Japan Art and Ebisu by Kikugawa Eizan: Japanese God of Fortune

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Japan Art and Ebisu by Kikugawa Eizan: Japanese God of Fortune

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times


Kikugawa Eizan (1787-1867) was a noted artist who created art pieces based on Utamaro but from the start he had his own personal style and in time this grew even stronger. Often Kikugawa Eizan is overlooked but he created many notable pieces of art. This article is focused on his intriguing portrait of the only Japanese God of Fortune called Ebisu.

The original name of Ebisu was Hiruko which means “leech child” because according to Japanese legend Ebisu was born without a skeleton. In time Ebisu became the god of fishermen, workingmen, luck, and a special guardian of children regarding their health.

Ebisu is unique within the Seven Gods of Fortune because this God of Fortune originates in Japan. This means that a special affection is bestowed on Ebisu because people can connect and be proud of the origins of this God of Fortune. Therefore, the power of Ebisu fuses with the intriguing nature of Japanese culture.

Indeed, the nature of Ebisu also relates with the Ainu people because they cared for him according to legend. It is stated that Ebisu was the first child of Izanagi and Izanami and that he was born without bones. In other stories about Ebisu it is stated that he was born without arms and legs therefore it is clear that Ebisu suffered greatly in the early part of his life.


The early years were difficult for everyone connected with Ebisu because he was struggling to survive the hardship that he was born with. Eventually, Ebisu was cast into the sea in a boat made of reeds before his third birthday.

Ebisu therefore appeared to be on the brink of death but according to legend the mystery of life spared him because of the kindness of the Ainu. This is why Ebisu is connected with luck and being a guardian of children who suffer from negative health.

After overcoming severe disabilities and the hardship of life it is stated that his legs began to grow and obviously the same will apply to the skeletal structure of Ebisu. From this time Ebisu became associated with the Gods of Fortune. Irrespective of many pieces of the missing jigsaw it is clear that Ebisu overcame everything and the love that was bestowed on him by the Ainu – he in turn bestowed the same care and love towards others.


Kikugawa Eizan therefore highlighted the intriguing story about Ebisu. The Toshidama Gallery comments about “The Boy Disguised as Ebisu” that “This is a lovely piece, archaic in feel, design and coloration. An important piece, being so early in Eizan’s career and unusual in its subject matter.”

The story of Ebisu is extremely fascinating because it highlights the frailty of life but that with endurance and a strong personality, that individuals can overcome everything. This is the beauty of Ebisu and highlights the compassion of this God of Fortune.





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