Buddha and Butter, East meets West

Posted on December 9, 2011

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OK, I didn’t find this in Tokyo, I found it online, here. I really appreciate this Buddha butter dish’s cross-culture jamming. Eastern deity meets western dairy product in mass produced porcelain harmony.

I wonder though, is this even Buddha? I would have never asked this question before coming to Japan since this representation of a fat man in a robe is so often presented as Buddha in the west. Now that I have spent a bit of time in Japan and have visited innumerable temples, I’d have to say that this jolly guy looks like a member of the seven gods of good fortune (七福神 Shichi Fukujin). These seven often appear in Japanese folklore, and while some of them have roots in other parts of Asia, including Buddhist and Hindu India, they are not Buddha and have been in Japan long enough to have become naturalized. They also remind me of the seven dwarves in the Disney film about Snow White.

Seven gods of good fortune

Seven Dwarfs

To me, this guy really looks like Hotei, a supposed incarnation of Buddha who lived several hundred years after the original Buddha. In Chinese Hotei is Budai. Confusing stuff.

Hotei, god of contentment and happiness

There is a butter shortage going on in Japan right now, but there isn’t usually much butter going on in this country anyway. There are also very few, if any, butter dishes in Japan. I have yet to see one in a shop or a home. This is clearly a sign. We must welcome the god of butter luck.

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Posted in: history, Kitchen