Can you have enough good luck? Would you participate in a local, traditional pilgrimage if it meant you might be extra blessed? Maybe it's the combination of being both Catholic and a New Orleanian, but spiritualism and superstition are two things I have a healthy respect for; throw me into a completely new place and I will soak both up like a sponge. And after 2020, can you blame a gal for dotting all the i's and crossing all the t's?
This past week we enjoyed shichifukujin-meguri 七福神巡り or the Seven Lucky Gods pilgrimage. Also known as the Seven Deities of Good Fortune, next to hatsumode (the first visit of the year to a shrine or temple), visiting the shichifukujin is the most observed tradition at the beginning of the New Year. It's very fun, but it's also a path walked with reverence.
Most of these pilgrimages can be done at any time of the year, but not this one. Yanaka Ginza is special as it's only observed until the 10th of January. It's also unique as they don't put the goshuin (lucky stamps) into your goshuincho (stamp book) . Instead, the calligraphy is already done on a beautiful piece of washi paper and you collect the red stamps as you go temple to temple, visiting the gods.
Shichifukujin, or the Seven Deities of Good Fortune, are seven Gods that came from India, China and Japan. They are: Ebisu 恵比寿 (The God of Success in Business), Daikokuten 大黒天 (The God of a Rich Harvest), Benziten 弁財天 (The God of Good Results in Learning and Fortune), Bisyamonten 毘沙門天 (The God of Victory), Hotei 布袋 (The God of Good Fortune, bringing good match, bringing healthy children), Fukurokuju 福禄寿 (The God of Long Life and Wealth), and Jurouzin 寿老人 (The God of long life and happiness).
Today brought us to a part of Tokyo I'd explored only marginally. I've been on three shichifukujin-meguri, but none could hold a candle for this one. Why? Because I walked this path with my daughter. Day made! It was so incredibly special-freezing-but incredibly special.
The route we walked was in Yanaka, starting from Tabata and ending in Ueno. Although the temples and shrines in Yanaka are small ones, they're just as beautiful as the large, and equally hospitable. We began at Togakuji, one of Tokyo's "power spots". The God Fukurokuju resides here.
This temple is special as it has Nio statues. These guardians of Buddha stand at the entrance of many Buddhist temples, and are covered in red papers so you can’t see them. The custom is to hang red papers (akagame) on both statues on a place where it hurts on your body, and the gods will then miraculously cure you. When you have been cured of your ailment, you can repay the gods by offering straw sandals to the temple!
The second temple we visited was Seiunji, home to Ebisu.
Out of the 7 lucky gods, he is the only one with a pure Japanese background-without any Hindu or Chinese influence. This temple is known for a stone monument with writing from Takizawa Bakin. He wrote “The Eight Dog Chronicles” (Nanso Satomi Hakkenden), a Japanese epic novel in 106 volumes about eight samurai half-brothers, all of them descended from a dog and bearing the word “dog” in their last names.
This next temple had me dancing on my toes because the outside wall is completely pink. BRIGHT pink!
Known as a temple to visit during cherry blossom season (thus the pink walls), Shushoin Temple is home to Hotei-the deity seen on the exterior wall. Hotei is the god of fortune and guardian of children.
We took a break from the walk to enjoy Yanaka Ginza after this-a shopping street in the middle of these temples that the pilgrimage is named for. This is such a cute little area, filled with the retro charm of Old Tokyo. I feel it needs its own post, and after grabbing some yummy "cat-tail" donuts, kimono, and kokeshi, it won't be long before I'm back!
Choanji Temple was next on the list. It was the smallest of the temples and the first that required us to take our shoes off to enter. The God here is Jurouzin, the deity of long life and happiness.
My favorite temple in the area was next. I was delighted because one, Tennoji, has the most beautiful modern entrance and two...the magnolia tree. Such a sweet reminder of home!
Gokokuin was the sixth temple and another that required us to remove our shoes. We stayed a bit longer than at the others so Madeline could warm up, and it was worth it. With its large interior Gokokuin is just beautiful to walk through! It's home to a Noh theatre (a true gem), a lovely garden, and a large temple interior to enjoy. Daikokuten is the god in this particular temple.
The next temple was a special one-not only because it was the final one, but because this particular temple is home to the only goddess within the group of deities.
Located in the middle of Shinobazu Lake in Ueno Park, Benten-do is the home to Benzaiten, the goddess of music, learning and charm. For obvious reasons she is my absolute favorite. This temple is modeled after Hogon-ji Temple floating in the middle of Lake Biwa, the largest lake in Japan.
We were plumb tired after several hours of walking and exploring, the cold getting us good. But after a good meal and a cozy ride home, I can safely say the memories of this special day will always keep us warmed with happiness. And that makes us already very lucky!