Binbo-gami (貧乏神)

Binbo-gami is a god who brings poverty to the people whom they cling to or their families. The name appears in folklores, essays, rakugo (traditional comic storytelling), etc. in various areas of Japan.


Basically, the god looks like a dirty old man, thin and pale, and appears with a sad expression and an uchiwa (round fan) in his hand. It is believed that no matter what the appearance, it always likes lazy people. When it possesses a home, it prefers to live in the closet.

In "Toenkai," a collection of strange stories from the Edo period by Bakin KYOKUTEI, etc., there is a story described below titled Kyuki. In 1821, there was a home in Bancho, Edo where misfortune continued. A man serving the samurai family visited Soka one day, and became acquainted with a monk. When the man asked the monk where he came from, he explained that he was at the house where the man served until now. When the man told the monk that he had never seen him at the house, the monk laughed and said the following before disappearing.
People are becoming ill one after the other in that house, and it is all the work of me, the Binbo-gami.'
That house has reached extreme poverty, so I am moving to another house.'
Your master's fortune will improve from now on.'
As he said, the fortune of the house in which the man served gradually improved.

Since it is a god in a fashion, it cannot be brought down, but ways to drive them away do exist. In Niigata prefecture, it is believed that Binbo-gami go away due to the heat when a fire is built in the irori fireplace (open hearth) on New Year's Eve, and instead, the god of good fortune arrive, delighted by the warmth. There are many popular beliefs on the Binbo-gami and irori, and in Tsushima-cho, Kitauwa-gun, Ehime Prefecture (the present Uwajima City), it is believed that digging the fire in the irori too much brings out the Binbo-gami.

The following is a story from the essay "Tankai" by Soan TSUMURA. Long ago, when a man was taking a nap at home, he dreamed of an old man in ragged clothing entering the zashiki (Japanese style tatami room), and since then, nothing went well. Four years later, the old man appeared in his dream and told him he will leave the house.
As a ceremony to send off the Binbo-gami, he taught to 'cook some yakimeshi (fried rice) and yakimiso (grilled miso), place them on an oshiki (square tray made of thin board with the four sides bent to make edges), bring it out from the back door, and release it in the river.'
Additionally, as a way to not invite Binbo-gami in the future, he taught as follows;
Never cook yakimiso, since Binbo-gami likes miso.'
Eating raw miso is even worse, and if it is eaten, you will not be able to start the fire to grill miso.'
Once these were followed, the house was never in distress again.

In connection to the theory that Binbo-gami likes yakimiso, in Senba, Osaka, there was an event for sending off the Binbo-gami until around 1877. At the end of every month, miso was grilled at a merchant's home in Senba, and it was shaped into a plate and carried around homes by the clerk, filling the air with aromatic scents. After some time, the yakimiso is broken in two. By doing so, the Binbo-gami, who came out of the house, lured by the scent of his favorite yakimiso, was believed to be trapped in the yakimiso. The banto would release the yakimiso in the river, and would thoroughly wash away the scent of miso on himself before returning, so that he would not invite the Binbo-gami. Additionally, according to the poet, Mitsuyuki NAKAMURA, Binbo-gami has an uchiwa in his hand to fan and enjoy the scent of this miso.

Some say that if the people of the house it possessed treat it kindly, it transforms into a god of good fortune. "Nihon Eitaigura" (Inoru shirushi no kami no oshiki) by Saikaku IHARA is a tale of a man who enshrined the disliked Binbo-gami, who was extremely moved, appearing by the master's bedside on the night of the seven herbs saying 'This is the first time I ate sitting at a table,' and as a sign of gratitude, made the man wealthy. Additionally, a hatamoto (direct retainers of the bakufu, which is a form of Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) who lived in Koishikawa of Edo, always poor, worshipped the Binbo-gami, offering sake and rice, thinking although he was poor all this time, it was the divine protection by the Binbo-gami that prevented especially bad things from happening, and asked for some relief from poverty and a share of good fortune. His prayers were somewhat answered. This Binbo-gami was considered the god who changes poverty into good fortune, and there is a hokora (a small shrine) enshrined today at the side of Ushi-tenjin Shrine in Kitano-jinja Shrine in Kasuga, Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo. By first praying to invite the Binbo-gami into the house, and then worshipping it carefully on the 21st day which is the completion day of a vow to send it off, the connection with the Binbo-gami can be cut.


There is a Binbogami-jinja Shrine built in Ida City, Nagano Prefecture, and the wooden statue of Binbo-gami placed there is enshrined not for worship, but for punching and kicking. Here, Binbo-gami is believed to be the weakness in one's mind, and by punching the statue, one can chase away the weak mind (relieve stress?) and bring good fortune through positive thinking.

At Myosen-ji Temple in Taito Ward, Tokyo, a stone statue of Binbo-gami (Binbo-gami from Momotaro Densetsu, Momotaro Dentetsu Series is the motif) is enshrined. This stone statue is called 'Statue of Binbo-ga-saru (monkey)' (statue for chasing away poverty), with a monkey on top of the head of the Binbo-gami to pray for economic recovery. This statue is placed in Kinashi Station of Takamatsu City, Kagawa Prefecture and Sasebo Station of Sasebo City, Nagasaki Prefecture, and Nakanocho Station of Choshi Dentetsu Co., ltd. Along the Choshi Dentetsu Co., ltd, a statue with a pheasant on its head which stands for 'Binbo-wo-tori (bird)' (remove poverty) at Kasagami-Kurohae Station and a statue with a dog on its head which stands for 'Binbo-ga-inu (dog)' (there is no poverty) at Inubo Station were place around the same time as the one with the monkey.

[Original Japanese]