When I was a child, I believed God was a bald guy in a gold cotton sweat shirt with the letter “G,” for God, on it. I still believe this. Only now, his sweat shirt is 50 percent polyester and 50 percent cotton, preshrunk. The gold color has faded and the “G” is wearing off , peeling in little specks as the silk-screen gives up .
God was always smiling too. I imagined him all alone up in heaven, looking down on me. I was embarrassed when I took a bath because I thought God could see me. I wondered if he could see me crying too. So I would ask God not to look when I was doing something I didn’t want Him to see.
When I came to Japan, I heard about the many gods here such as the god of thunder, the god of education and the kitchen god. I had to reorganize heaven completely.
There are even seven gods of good luck that come over on a boat from China every New Year’s. I have a picture in my house that shows them all in a gold boat, although I doubt they really come in a golden boat, as it would surely sink. But the picture shows all seven gods: Ebisu (god of fishing, farming and business), Benten (art and wisdom), Daikokuten (fortune), Fukurokuju (longevity), Bishamon (war), Kisshoten (more longevity) and Hotei (happiness).
I gave all these new gods gold sweat shirts with their own letters: E for Ebisu, B for Benten, D for Daikokuten, etc. Soon, I had a whole alphabet of gods. When I ran out of letters, I started over with the Japanese alphabet. If I ever want to pray to them collectively, I’ll have to take roll call.
I suppose that’s why people go to separate shrines to pray to different gods. You go to one shrine, for example, to pray to the god of education to pass your university entrance exams, and a different shrine to pray to the god of fertility for a safe birth.
If you’re having a baby, however, I don’t recommend you have it in October, as this month is Kaminashizuki (or Kannazuki), which is a “no god month” because all the gods are at Izumo, where they gather annually for a meeting. Therefore, the gods may not be available for help should there be problems with the birth.
What the gods actually do at Izumo in their annual meeting is a mystery to me. I imagine it’s a mixture of R&R and business. They probably discuss the next year’s agenda, schedule natural disasters and draw up people’s fates.
Or maybe they just deal with domestic disputes:
God of thunder: I’d like to bring it to the attention of the Board of Higher Beings at the annual God Convention, Izumo 2002, that the lightning has been misbehaving. The lightning is flashing before the thunder, rather than after.
God of fortune: I agree that the lightning has been misbehaving lately. She struck a house and set it on fire because she knew the owners had property insurance and would get a handsome payoff. I strongly oppose this get-rich-quick approach.
God of happiness: Tut-tut. Let’s all stop complaining. Just be happy!
God of thunder: But rumbling and grumbling is my job.
God of longevity: That house fire could have cost lives. I had to rescue the whole family. I was lucky to get the grandmother out safely.
Kitchen god: After all those kitchen fires I prevented! Then the house went to ashes because of the lightning’s misjudging.
God of happiness: Don’t worry everybody, be happy!
God of war: Let’s fight about it! C’mon, put up your dukes.
You have to wonder, however, in those times when we’re not happy — maybe we’re just having a tiff with the gods. Is it this threat of mutiny that keeps us from doing evil?
I still wonder about that artist who put the gods of good luck into a golden boat for a transoceanic crossing. But maybe he didn’t have to worry too much about the gods sinking — as long as he prayed to Benten, the god of art.