Consul General of Japan, Takayuki Kitagawa, speaking to students and faculty of Dayanand Sagar on their graduation day in Bengaluru on Sunday, said that the town of Kichioji near Tokyo was named after Goddess Lakhsmi. “You will be surprised to know that the town near Tokyo has its origin from Lakshmi temple. Kichioji means Lakshmi temple in Japanese,” he said.
Elaborating on the cultural similarities between the two countries and the influence that India had on Japan, Kitagawa said, “There are many more Hindu gods who are revered in the Land of the Rising Sun. For ages, we have been praying to Hindu gods.” He added that it is not just the Indian culture, but even Indian languages that have influenced Japanese culture.
Japan worships a host of Hindus gods and goddesses although they may not always be aware of their origins. Japanese Buddhist goddess Benzaiten, the goddess of everything that flows: water, time, knowledge, music, has origins in the Hindu goddess Saraswati.
As can be seen, while goddess Saraswati, who is associated with knowledge, music, speech and wisdom, is holding a veena, while goddess Benzaiten is holding the Japanese traditional lute, a biwa, which is often used in storytelling. Similarly, Japanese goddess of fortune Kisshoten has her roots in Hindu goddess Lakshmi.
Hindu god Ganesha is also an inspiration for Japanese god Kangi-ten, of the Shingon and Tendai schools of Japanese Buddhism. He is also known as Binayaka-ten, derived from Vinayaka, Ganabachi (Ganapati) and Ganwha (Ganesha). He, like Ganesha, is the remover of obstacles and also bestows material fortunes, prosperity, success and health. Kangi-ten, like Ganesha, is also depicted as elephant-headed, but as a male and female pair.
Japanese god Daikokuten, which is the Japanese equivalent of ‘Mahakaal’ (which literally translates to great darkness) is the god of great darkness and has origins in the Hindu god Shiva. He is one of the Seven Lucky Gods and is associated with wealth and prosperity. Similarly, Hindu god Kubera, the lord of wealth has assimilated as Vaisravana (son of Vishrava) in Japanese Buddhism. While the origins of the Japanese god Vaisravana is Hinduism, the character traits, functions and associated myths are different.
Many books are written on the worship of Hindu gods in Japan and even today, it is claimed that Japan encourages a deeper study of Hindu gods.
After Narendra Modi assumed the seat of Prime Minister, the deep cultural and historical ties between India and Japan have contributed towards bringing the two countries together in the areas of defence, infrastructure and nuclear energy. Japan has also provided loans to India for Narendra Modi’s Bullet Train project at interest rates that can only be described as very generous.