Is Jurojin based on a real person?
Jurojin is a syncretic deity with numerous original sources, including a Daoist mystic who lived during the Northern Song Dynasty in China.
Why is Jurojin accompanied by animals?
Jurojin is usually depicted with animals that represent longevity: the crane, the tortoise, and most especially deer, once thought to live for thousands of years.
Jurojin (寿老人) can be translated directly as “Old Man of Longevity.”
Jurojin is a syncretic deity, a combination of Chinese Daoist belief, historical figures, and Buddhist imagery. Appearing as an old man, he is relatively short, only 90 centimeters (2’11”), with a bald head and a smiling face. His spine curved, he relies on a staff, upon which is tied either a scroll that recounts the lifespan of all living things or a Buddhist sutra (sacred text). In his other hand he carries a fan. He is accompanied by several animals, including a tortoise and a crane, but his most constant companion is a deer. In the pre-modern world, each of these creatures was believed to live for hundreds or thousands of years, making them symbols of longevity.
Perhaps the most important symbol to Jurojin (and one he shares with Fukurokuju) is the Southern Polestar. The polestars in Chinese lore are important points where sages live, and Jurojin is said to symbolize and inhabit the Southern polestar.
Jurojin is the grandson of Fukurokuju, another of the Seven Lucky Gods who is also god of longevity and the Southern Polestar. They sometimes are said to inhabit the same body.
Jurojin has a long history in Japanese art and religious life.
Arrival in Japan
Jurojin has very little in the way of unique mythos compared to Fukurokuju. The god Jurojin is based on a historical figure said to have been a Daoist mystic during the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127) in China. He was deified upon death, and the god known as Jurojin is a mixture of stories about this mystic as well as other religious figures. After his stories arrived in Japan via Zen Buddhist monks, Jurojin and his link to long life became important to Japanese art. Prominent from the Muromachi period (1337-1589) through the Edo period (1603-1868), many of Japan’s most famous artists worked on depictions of him, though this tapered off in the modern period.
Unlike many of the other members of the Seven Lucky Gods, Jurojin never developed independent worship, and thus is always revered in the context of the Seven Lucky Gods.
Like Fukurokuju, Jurojin is an amalgamation of various Chinese sages and deities, including the Old Man of the South Pole, who more explicitly resembles the elder Fukurokuju. He also borrows from the Sanxing, star deities of fortune and longevity.
Unlike many members of the Seven Lucky Gods, Jurojin is always worshiped as part of this larger group. Thus shrines dedicated to all seven, regardless of who is included or excluded, are his shrines, and many are seasonally related to the New Year, when the worship of the Seven Lucky Gods is at its height. Where he is unique is that artwork featuring him is said to have auspicious qualities such as improving lifespan and quality of life, thus making him a popular figure in artwork from the Muromachi period (1337-1589) onward.
Jurojin makes a number of appearances in popular culture: