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Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2009

Members of this year's Seven Lucky Gods Tou
Group shot: Members of this year's Seven Lucky Gods Tour pose together in front of Seiunji temple in Nishi Nippori in Tokyo's Arakawa Ward. Miki Oyama, Woman's Group vice president is third from right in front, with Alan and Eugenia Josephine Mindlin on the far left. Naomi Horie is second from right and Meiko Ninomiya is on the far right. YOSHIAKI MIURA PHOTO


Women's Group kicks off with lucky tour

Staff writer

Members of the Tokyo American Club Women's Group participated in the Seven Lucky Gods Tour in Tokyo's old and picturesque district of Yanaka on Saturday.

New Year's offerings of rice cakes and Mandarin oranges
Happy Hotei: New Year's offerings of rice cakes and Mandarin oranges are piled before a statue of Hotei, the joyful god of abundance and good health, at Shusei-in temple in Nishi Nippori in Tokyo's Arakawa Ward. YOSHIAKI MIURA PHOTO

The regular tour, organized since 2001 by Miki Oyama, vice president of the Women's Group, began at Tokakuji temple near Tabata Station.

Participants, down in numbers from previous years due to high winds that prompted a flurry of cancellations, then made their way by foot from Nishi Nippori to Ueno, visiting temples of the "seven lucky gods."

The tour stems from the Japanese belief that seven gods, Ebisu, Daikokuten, Bishamonten, Benzaiten, Fukurokuju, Hotei, and Jurojin, bring luck and happiness. Around New Year's, it has become a tradition for Japanese to visit temples and shrines said to enshrine each of the lucky gods and to pray for happiness in the coming year. The Yanaka area of Tokyo, in addition to its old-world shitamachi atmosphere, boasts temples for all seven gods within easy walking distance of each other, making it a popular area for the tour. Women's Group official Oyama said she decided to organize the tour in order to help non-Japanese get in on the fun.

Despite the wind and chill of the day, members of the tour chatted happily as they walked through the streets lined with many old Japanese houses, stopped to take pictures in front of the temples and prayed for luck.

"It's fun to walk and talk with my friend," said Tokyo American Club member Meiko Ninomiya, who was visiting the temples of the seven lucky gods for the first time. "I'd been interested in visiting them, so it was good that I could join this tour today," she said. "It's common to go to a shrine during the New Year season, but I had never visited the seven temples in a day before. So this was a great opportunity."

Eugenia Josephine Mindlin and others pray to Fukurokuju
Prayers and charms: Eugenia Josephine Mindlin (second from right) and others pray to Fukurokuju, the god of happiness, wealth and longevity, at Tokakuji temple in Tabata in Tokyo's Kita Ward. YOSHIAKI MIURA PHOTO

Her friend Naomi Horie admitted she took part mostly for the opportunity to socialize. "I'm here more to chat with my friend because I don't get to see her much," she said with a laugh.

The cultural and historical aspects of the tour were what attracted the Mindlins, a couple from the U.S. who were joining the tour for the third time.

Alan and Eugenia Josephine Mindlin, also Tokyo American Club (TAC) members, had lived in Japan for six and half years from 1996, left and returned in 2006 when Alan, who works in the telecommunications industry, was transferred back to Tokyo.

"It's the first Women's Group event of the year, and it's a popular tour," she said. "Participants can learn something about history, collect inked stamps of the seven lucky gods, have a pleasant walk and make friends."

Tour members purchase good-luck charms at Shusei-in temple
Best of luck: Tour members purchase good-luck charms at Shusei-in temple in Tokyo's Nishi Nippori. YOSHIAKI MIURA PHOTO

The Mindlins said they enjoyed the pleasant walk the tour provides and the opportunity to visit the temples. "I love the tour. It's great to be outdoors and see beautiful old temples," said Eugenia, who was born in Holland, where old, well-preserved buildings are a common sight.

"Japanese temples are visually interesting," said Alan. "Understanding the culture (behind the seven lucky gods) is also interesting."

The Mindlins make it a practice to visit shrines every New Year's in Japan, as well as take on the Seven Lucky Gods Tour. "We visit a shrine near our home in Tokyo on New Year's Eve," said Eugenia, "and visit Meiji Jingu on New Year's Day." She said they enjoy the New Year's tradition so much that they may make a special trip to Japan just for that purpose once they return to the U.S.

The Tokyo American Club Women's Group, which consists of some 750 members, helps to raise funds to support shelters for women who are victims of domestic violence, schools for handicapped children, and orphanages in the Kanto area, as well as organize cultural events and tours for TAC members. The Women's Group organized 27 tours around various parts of Japan last year.

"Our activities are serving as a gateway to social life in Tokyo, especially f or expatriates from the U.S.," said Oyama.

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