Many people believe that there is only one God that created the earth, nature, and all its beings. On the other hand, there are those who believe that there are multiple gods that govern certain aspects of the world and of the lives of people. It is believed that they control certain things on Earth that affect human beings both directly and indirectly. Similar to the ancient Greek mythology, the belief of several gods and goddesses also applies in certain Asian countries, one of them being Japan. While advancement of technology and modernity is prevalent in the Land of the Sun, many people still believe the many stories behind Japanese folklores and mythology. A part of this is the belief in various Japanese gods and goddesses.
It is said that each Japanese god and goddess governs a certain aspect of life, such as luck, prosperity, longevity, and so on. On the other hand, there are also Japanese gods and goddesses that control nature such as thunder and lightning. While there are some people who view this belief as unrealistic as there are no physical evidences of its existence, many Japanese people still believe in the possibility. Due to this, a number of Japanese people, especially old ones, pray to specific gods and goddesses and ask for blessings depending on the god's supposed power. There are also many stories behind each Japanese god and goddesses that are truly just fascinating to listen to.
The Family Tree of Japanese Gods and Goddesses
It is said that before the creation of the world, there was a family of Japanese gods and goddesses that lived amongst one another. The two foremost god and goddess were Izanagi and Izanami, who were believed to have created Japan’s islands. It is also said that these two were the ones who created other gods. From this couple gave birth to gods Ohyamatsumi and Susanoh and goddess Amaterasu, who is the goddess of the sun and also known as the “Great Spirit Who Shines the Heavens.” Susanoh and another goddess by the name of Kushinadahime gave birth to Ohkuninushi.
Ohyamatsumi gave birth to goddesses Iwanagahime and Konohananosakuyahime. The latter goddess and Hononinigi, son of Amaterasu, gave birth to two gods by the name of Hoderi and Hoori. Hoori and the goddess Toyotamabime gave birth to the god Ugayahukiaezu. This god became the partner of the goddess Tamayoribime, who just happens to also be the offspring of Toyotamabime. Together, they gave birth to Jinmu. This is the family tree of the primary Japanese gods while they also have other siblings and children.
Within this family tree lie many stories behind it. For one thing, it is believed that the god Jinmu is actually the first emperor of Japan. Although some people believe that this is only a part of Japanese mythology, one cannot argue just how fascinating the stories can get. It is said that Izanami gave life to the god of fire one faithful day. Due to the god being on fire, Izanami died from the burns it had caused her. Izanagi was heartbroken to be left by his wife so he decided to visit the underworld to see her. Sadly, she was already able to consume the food of the underworld, which would mean that she could not return anymore.
However, because of the effort of Izanagi visiting her, Izanami would ask the god of the underworld for another chance with the condition that Izanagi would not come see her until she returns. Unfortunately, Izanagi was an impatient man as he returned despite Izanami’s instructions. There in the underworld, he found the dead body of his wife with worms crawling all over it. Terrified by what he saw, Izanagi ran away. To ensure that Izanami would not be able to run after him, Izanagi used a large rock to block his wife. It is believed that this rock is what separates this world from the underworld.
The Seven Lucky Gods or Seven Gods of Fortune
For those looking for good luck and fortune, praying to the Seven Lucky Gods may prove to be effective. Also known as Shichi Fukujin in Japanese, the Seven Gods of Fortune represent seven gods who are believed to bestow good luck and fortune, as the name implies, to those who seek and pray for them. Another key factor that makes the Japanese believe in the Seven Lucky Gods is the number seven. It is said in Japan that the number seven bears good luck. The origins of these gods vary from Hinduism to Buddhism or the belief in the teachings of Buddha.
The first god goes by the name of Benzaiten, also known as Benzaitennyo, Bentensama, and Benten. Coming from the Hindu goddess Saraswati, Benzaiten is of Hindu origin. When adapted to Buddhism, her given attributes included beauty, music, and talent. Being the only female god in the group, she is said to be the goddess of everything that flows. This includes words, eloquence, speech, and music. According to some legends, it is said that Benzaiten is the third daughter of the dragon-king of Munetsuchi. A figure of Benten usually appears in the entrance of the temples known as the Torii. Represented as a woman with good looks and wisdom, she can be seen in several temples in Japan. A biwa, a traditional instrument similar to a Japanese lute, is what she usually carries, along with a white snake. While she used to be just a protective deity, it is now believed that she grants good fortune to those who pray. She is the patron saint of those who work with various forms of art such as dancers, geisha, writers, and artists.
The second god goes by the name of Ebisu, previously known as Hiruko. Believed to be the first child of the god Izanaki and the goddess Izanami, Ebisu is the only god who originated in Japan. Some people say that Ebisu was born without any bones in his body but overcame this handicap of his. As the god of abundance in crops such as rice and cereals, he is the patron of fishermen. Hence, it should come as no surprise that Ebisu usually comes in a fisherman’s costume. This consists of the usual hat with a fishing rod and fish, typically a huge red sea bass or sea bream, in his hands. Several fish restaurants put up a figure of Ebisu for good fortune.
The third god goes by the name of Hotei, also known as the “Laughing Buddha” in the West. Among all the seven gods, Hotei is probably the most popular. Several temples, amulets, and restaurants put up his image to attract good luck and fortune. He is depicted carrying a bag on his shoulders, which many believe to be full of fortunes that would be granted to those who seek his guidance and believe in his virtues. There is a legend surrounding Hotei where it is said that he used to be a real person of Chinese descent by the name of Kaishi. Hotei is the god of abundance and the guardian of the children. Described as a fat and bald man with a huge smile on his face, many are fascinated by the happiness that his face shows.
The fourth god goes by the name of Fukurokuju. Believed to be a star god, he is the incarnation of the Southern Polestar. Along with a crane and a turtle as his company, he is the god of wisdom and longevity, with the two animals symbolizing the latter. Sometimes confused with another god by the name of Jurojin, many say that he is also the patron of chess players. Depicted as holding a staff in one hand and a book or a scroll in the other, many believe that the book or the scroll has the lifespan of every human being on Earth written on it.
The fifth god goes by the name of Daikokuten, also known as Daikoku for short. As the god of commerce and prosperity, he is the patron of farmers, cooks, and even bankers. Legend says that Daikoku is also a demon hunter who used a sacred talisman in order to catch a demon. He is depicted as a man with short legs, a smile on his face, and a hat on his head. He also carries a bag full of previous items. There are some people who say that Daikoku can also be a female known as Daikokunyo, which translates to “She of the Great Blackness,” or Daikokutennyo, which translates to “She of the Great Blackness of the Heavens.”
The sixth god goes by the name of Bishamonten, also known as Tamonten or Bishamon. Believed to be the god of fortune in battles and war, he is also often connected to dignity and authority. Known as the protector of the Japanese people who behave appropriately and follow the rules and regulations of the nation. He is often depicted wearing a helmet and armor with a pagoda in his left hand. He also protects holy sites from evil spirits. Other gods include Jurojin, also known as Gama, and Kichijoten, also known as Kisshoutennyo, who embodies fertility and beauty.
A List of Gods and Goddesses: Of Lightning, Death, War, and Others
There are also other gods and goddesses worth looking into. An example would be Ame-no-Uzume, more commonly known as Uzume. Being the goddess of revelry and dawn, she played a huge role in the “missing sun motif” in the Shinto religion. This goddess also goes by the nicknames The Heavenly Alarming Female and The Great Persuader. As for a more popular god, one can take note of Raijin, more commonly known as Raiden. Being the god of thunder and lightning, he is often described or seen as an oni. Furthermore, he is also usually paired with another god by the name of Fujin.
As for the god of fire, it would be the minor kami by the name of Kagu-tsuchi. As for the god of building trade and easy birth, it would also be a minor god by the name of Shotoku Taishi. He is sometimes worshiped by a number of Shintoists in Taishido or the Prince’s Hall. For a more morbid scene, the goddess of both creation and death is Izanami, the first female god. On the other hand, the god of war goes by the name of Hachiman. Also known as Yawata no Kami or Hachiman-shin, he is believed to be the divine protector of the Land of the Sun. The symbolic animal that also serves as his messenger is the dove.