Fukurokuju is one of the Seven Lucky Gods, a group of deities who travel Japan blessing believers with luck and fortune. Fukurokuju represents good fortune and long life, bringing longevity to those who believe. His appearance and attributes come from China, where he is said to represent one of several luck deities.
Fukurokuju (福禄寿) means “Happiness, Wealth, and Longevity” when literally translated.
One of Fukurokuju’s most obvious features is his elongated forehead, which is massively large in almost comedic proportions. This represents his wisdom, which is one of his leading traits; he is wise, generous, and gracious, gifting believers with long life and prosperity.
Though old and forced by his enormous forehead to walk with a staff, he is well-dressed and very much a sage. Fukurokuju’s facial expressions are typical of the Seven Lucky Gods; he sometimes looks happy and other times appears contemplative. No matter how these gods appear, though, they all grant good fortune to believers, particularly around the New Year, and spend the rest of the year traveling across Japan.
Like most of the Seven Lucky Gods, Fukurokuju did not originate in Japan. He is a version of the Chinese god Shou, the Old Man of the South Pole, a luck god who represents the Southern Polestar. He is also said to have been a hermit named Jurojin during the Song Dynasty (960-1279) who lived without eating food, himself an incarnation of the Daoist god Xuanyu. Stories about these various gods were blended together, resulting in Fukurokuju.
Fukurokuju is linked to the Southern Polestar and the Southern Cross, which is only occasionally visible in the Japanese sky. He brings long life, prosperity, and—most importantly—happiness to his believers. His constant companions are a crane and a tortoise, who represent prosperity and long life respectively, but he is also occasionally followed by a black deer. In Japan, deer turn black if they are older than two thousand years old, and thus this deer represents longevity. Unlike other members of the Seven Lucky Gods, Fukurokuju has the ability to tell when someone is going to die and can bring the dead back to life.
Originally Fukurokuju was not a member of the Seven Lucky Gods, but he took the place of either Kichijoten or Jurojin. Thus his membership to this list of gods is relatively new, joining sometime between the late Muromachi and early Tokugawa periods (1470s-1630s).
In some legends, Fukurokuju is the grandfather of fellow Seven Lucky God member Jurojin. In other legends they inhabit the same body, or are somehow two bodies occupying the same space, which creates confusion between the two.
Fukurokuju’s many myths come from China.
The Old Man of the South Pole
Before he was Fukurokuju, he was Zhao Yen, a sickly boy who was predicted to die at age 19. Wanting to extend his life, he sought advice and was told to seek a field where two men played the board game shogi, and there offer them a jar of wine and dried meat, but not to answer their questions. He did so, and the two old men thanked him by shifting his age of death from 19 to 91. He was told that the man who picked his date of birth was the Old Man of the North Star, while the man who changed his date of death was the Old Man of the South Star.
He later replaced the Old Man, and has ruled ever since as Fukurokuju.
Fukurokujo is closely aligned with another kami (a Shinto god or spirit) called Kuebiko. Kuebiko is an agricultural kami who cannot walk but who has complete awareness and brings blessings to the harvest, granting wisdom and helping learning, and is often represented by scarecrows.
Fukurokuju represents a composite of Shou and Xuanyu, both Chinese gods.
Fukurokuju appears in many pieces of popular culture, including: