One of the Shichi Fukujin (seven gods of good fortune), Bishamon-ten is depicted as an armoured warrior in the Chinese style, carrying a Chinese halberd. In his other hand he carries a small pagoda—the traditional repository for scrolls of the Buddhist canon (the sutra). Bishamon is the protector of Buddhist Law, and consequently, the god of happiness: By his protection people can find happiness and avoid misfortune. Bishamon-ten’s miniature pagoda, or reliquary, has five superimposed parts representing the elements of the universe. It also represents the iron tower from which Ryugo (Nagarjuna) received the secret scrolls of the Law. He is master of the northern direction and as such, traditionally, the dispenser of largesse and good fortune (which accounts for his membership in the Shichi Fukujin), because the North was supposed to be the land of treasures guarded by spirits.

Bishamon-ten is also a member of the Shi Tenno, the four heavenly protectors/ emperors. Therefore, in his own character, Bishamon-ten is viewed as protector in times of war. In his persona as protector of the Law, he aided Shπtoku Taishi in his war to establish Buddhism at the imperial court. The famous warlord Uesugi Kenshin (1530–1578) was consecrated to Bishamon-ten, and one of his banners always bore the first syllable of that deity’s name.


  • Joly, Henri L. 1967. Legend in Japanese Art. Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle Co.
  • Eliot, Sir Charles Norton Edgcumbe. 1959. Japanese Buddhism. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.



Handbook of Japanese Mythology written by Michael Ashkenazi – Copyright © 2003 by Michael Ashkenazi