Daikokuten is one of the Seven Lucky Gods in Japanese mythology who bring prosperity and fortune to people throughout Japan. As the god of luck and fortune-seeking, he is an important household deity also known as the god of five cereals. Those bold enough to make their own fortunes receive Daikokuten’s blessings. He is a localized form of the Indian god Mahakala.
Daikokuten, represented as 大黒天 in Kanji, means “God of the Great Darkness,” referring to his nature as the god of fortune-seekers. He has several additional forms, the most well known of which is a feminine form known as Daikokunyo (大黒女), meaning “She of the Great Blackness,” or Daikokutennyo (大黒天女), meaning “She of the Great Black Heavens.” He is also known as the God of Five Cereals.
Daikokuten is a highly revered god, a household deity whose images people often keep in their homes. He brings prosperity and invites fortune, and he is revered especially in the kitchen for his blessing of the five cereals, including wheat and rice. One tradition, called fukunusubi, holds that Daikokuten favors those who steal household shrines dedicated to him. If they are not caught in the act, they are said to be blessed. Daikokuten favors the bold, the fortune-seekers willing to take risks. In this way, Daikokuten, as “She of the Great Blackness,” is also the god of thieves, whose luck keeps them from getting caught.
He is portrayed with a wide face, a smile, a black hat, and a golden mallet called Uchide no Kozuchi, the Mallet of Fortune, an item appearing in many myths. Daikokuten uses this mallet to hunt demons. Statues of him are numerous and are popular in the countryside, cities, and homes. The most popular time to buy his statues is at the New Year, when he brings blessings for a year of fortune. Near the New Year, if someone steals a Daikokuten statue and isn’t caught, it means they will be extremely lucky.
Daikokuten is one of the Seven Lucky Gods (fukujin), who are largely of Hindu and Buddhist origin but are merged with local Japanese deities. Daikokuten is the evolution of a number of Indian deities who were spread across East Asia before arriving in Japan. Within the Seven Lucky Gods, Daikokuten can appear in six different forms, as male or female, and in the female form is known as Daikokunyo. Alongside Benzaiten and Kichijoten, other members of the Seven Lucky Gods who appear as female, Daikokunyo is the third member of a divine trio representing the Hindu Tridevi set of female gods.
Daikokuten appears at many Buddhist temples with the other Seven Lucky Gods, the most well known of which is Senso-ji, in Asakusa. This temple is primarily dedicated to Kannon, another member of the Seven Lucky Gods who is also a continental bodhissatva (a revered Buddhist figure on the path to enlightenment).
Daikokuten appears in many tales in Japan.
History in Japan
Daikokuten migrated to Japan from Asia through China and Korea, appearing with many other gods after the fifth century. He quickly became one of the most prominent members of the Seven Lucky Gods, popular in trying times and peaceful ones. By the Tokugawa period (1600-1868), Daikokuten had become associated with at least six other gods due to efforts to promote Buddhism by relating Buddhist gods to existing gods in other Asian traditions.
When Daikokuten appears in tales, the stories often highlight his fortune and daring, but more commonly his Mallet of Fortune appears, providing other figures with fortune and blessings. His role is sometimes interchangeable with other members of the Seven Lucky Gods.
In Other Mythology
Daikokuten’s origins lie in two Indian deities: primarily in the Hindu Mahakala, and secondarily in the Buddhist interpretation of the Hindu god Shiva called Avalokitesvara. In some theories, Mahakala is also a form of Shiva, which would place Daikokuten’s origins primarily in Shiva. Together, the stories of Mahakala and Avalokitesvara migrated across Asia, being modified and influenced by Buddhism before arriving in Japan.
In Japan they combined with local deities—Shiva with the Shinto god of magic, Okuninushi, for example—to create Daikokuten, a merger that was complete by the Tokugawa/Edo period (1603-1867). Many of Mahakala’s and Avalokitesvara’s forms, like Mahakala’s dark form, contribute to Daikokuten’s attributes (such as his name and his portrayal as the so-called “God of the Great Darkness”).
Daikokuten appears in several pieces of pop culture, including:
In the video game Yo-Kai Watch, Daikokuten is a supernatural creature.
In the manga series Nekogami Yaoyorozu, the character Meiko is the granddaughter of Daikokuten, even wielding his mallet.
In the anime Noragami, Daikokuten is one of the names Okuninushi goes by.