We’re celebrating the June release of Eight Million Gods by Wen Spencer, a contemporary fantasy novel set in Japan, with a manga-riffic Japanese gods contest.
The question: which Japanese god would make the best sidekick to take through life and have at your beck and call? Which Japanese god would you want to play the Robin to your Batman?
If you’re not up on your Japanese deities, Wen Spencer has provided us with a handy crib sheet and a reference for more.
Here’s the contest: tell us you choice for a divine sidekick and, in a few sentences tell us why. Be creative! Best answer as judged by Baen editors and Wen Spencer herself will receive a free signed edition of Eight Million Gods and five free ebooks at Baenebooks.com.
Email your contest entry to email@example.com, and please include “Japanese gods contest” as the subject. Contest runs through May 25, 2013. Check below for Wen’s background information.
The Japanese Gods of Wen Spencer:
Basically there are three major religions in Japan. Shinto, Buddhist and Christianity. Shinto is the religion of good events. Births and Weddings and the New Year are all celebrated at Shinto shrines. Death is handled by Buddhist rituals. The seven lucky gods are a collision of several religions, mostly Shinto and Buddhist but with hints of Hindu. Since there are 8 million gods, there are also the unnamed "Luck Gods" and "Poverty Gods" that you can lure into statues to live with you, or have to drive out because it’s taken up residence in your house, bringing bad luck.
For my own "sidekick," I think I would go with:
Ame-no-Uzume (天宇受売命 or 天鈿女命) Commonly called Uzume, she is the goddess of dawn and revelry, instrumental to the "missing sun motif" in Shinto. She is also known as The Great Persuader and The Heavenly Alarming Female.
Uzume was the goddess that lured the sun goddess out of hiding when she was throwing a royal snit and hid a cave, casting the world into darkness. She did it by doing a comical strip dance that made all the other gods laugh so loudly that the sun goddess peeked out to see what the commotion was about.
Later the sun goddess was trying to talk the first of the Earth gods into agreeing to obey her grandson, the first Emperor of Japan. Uzume stripped from the waist up and stood in the god's path, hands on her hips, and challenged him. He was so impressed with her that not only did he agree to obey the Emperor, he married Uzume.
Here are some other ideas:
Uke Mochi (保食神), sometimes called Ogetsu-hime-no-Kami, a goddess of food. After she had spat a fish, vomited or defecated game and coughed rice, she had been killed by a disgusted Tsukuyomi, or in some other versions, Susanoo.
The food was delicious but it was so disgusting to watch her make it that no one could bear to eat it afterwards. Hey, but all the free food, just wear a blindfold!
Jizō (地蔵), numerous rough-hewn buddhas in towns and countrysides represent this deity. He is the protector of the vulnerable, especially children, travelers, and women in childbirth.
When you're in Japan, there's Jizo statues everywhere. I loved the statues where the artist decided to give a touch of whimsy to them and have them grinning. I have a little one (two inches high) sitting on my desk. I always imagined him to be very laid back with a great sense of humor: in other words, a great traveling companion.
Susanoo-no-Mikoto (須佐之男尊) Alternately romanized as Susano-o, Susa-no-o, and Susanowo. Reportedly called "Futsushi". He is the god of storms as well as in some cases the god of the sea. He is also somewhat of a trickster god, as Japanese mythology extensively documents the "sibling rivalry" between him and Amaterasu. Susanoo also was responsible for the slaying of the monster Yamata no Orochi and the subsequent discovery of the sacred sword Kusanagi.
Susanoo is like your frat brother who is a mean drunk. He's cool and loyal but has a very wicked temper and you're never sure what he'll do next. Life would not be boring with him around. He's also good in a fight.
Inari (稲荷) The god or goddess of rice and fertility. His/her messengers and symbolic animal are foxes. He/she is often identified with the Buddhist deity Dakiniten.
Inari is hugely popular in Japan because he's closely tied to business success. Originally two Shinto gods, they were merged together and mixed with a Buddhist god to become something really strange in that Inari can be a he, she, or it. He has shown up in legends as a snake, a dragon, an old man with a bag of rice, and an androgynous bodisattva riding a flying white fox.
Whatever the occasion, whatever the emergency, Inari would have it covered.
The Seven Lucky Gods
These are probably borrowed from China. Many figures in Japanese myth were transmitted from China or India. They sail upon a treasure ship, the Takarabune (宝船). On New Years, the seven gods arrive in town and distribute wonderful presents to the deserving. Children get red envelopes with an image of the Takarabune on them which usually contain money.
Ebisu (恵比須, 恵比寿, 夷 or 戎) The sole member of the gods believed to have originated in Japan, he was originally known as Hiruko (蛭子), the first child of Izanagi and Izanami. Said to be born without bones, he eventually overcame his handicaps to become the mirthful and auspicious Ebisu (hence one of his titles, "The Laughing God"). He is often depicted holding a rod and a large red sea bream or sea bass. Jellyfish are also associated with this god and the fugu restaurants of Japan will often incorporate Yebisu in their motif.
He just seems like a fun traveling companion to me and usually provider of fish, so very useful in Japan where the ocean is rarely far away.
That should give you a start. If you need more (remember, there are at least eight million) then check here for a good reference. Good luck!
Note: portions of the above material are derived directly from Wikipedia entries found here.
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