up over his shaven head. He always keeps something good for them in his

wallet. Sometimes he opens it wide, and then makes them guess what is

inside. They try to peep in but are not tall enough to look over the

edge. He makes tops, paints pictures or kites for the boys, and is the

children's greatest friend. When the seven patrons meet together, Hotei

is apt to drink more wine than is good for him.

Toshitoku is almost the only one of the seven who never lays aside his

dignity. He has a very grave countenance. He is the patron of talents.

His pet animal is a spotted fawn. He travels about a good deal to find

and reward good boys, who are diligent in their studies, and men who are

fitted to rule. In one hand he carries a crooked staff of bamboo, at the

top of which is hung a book or roll of manuscript. His dress is like

that of a learned doctor, with square cap, stole, and high-toed slippers.

Bishamon is the patron of glory and fame. He is a mighty soldier, with a

golden helmet, breastplate and complete armor. He is the protector of

priests and warriors. He gives them skill in fencing, horsemanship and

archery. He holds a pagoda in one hand and a dragon sword in the other.

His pet animal is the tiger.

Six out of the jolly seven worthies are men. Benten is the only lady. She

is the patron of the family and of the sea. She plays the flute and the

guitar for the others, and amuses them at their feasts, sometimes even

dancing for them. Her real home is in Riu Gu, and she is the Queen of the

world under the sea. She often dwells in the sea or ocean caves. Her

favorite animal is the snake, and her servants are the dragons.

Once a year the jolly seven meet together to talk over old times, relate

their adventures, and have a supper together. Then they proceed to

business, which is to arrange all the marriages for the coming year. They

have a great many hanks of red and white silk, which are the threads of

fate of those to be married: The white threads are the men, the red are

the women. At first they select the threads very carefully, and tie a

great many pairs or couples neatly and strongly together, so that the

matches are perfect. All such marriages of threads make happy marriages

among human beings. But by-and-by they get tired, and lazy, and instead

of tying the knots carefully, they hurry up the work and then jumble them

carelessly, and finally toss and tangle up all the rest in a muss.

This is the reason why so many marriages are unhappy.

Then they begin to frolic like big boys. Benten plays the guitar, and

Bishamon lies down on the floor resting with his elbows to hear it. Hotei

drinks wine out of a shallow red cup as wide as a dinner plate. Daikoku

and Fukuroku Jin begin to wrestle, and when Daikoku gets his man down, he

pounds his big head with an empty gourd while Toshitoku and Ebisu begin

to eat tai fish. When this fun is over, Benten and Fukuroku Jin play a

game of checkers, while the others look on and bet; except Hotei the fat

fellow, who is asleep. Then they get ashamed of themselves for gambling,

and after a few days the party breaks up and each one goes to his regular

business again.