If you want to start the new year with a good supply of luck, take a few hours to visit the temples of the seven gods of luck (Shichifukujin Meguri – 七福神巡り).
When to do shichifukujin meguri?
The first seven days of the year are considered particularly lucky, however it is not unusual to make this pilgrimage in any other period.
Who are the seven Japanese gods of luck?
The cult of the seven gods of fortune appears to have originated in Japan during the Muromachi era (1366-1573), although it can be found in several other cultures. Only one of the seven gods belongs to the Japanese Shinto pantheon, while three belong to the Hindu-Buddhist pantheon and three to the Chinese Taoist-Buddhist pantheon: the reason for this grouping is not clear, but they are still popular today.
The Japanese Shinto god among the seven gods of luck is Ebisu (恵比寿), the god of fishermen, merchants and farmers; you can recognise Ebisu as he’s depicted carrying a sea bream, and he is the ‘face’ of Yebisu beer.
From the Chinese pantheon we have: Hotei (布袋), god of happiness and good luck, chubby and contented carrying a sack full of everyday objects; Fukurokuji (福禄寿), god of knowledge, happiness and longevity; and Jurojin (寿老人), god of longevity and happiness.
From India come: Daikokuten (大黒天), god of agriculture, prosperity and trade; Bishamonten (毘沙門天), god of war, who defends from evil spirits; and Benten (or Benzaiten – 弁財天), goddess of arts and beauty.
Where to do a visit to the seven gods of luck
At the beginning of the year, each neighborhood advertises on official websites or in the local newspaper how to participate in the visit to the temples of the seven gods of luck. If you want to immerse yourself in the spirit of old Tokyo and take a day off from the crowds of neighborhoods like Shinjuku or Shibuya, then Yanaka is for you. Yanaka’s Shichifujin Meguri is the oldest in Tokyo, and will make you pass through low-rise houses, family-run restaurants and shops, and a myriad of temples and shrines.
Shichifukujin Meguri in Yanaka
The first temple you will go to will also be the one where you can buy the map of the route (chizu) and the shikishi, the paper you collect the stamps on. For 1200 yen you will have your shikishi and the first stamp, for each of the other temples prepare 200 yen. You can also buy omamori or specific objects in the temple, as well as be refreshed for free with water and amazake. You can also collect stamps on your diary or planner. In case you have any problems, ask the temple staff and they will gladly help you.
You start from Toukakuji temple (東覚寺), dedicated to Fukurokuji and known for the two Akagami Niou statues at the entrance. The statues represent the guardians of the temple and are entirely covered with sheets of red paper, placed by suffering people who want to pray for their own healing; it is said that placing a piece of paper on the point where you feel pain will make the guardian accept it as his and help you heal.
Seiunji Temple (青雲 寺), dedicated to Ebisu, and Shuseiin Temple (修 性 院), dedicated to Hotei are just past Nishi Nippori subway station. In smaller temples you will be asked to take off your shoes to access the place of prayer, so wear shoes that are both comfortable for walking must be easy to take off.
Head to Yanaka Ginza and climb the stairs towards Nippori JR Station, reaching Tennouji Temple (天王寺), dedicated to Bishamonten. Tennouji Temple dates back to the 15th century and includes Yanaka Cemetery, as well as Sakura dori, a popular spot for hanami.
Turn right at the koban and go straight to the Chouanji temple (長安寺), dedicated to Juroujin.
Leave Yanaka behind to get to Ueno and the Gokokuin temple (護国院), dedicated to Daikokuten; built in 1625, it houses a statue of the god said to have been donated by the third Tokugawa shogun.
Remember that you will only have to play the gong if you make an offering to the temple, in addition to praying.
Enter Ueno park to access Shinobazu Bentendou (不忍 池 弁 天堂), dedicated to Benzaiten and the most popular and frequented of all the temples. The temple stands on an artificial island in the Shinobazu pond, where, among other things, you can admire koi carps of various sizes.
At this point, your shikishi should be complete, congratulations! You can try omikuji or relax in the park, you deserve it!
The longer you spend looking at shops in Yanaka Ginza, the longer it will take to finish your shikishi. If you have time, I recommend you come back to the street another day.
There will be refreshments in some temples and vending machines along the way, however I suggest you go ahead and grab a bottle of water before starting the visit.
Toukakuji – 2-7-3 Tabata, Kita Ward, Tokyo
Seiunji – 3-6-4 Nishi-Nippori, Arakawa Ward, Tokyo
Shuseiin – 3-7-12 Nishi-Nippori, Arakawa Ward, Tokyo
Chouanji – 5-2-22 Yanaka, Taito Ward, Tokyo
Tennouji – 7-14-8 Yanaka, Taito Ward, Tokyo
Gokokuin – 10-18 Ueno-koen, Taito Ward, Tokyo
Shinobazu Bentendou – 1-14-11 Ueno-sakuragi, Taito Ward, Tokyo