Daikoku and Jurōjin otsu-e


Daikoku and Jurōjin otsu-e
Scroll, ink on paper
Edo period, 18th century
H. 23.6in (60cm) – W. 9.4in (24cm)
H. 50.8in (129cm) – W. 16.1in (41cm)

Otsu-e paintings are at once frivolous, light-hearted and disarming, and provide an amusing blend of auspicious symbols and social commentary. The name otsu-e is derived from the place where these paintings were sold, in and around the town of Otsu, a way station along the Tokaido Road running between Edo (present day Tokyo) and Kyoto. Created by anonymous artists, the paintings were sold in great numbers to the Buddhist pilgrims. This otsu-e image depicts Daikoku and Jurōjin, two of the Seven Gods of Fortune (Shichifukujin). Daikoku, also called Daikokuten (here represented in blue), is a god of great darkness, or the god of five grains, who evolved from the Hindu deity Shiva and became closely associated with the Shinto god Ōkuninushi. The name is the Japanese equivalent of Mahākāla, a Buddhist variant of Shiva. Jurōjin is the God of longevity whose origins can be traced to the Chinese Taoist god, the Old Man of the South Pole. He is often depicted as an old man of slight stature with an elongated bald head.
In this image, the two deities are almost naked, clothed only in a loincloth and, for Daikoku, a red hood. Jurōjin carries Daikoku in his arms, and they seem to struggle. This otsu-e image illustrates the two deities’ human qualities. They indeed seem less than godlike in such poses, and show us that the immortals have as many foibles as ordinary folk.