Hotei

布袋

October 19, 2017

Main Shrines

As with Jurōjin, I have not been able to identify any shrines in which Hotei is the main enshrined kami.

Described by Chiba as “the god of fortune, the guardian of children, patron of fortunetellers, wits, and bartenders," Hotei is the only one of the Shichifukujin thought to have been a real person or possibly modelled on one. The person in question is a Zen priest named Kaishi, 契此, who lived in China in what is now the Zhèjiāng province around the end of the Tang Dynasty. When he was born is unknown; he is said to have died in 916, although there are reports that he was seen in various places well after his reported death and burial. Miyata says that he was actually a composite of four Zen monks.

He is invariably depicted as a more than portly, semi-naked man--clothing was never able to confine the bulk of his belly--with a perpetual smile on his face and a large bag slung across his shoulder. It is this latter which gives him his name, Hotei literally means "cloth bag." He lived the life of a mendicant travelling monk and much of the little food he obtained by begging was put in the bag for later distribution to the truly needy. He was reputed to be able to sleep outside in the snow and get neither wet nor cold. He could doubtless have lived in the greatest luxury had he so chosen, as his skill as a fortune-teller was such that his predictions were always correct, never mistaken.

There was also a belief that he was an incarnation of the Bodhisattva Maitreya (miroku), who is expected to appear on the earth 5.67 million years after the death of Gautama Buddha (Miyata p40).

 

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© Rod Lucas 2016-2019

All text and photos by Lucas unless otherwise stated