Vegder's Blog

October 30, 2014

The 7 Propitious Gods: The Big Black One – Daikoku 大黒

Some say that Daikoku is the most loved of the 7 Propitious Gods. He is jovial, plays with children, bestows gifts and good fortune, fathered a child, loves the ladies – especially those of the night – and is an all-around good guy. But that is only the common perception. He has darker past, a more complex history and personality. In ancient India he was known as Mahākāla. He became one of the most wrathful gods of tantric Buddhism.

Mahākāla -Henri Joly says that Mahākāla – who he calls Mahakara, a forgivable linguistic variance – is called the black one because his likenesses were made dark by rubbing with oil. While there may be some truth in this, it ignores the fact that Mahākāla is Sanskrit for ‘The Great Black One’. He goes on to tell us that it was Kōbō Daishi (774-835) “who introduced the attributes with which he is repre-  sented : his Hammer bears the sign of the Jewel (Tama) of pyriform outline and  with three rings across, embodying the spirit of the JIN (Yin) and Yo (Yang), or male  and female principles, in token of the God being a creative divinity; this hammer  is also shown with the Tomoye, figure of the two commas or the Mitsu tomoye of  three commas (see Cock on Drum), and a stroke of this lucky attribute confers  luck and wealth to its recipient. (Fairy tale of the Lucky Mallet.) The Rat is  his second attribute : finally Daikoku is dressed in Chinese guise as a prosperous  individual, with a peculiarly shaped cap or hat, and usually shown standing on  bales of rice (some say one of rice the other of tea), and with a bag of precious  things on his shoulder. A common variant shows him seated on his bales, or  showing his treasures to a child, or holding the red sun against his breast with  one hand, and grasping his mallet with the other. A common group is that of  Daikoku and his son EBISU, either as serious minded individuals, as for instance  in the figures in the somewhat rough style called ” a coups de serpe ” (Nata tsu  kuri) sold in pairs at the Kammiyama temple in Ise, or irreverently as revellers,  sometimes masquerading as drunken Dutchmen.”

Below is Mahākāla under the aspect of Sadbhudja.

Guimet_Mahakala_7   Musée Guimet

In Practically Religious: Worldly Benefits and the Common Religion of Japan it says: “The name Daikoku, the Great Black Deity, is a direct translation of Mahākalā, the name of the Hindu deity already adopted by Buddhists in India. In the Commentary to the Mahāvairocana he is described as a manifestation of Mahāvairocana who can subdue demons. The Sutra of the Wisdom of the Benevolent Kings speaks of Daikoku as a god of war, and in Buddhist iconography he is often portrayed with a fierce and angry countenance. He is also, however, described as a great bodhisattva of good fortune who shares his wealth with the poor, and it is for this characteristic that he is known as one of the Seven Gods. Well fed and smiling, Daikoku carries a sack of good fortune over one shoulder; in his other hand he holds a small mallet for hammering out wealth (uchide no kozuchi).”

Guimet_Mahakala_mask_7   Musée Guimet

By contrast

Below is a kanamono by Unno Moritoshi (1834-96) of Daikoku dragging his bag of goodies. Hitching a ride are two rats which are often seen with this god. Other common, godly attributes are Daikoku’s gift-dispensing mallet – shown here – and bales of rice – not shown here.  This example comes from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and dates from the 19th century.


By the way, that flat cap which Daikoku wears is called a maru-zukin (丸頭巾).

Throw into the mix another Indian god, Kubera – Donatella Failla wrote: “Daikoku is a composite deity, originating in India but long naturalized in Japan. His antecedents have been traced to several Indian deities, most particularly Mahākalā, a protective deity and adversary of the forces of evil who in Buddhist monasteries was assigned a special role as guardian of the kitchen, and Kubera, an autochthonic god of abundance and wealth, protector of travelers, guardian of underground treasures, and deity of productivity. Many aspects of what became the standard iconography of Daikoku in Japan would seem derivable from images of Kubera, frequently portrayed as a stocky, thickset, smiling dwarf with a moustache and large, fleshy ears…”

Failla went on to note: “Worship of Daikoku is said to have been introduced to Japan in the early ninth century by Saichō 最 澄 (767–822), and Daikoku assumed a role as one of the protective deities of the Tendai center on Mt. Hiei.”


The curatorial notes on a  similar stone sculpture now in the Victoria and Albert Museum state: “This sandstone panel is carved in high relief with the figure of Kubera, the Hindu god of wealth. It was probably intended for a small village or wayside shrine. Here Kubera is seated in the attitude of ‘royal ease’, holding a long purse in his raised hand and a bowl of flowers in the other. His large, corpulent stomach is a sign of his prosperity and worldly comfort…. The concept of Kubera as god of wealth also exists in a Buddhist context, where he is known as Jambhala.”

Daikoku’s jovial persona

MAK_Eisen_Daikoku_7b   Museum für angewandte Kunst, Vienna

Daikoku and his relationship to sumo, if there is any – Below is an anonymous print from the 19th century of Daikoku and Fukurokuju about to mix it up. Don’t you just love the expression of Daikoku’s face?

According to F.S. Dobbins in his 1901 publication, Story of the World’s Worship: A Complete, Graphic and Comparative History of the Many Strange Beliefs, Superstitious Practices, Domestic Peculiarities, Sacred Writings, Systems of Philosophy, Legends and Traditions, Customs and Habits of Mankind Throughout the World, Ancient and Modern. This Dark and Mystic Picture Strikingly Compared with the Beauty and Purity of Revealed Religion, the Whole Forming the Fascinating Story of the World’s Worship from the Birth of Man to the Present Day, he says: “Once in a while, when [Daikoku] wishes to take exercise, and Fukuroku Jin wants to show how frisky he can be, even if he is old, they have a wrestling match together. Daikoku nearly always beats, because Fukuroku Jin is so tall that he has to bend down to grip Daikoku, who is fat and short, and thus he becomes top-heavy. Then Daikoku gets his rival’s long head under his left arm, seizes him over his back by the belt, and throws him over his shoulder flat on the ground. But if Fukuroku Jin can only get hold of Daikoku’s lop ears, both fall together. Then they laugh heartily and try it again.” [Correction: This quote may have been borrowed from a book published by William Elliot Griffis from 1880.]

Somehow, I think there is more to it. But what?

Achenbach_Daikoku_sumo_anonymous_7b   Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts

Below is a print by Toyokuni I of Daikoku and Fukurokuju going at it while surrounded by the most propitious items.

LOC_Toyokuni_I_Daikoku_sumo_7b   Library of Congress

Has anyone ever performed a paternity test on a god? Many sources say that Daikoku, an ancient Indian transplant to Japan, is the father of Ebisu, another of the propitious gods. On the other hand, traditionalist sources claim that Ebisu is the love-child of the mythical gods Izanami and Izanagi. Of course, it wasn’t exactly Ebisu that they gave birth to. It was the leech child which morphed later. But I will get back to that when I give a post devoted to Ebisu himself. Until then we will all have to wait for the results of the DNA tests.

Mead_Eisen_Daikoku_Ebisu_7b   Mead Art Museum, Amherst College

Below is an anonymous 18th century print, once attributed to Harunobu. David Waterhouse wrote:

Ebisu was originally the tutelary god of the Nishinomiya Jinja in Settsu, and from Kamakura times was honoured as a protector of those
who travel in boats. Worship of him spread to major shrines and to Buddhist monasteries as well; and through a series of identifications
he came to be worshipped also by military men. One of these identifications involved the Shintō god Ōkuninushi-no-mikoto… who was
taken to be ultimately the same as Daikokuten (strictly a manifestation of the fierce Tantric deity Mahākāla). Hence in the Tokugawa
period Ebisu and Daikokuten started to be paired together, and worshipped as bringers of abundant food and prosperity, particularly at
New Year, when images of them were set on the kami-dama, the ‘god-shelf’. Ebisu is usually depicted with a fishing rod and fish; and
Daikokuten, who was co-opted by the Nichiren school in early Muromachi times and worshipped as a bringer of good crops, is usually
shown with bales of rice and a wooden mallet. The Daikoku-mai, a New Year dance, developed out of this association…


A similar print to the one seen above sans Ebisu dates from 1720 and functioned as a calendar. It was designed by Hanegawa Chinchō (1679-1754) and is described as two girls sitting before a portrait of Daikoku.


Daikoku’s rats – Sometimes they are just mice, but that doesn’t matter.


The Daikoku theme and cartage – There are any number of objects and prints that deal with this particular subgenre. First there is a watercolor by Kyōsai (1831-1889) showing a joyous parade of Daikoku and mice/rats transporting a large daikon.

Freer_Kyosai_Daikoku_daikon_cart_7   Freer/Sackler Galleries

Then there is the elegant kanamono by Higashiyama Motonobu from ca. 1847-1875. It shows Daikoku and Ebisu pushing a cart filled with their goodies followed by a well-dressed rat bringing up the rear.


Who do you call when you get a frisbee or shuttlecock stuck in a tree at New Year’s? Women would play a game on New Year’s day of what we call badminton. They would purchase beautifully decorated battledores and would delicately hit the feathered shuttlecock back and forth in what was more a symbolic game than a true athletic, go-for-blood athletic event. And, since Daikoku was the chief god of New Year’s, then who else would you get to help you if a shuttlecock got stuck somewhere? That is what we see in this small, but beautifully preserved woodblock print by Harunobu from ca. 1769.

David Waterhouse wrote: “The god Daikokuten takes a girl on his shoulders and prepares to stand on his bale of rice, so that she can knock down with her battledore (hago-ita) a shuttlecock which is caught in the kadomatsu decoration for New Year at Kasamori Inari shrine. Behind them are the torii and the stone-flagged path of the shrine. Meanwhile the girl’s partner, Osen, holding the other battledore, stands watching in amazement beside her stall, on which is a decorated sanbō with dishes of dango (rice dumplings).”

The poem at the top of the print reads:

He came, he came! and
now not only good fortune 
but even the trees 
and grasses bend towards this 
maiden, a fresh gem in spring!


Daikoku and the daikon connection – Do you ever wonder what is going on in these pictures? I do. Take, for example, the print below by Kunisada II from ca. 1864. It is the right-hand panel of a triptych, but is not much more bizarre than the other panels. Clearly it is an performer, dressed up as a daikon – notice the left butt cheek – dancing near another performer dress up as Daikoku. What the…?

In one kagura or sacred Shinto dance meant to please a god or gods a village idiot who is taking part says that he is a god descended to bring them the news that they are blessed and that he has brought the seeds of fertility so that they might prosper and have loads of children. “Later in what is called the daikon (radish) dance, he abandons the stage in order to mingle with the spectators. There he makes rude allusions to a wooden phallus he carries with him wrapped in a handkerchief. In his routine as a fool, he goes so far as to rub the prop against  some of the women in the crowd who look justifiably flustered.” Now, I am not saying that this is what is happening in this print, but it might give you a better sense of why there is a dancing daikon.

TML_Daikokku_dancing_daikon_7b   Tokyo Metropolitan Library

The print shown below is by Hokuga, a pupil of Hokusai who also treated the same theme. Then again, there is always the ever-present sexual innuendo. In some places in Japan the daikon with the split root was referred to as “Daikoku’s bride”. “The giant radish (daikon), particularly a forked radish, was ascribed powers of fertility.” I don’t think I need to spell it out for you.


The collection of Japanese prints in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston is phenomenal. It includes a print by Sogyoku (active 1764-1772) which shows a child presenting a daikon to a lounging Daikoku who is leaning on his bag of goodies. Nearby are the bales of rice, mochi in a box on a stand, precious jewels and on the low table near the wall on the right is, what appears to be, the straw cloak and hat of invisibility.


Continuing the daikon connection, there is a Masanobu(1686-1764) where Daikoku displays his largesse by dispensing coins to a mortal man from his magic mallet. A bale of rice lies on the floor nearby. At both ends are the symbolic tama or jewels. The god’s robe is decorated with this same jewel motif. Behind him is a beautiful woman. But what I find the most striking is the hanging scroll painting of a daikon which is given pride of place in the room’s tokonoma or recessed alcove which is used to display the most precious and timely items.


Through a rather tortured Sinified alteration of the Japanese term for ‘daikon’ it can become ‘raifuku’ or ‘come fortune’. (Source: John W. Dower)

The daikon as a crest – I don’t know exactly where the low relief intertwined daikons are located, but felt it was too good to not pass along to you. What I do know is that daikons were often used in a variation of mon or crests. At least one daimyo, the Honjo Mitsudaira, used it. Who used the other examples is a mystery to me. However, you will notice that I have peppered this post with several of them. Maybe we will find out in time how and by whom they were used.

Kunimasa_Kawabe_Flickr_forked_daikon_motif_7b   This image was posted at Flickr by Kunimasa Kawabe.

The daikon is “…One of the ‘seven plants of spring’… [It] has numerous superstitious and religious connotations…. In ancient religious ceremonies it was associated with parsley and shepherd’s purse as a particularly auspicious food for certain occasions. In esoteric Buddhism, a forked radish was the symbol of Shoten (Vinayakasha), the elephant-headed god, and this obvious fertility symbolism came to bode prosperity and success.” (Dower, p. 76) You might know that elephant-headed god as Ganesha or a variation thereon.

Daikon_4_mon_7d   I chose the colors. Forgive me if I have made any major faux pas(s).

On inro – Below is an inro made by Samada Mitsumasa in the 19th century.

BM_Samada_Mitsumasa_19th_c_7b   © Trustees of the British Museum

Daikoku’s mallet: Uchide no kozuchi – 打ち出の小槌 – Below is a surimono by Gakutei from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This piece probably dates from 1828 because that was the year of the rat.


Joly also said of the rat: “His familiar, the rat, has been held to have an emblematic and moral meaning in connection with the wealth hidden in Daikoku’s bag, and which like all other riches requires constant care and watch to prevent it from dwindling away under the tooth of the parasite. This rat is often pictured, either in the bale with just its head protruding, or on it, or playing with the hammer ; sometimes a swarm of rats is shown, and the rodent plays the main rôle in the following story : The Buddhist idols wished to be rid of Daikoku, to whom the Japanese were still daily offering prayers and incense after their introduction. YEMMA Ō, the regent of Hades, agreed to send his most cunning Oni, SHIRO ,to get Daikoku out of the way. The Oni, guided by a sparrow, went to Daikoku’s castle, which he found void of its owner. Finally he hit upon a large storehouse in which he saw the God seated. Daikoku called his chief rat and ordered him to find who was near.  The rat saw the Oni, and running into the garden brought back a branch of holly   with which he drove the Oni away right to the door of Yemma Ō, beating him.  the whole way. This is said to be the origin of the New Year’s Eve charm…   consisting in a holly leaf and a skewer, or simply a sprig of holly wedged in the  lintel of the door of a house, to prevent the return of the Oni after the Oni Yarai  proceedings. The bag of Daikoku, like that of Hotei, contains the Takaramono  or precious things… and sometimes Hotei is shown seated in the bag which  Daikoku is pulling along.”


Doing the books… – Remember, Daikoku is the god of wealth and he dispense riches – both spiritual and real – with his magic mallet. W. E. Griffis wrote in 1880:

[Daikoku] is often seen holding the arithmetic frame [an abacus, soroban in Japanese] on which you can count, do sums, subtract, multiply,
or divide, by sliding balls up and down a row of sticks set in a frame, instead of writing figures. Beside him is a ledger and day-book. His favorite
animal is the rat, which like some rich men’s pets, eats or runs away with his wealth.

The great silver-white radish called daikon, two feet long and as big as a man’s calf is always seen near him because it signifies flourishing prosperity.


Japan is one place where money does grow on trees! There are any number of prints showing trees which are made up of gold coins instead of leaves. Daikoku is often pictured with them. Below is a Kunimori II print and below that is a Sadatora.


The curatorial files in Boston say of the print shown above:

In ukiyo-e prints, a money tree (kane no naru ki) is a good-luck symbol consisting of a tree with coins for leaves, and a trunk and
branches made up of characters that spell out auspicious phrases all ending in the syllable “ki,” a pun on “tree.” Daikoku and Ebisu,
the gods of prosperity (associated with rice and fish respectively) are usually shown beneath the tree.

In modern Japanese, the expression “money tree” (kane no naru ki) can refer either to an actual houseplant with coin-shaped leaves;
or it can be a slang expression for a highly profitable business venture, corresponding to the English “cash cow.”


Just so I can be sure you understand me I am adding an 18th century gold koban from the collection of the Tokyo National Museum.


Daikoku is not only the god of wealth, but he is a sometimes merchant too – Below is Eisen’s version of Daikoku as a pepper seller. I don’t know, but this may actually have been an advertisement. This is my guess.


Throw into the mix a Japanese connection – William Howard Coaldrake in his Architecture and Authority in Japan says that “…the presiding deity of Izumo, Okuninushi, has enjoyed abiding prestige as the kami in Shinto belief responsible for fishing, sericulture and good fortune. He has wider appeal in folk belief in which he is enshrined and revered as Daikoku, the god of wealth, fortune and the five cereals. In folk custom the Daikoku-bashira is the central pillar upon which the structure of a traditional building rests, affording the occupants protection against collapse or other calamity.”

Below is a statue of Ōkuninushi outside a Jishu Shrine at Higashiyama. It was posted at Flickr by Wally Gobetz. Notice the mallet in his right hand similar to one carried by Daikoku.


Courtesans who worked their magic for the Big Black One House of Prostitution: Daikokuya 大黒屋

NDL_Courtesan_from_Daikokuya_7b   National Diet Library   NDL_Courtesan_Daikokuya_8d

In your dreams – Below is a print by Koryusai from ca. 1778 showing the courtesan Sugawara of the Tsuru house dreaming of Daikoku and wealth.

AIC_Korysai_oiran_dreaming_of_Daikoku_7   ©The Art Institute of Chicago

On the other hand, as can be seen in this pillar print at Smith College, Daikoku is a dreamer too. Here he imagines a rat throwing beans at a fleeing cat much as a human would throw beans at Setsubun at demons who bring on life’s ills.

Smith_College_possible_Shigemasa_Daikoku_rat_driving_out_cat_7b   Smith College

Now for something refreshing – Below is a photograph of Anthony Quintano of Hillsborough, New Jersey, taking the Ice Bucket Challenge. I found it posted at commons.wikimedia. (I will explain later.)


The fake Daikoku statues fraud 

Philadelphia_Daikoku_fraud_Yoshitoshi_7   Philadelphia Museum of Art

An underwater volcano in the Pacific – There is a volcano, the Daikoku volcano, way out in the middle of nowhere and nowhere near the surface of the water. It has a conical shape and is said to be part of the Japanese archipelago chain. and is located at 21.32°N / 144.19°E. NOAA describes it as in the Mariana arc. My question: who in the hell named this volcano? If I find out, I will let you know. Below are two photos provided by NOAA.


The liquid sulphur pool can be found at a depth of 1,365′. Supposedly it is hard to spot as a liquid at those depths and under such great pressure. And yet it can “….be linked to an unusually high density of chemosynthetic organisms…”

Edoardo Chiossone, Kyōsai and Daikoku – Below is a detail from a Meiji  banknote from  1885. It was designed by Edoardo Chiossone. He designed three different banknotes that year that featured Daikokuten on 1, 10 and 100 yen notes. In 1886 he added one for 5 yen. The two images shown immediately below are from two totally different examples. That helps to explain the differences in colors and tones, but they were printed from the same die.


“Building on Daikoku’s long-established association with Edo silver coinage, the image of the deity that Chiossone engraved on the new notes was intended to affirm their credibility and stability.” (Donatella Failla)


Chiossone, at some point, must have crossed paths with Kyōsai because there is an ink drawing from 1885 of Chiossone as Daikoku dressed in Western clothing. This Daikoku, outside of his unusual garb, has the raised mallet, sits on bags of money, the rice bales sit on the ground behind that, and, yes, Chiossone is presented with those enormous earlobes typical of this god.

When you are thinking money, think Daikoku – The reason the Meiji government brought in men like Chiossone was so they could get control of the entire nation’s finances. Prior to this many, if not most, if not all, of the feudal clans issued their own scrip or hansatsu (藩札). It too often had Daikoku printed on it. Take for example this issue shown below:

BM_feudal_clan_scrip_hansatsu_7 © Trustees of the British Museum

Also, it has been noted that: ” Merchants frequently adopted Daikoku as their shop name (yagō 屋号 — i.e., Daikokuya 大国屋), and Tokugawa Ieyasu [1543-1616] granted use of the name Daikoku to Yuasa Jōze 湯浅常是, the silver smelter charged with verifying the quality of the silver currency issued under the bakufu’s authority. The image of Daikoku that Jōze and his descendants imprinted on each “coin” (chōgin 丁 銀, kodamagin 小玉銀) furthered the general association of Daikoku with monetary wealth.”

Below is a coin with a stylized Daikoku on it. Look carefully and you will see the mallet, the cap, the large bag, his face, and the two bales of rice he is mounted on.


Upon closer examination of the scrotum you will find… Below is a print by Kyōsai of a gathering of tanuki which are known for their oversized scrotums. Following the lead of his teacher, Kuniyoshi, Kyōsai used these prodigious appendages as a means of humorous disguise. Here a tanuki, wearing a Daikoku mask and holding a mallet, has slung his scrotum over his left should as if it was the large bag of gifts the god carried around with him. The seated tanuki to his immediate right – our left – is using his own scrotum to mimic the two bales of rice which Daikoku would often stand, squat or sit upon. Here he is kneeling.


A small shrine in Tokyo, the Matsushima-jinja (松島神社)In Old Tokyo: Walks in the City of the Shogun it says: “Back at the intersection near Exit 5 of Suitengu-mae Station, cross the street and turn right. Walk to the next traffic light and turn left. On the right is a small shrine called Matsushima-jinja . The shrine is related to Daikoku who is the god of five cereals and wealth, and the second of the seven lucky gods in this area. Apparently, this tiny shrine is dedicated to an especially versatile god who is responsive to as many as sixteen different kinds of wishes such as business prosperity, progress inmusic and other studies, as well as protection from danger. It is also one of the bird shrines which celebrates the Lucky Rake Fair in November. From its well-tended look, there is no denying that the shrine is very much alive in the hearts of the people of the neighborhood.” The image of that shrine shown below was posted at Flickr by Bryan.


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