Happy 2020, blog readers … if there are indeed any of you left out there. 😉
It’s true, I spend more of my time “microblogging” these days – I’m much more active on the Uncover Japan facebook page and I’ve even started Instagramming. I certainly neglect this blog much more than I write on it, but I invite you to follow me on the other platforms. I try to share my favorite discoveries of Japan on an almost daily basis.
However, my New Year’s experience seemed worth writing up in long form, for those who might be interested in following in my footsteps.
I have known about – and talked about – shichifukujin meguri for years, but have never had the chance to go on one myself. The shichifukujin are Japan’s 7 lucky gods. They come from a wide swathe of religious traditions, including Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism.
Each God has a specialty:
- Bishamon – god of war and protector of those in battle
- Ebisu – god of fishermen and protector of crops and rice fields
- Benten – goddess of luck and love and a patron of the arts and entertainment
- Daikoku – god of a prosperous harvest
- Jurojin – god of wisdom and longevity
- Hotei – god of laughter, abundance and satisfaction in trade
- Fukurokuju – god of wealth and happiness
These gods take on a special meaning around the New Year when it is believed that visiting shrines and temples associated with each of the deities will bring you extra fortune in the year ahead. This “pilgrimage” is called a shichifukujin meguri.
There are usually enough shrines and/or temples (yes, the gods can be associated with both) in a single neighborhood to be able to confine your pilgrimage to that particular area. In Tokyo, some of the more well-known neighborhoods for shichifukujin meguri are Meguro, Yanaka and Shinagawa.
I chose to do the pilgrimage in Nihombashi (technically in Ningyocho), with the hopes that it would be less crowded than certain overly-popular routes, such as the one in Ueno or Meguro. It turns out that my forethought paid off, as I only ever had to wait 20 minutes maximum at the busiest shrine.
I began my pilgrimage at Suitengu, a shrine devoted to pregnancy and childbirth just outside Suitengumae metro station. Despite having been retrofitted in 2016 to protect against earthquakes (and looking thoroughly modern as a result), it’s still a unique shrine to visit.
Being one of the larger shrines on the route, I headed there first expecting a crowd. Shockingly, I was able to get in my prayer to Benzaiten within minutes of arrival and there was no line at all to buy my stamp collecting board from the table set up next to the main hall.
The stamp board (which was referred to by a word I was unfamiliar with, so by all means, if you know it has a specific name, please go ahead and tell me in the comments!) cost me 2500 yen and came with the first stamp already included, as well as a map. I then used the map to make my way to the other 6 shrines (in Nihombashi, it’s an all-shrine route) representing the other 6 gods.
At each shrine, I did indeed take the time to make an offering and say a prayer before lining up to collect my next stamp (free, since I had already purchased the board). I’m not a very religious person but I actually found I liked the intentionality of the act at each shrine. I made a point to look up which god was at each shrine and then phrased my requests to their specific attributes. I did see people simply collecting the stamps, so if you don’t feel comfortable praying, that’s not a strict requirement. You’ve still supported the shrines by purchasing the stamp board. However, just like when collecting goshuin stamps, it’s nice to leave a small offering in the box.
You could buy the stamp board at any of the participating shrines, meaning you could start your pilgrimage from whichever one you preferred. I opted to go early in the morning (I began at 9:15am) and begin at what I thought would be the busiest (Suitengu) but it turns out I waited the longest at Koami Shrine, which I arrived at around 10am. I finished my final shrine at about 10:45am, so the entire route – all very flat and walkable – took me around 90 minutes. As I was finishing however, the lines seemed to be growing, so an afternoon pilgrimage might take a bit longer.
Shichifukujin pilgrimages are popular during the first seven days of the New Year, particularly if you want to collect the stamps. (I have seen other neighborhoods give out everything ranging from stickers to small trinkets of the gods, but stamps seem to be the most popular.) There is nothing stopping you from doing your own pilgrimage at other times of the year, but some “unmanned” shrines, where this is no office, will only have staff available for the New Year period. (This is the case with one of the shrines on the Nihombashi route.)
Have you done a shichifukujin meguri? Where did you do it? What did you think?