You’ve probably heard of the Seven Lucky Gods who came to Japan from China on the takarabune, or treasure ship. They are believed to visit at New Year’s, bringing with them joy and good fortune, so you’ll often see these jolly characters represented in pictures or displayed as figurines near the end of the year.
I live in a house on the port of a small Japanese island, and I can tell you that no takarabune has come our way at New Year’s for a long, long time. And looking at Japan’s economy, infrastructure, national debt and aging population, the nation as a whole doesn’t seem to be having much luck either. Perhaps the takarabune sank, or the gods got off at the Senkakus on their way here last time. I suspect they’re not going to make an appearance this New Year’s either.
The only encouraging events recently have been Tokyo’s clinching of the 2020 Olympics and Mount Fuji winning World Heritage status. The jury is still out on “Abenomics,” and with the lay-judge system now up and running, who knows what will happen there.
I have another theory on the conspicuous absence of the Seven Lucky Gods: They each have an evil twin. What we are dealing with now is the wrath of the Seven Unlucky Gods.
1. God of Unhappiness: This is the evil twin of Hotei, the God of Happiness and Good Health. His emaciated twin suffers from poor health due to chain-smoking and over-imbibing. He is the symbol of overindulgence, bringing grief to all who join him in late-night carousing in bars, including nijikai (second parties) and sanjikai (third parties). He can be seen on street corners trying to coax you into joining him for “one more drink.” When you finally get home, you’ll find your wallet completely empty after having bought him drinks all night. He can be found passed out on the sidewalk in the early mornings. You can distinguish him from the other drunks by the cloth sack he carries, inside of which he keeps all his possessions: nothing.
2. The God of Short Life: This is the dark twin of Jurojin, the God of Long Life. The God of Short Life is responsible for life-threatening diseases, pollution, accidents and anything that threatens our existence on Earth. Although the Japanese used to have some of the longest life spans in the world, this is slowly changing as this deity encourages them to incorporate more Western and fast foods into their diet, and promotes an unhealthy penchant for keiki setto (cake sets). In addition, he is to blame for people exercising less. He holds a staff with a book tied to it that contains a list of everyone’s future burial dates. He is sometimes shown with a crow sitting on his shoulder. He is suspected to be responsible for male balding.
3. The unfortunate twin of Fukurokuju (the God of Happiness, Wealth and Longevity) is the God of Unhappiness, Depression and Destitution. He barely manages to survive, and wanders around in slovenly dress spewing forth his perpetual pessimism to anyone who will listen. He keeps a dead pet turtle. He’ll surely bring you down, so stay away from this guy at all costs!
4. The counterpart of Bishamonten, the God of Warriors, is the God of Strife. He wears armor and enjoys conflict, terrorism and nuclear accidents. He has a keen interest in controversial territories such as the Senkakus, and countries that can offer strife at a premium level, such as North Korea. He focuses on exacerbating historical problems with other Asian countries to prevent consensus from ever being reached. This irascible god is portrayed holding a sword in one hand and a small model of Yasukuni Shrine in the other.
5. The lesser sibling of Benzaiten (the Goddess of Knowledge, Beauty, Art and Music) is the Goddess of Ignorance, Graffiti, Ugliness and Rap Music with Offensive Lyrics. She harbors a predilection for natural disasters, especially typhoons and tsunami. Her hobbies include finger painting and making mud pies. She holds a banjo in one hand, but cannot play it.
6. Daikokuten’s dark sib is the God of the Poor, Wretched and Overworked Salaryman. He also controls the fate of rice crops, and makes sure Japanese varieties never enter the free market. In “the land of vigorous rice plants” (mizuho no kuni), he opposes Japan’s participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Closely associated with business, this god is also responsible for company layoffs, pay cuts, bankruptcy and the rise in freeters who jump from part-time job to part-time job. He’s also to blame for pork-barreling, bid-rigging, and for politicians and CEOs bowing on TV in apology for crimes such as embezzlement or ties to the underworld.
7. Even Ebisu, God of Fisherman and Merchants, has an embarrassing family member. In the shadows lurks his evil twin, the God of Overfishing, Marine Pollution and Decrepit Stores in Shotengai Shopping Streets That Look Like They Should Have Shut Their Doors Long Ago. He is shown holding a fisherman’s trawling net (that captures all marine creatures great and small) in one hand. In the other, he holds a bloody dolphin. He keeps shortened hours, is closed on public holidays and has every Tuesday off.
Amy Chavez is the author of “Running the Shikoku Pilgrimage: 900 Miles to Enlightenment” (Volcano Press, 2013). She’ll be speaking for SWET Kansai in Kobe at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 3. The event is open to the public. Visit the Society of Writers, Editors and Translators website (www.swet.jp) for details and reservations. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org