God of Poverty



Fudo Myo-O Gallery


God of Poverty, Bimbogami, Binboo Gami
bimbô kami, bimbogami, bimboogami bimbo kami
The God of Poverty was quite common in the Edo period. He was a filthy old man, with a long beard and wearing rags. He would stick to a home and make its inhabitants poor. So better not even try to get rid of him, although there are some special rituals to try and throw him out of your life.
Some people threw dry beans at him. Some used the bamboo for blowing on the kitchen fire, stuck a coin in it and threw this into a nearby river ... hoping the God of Poverty would follow it there and leave the house.

The God of Poverty is also known in Chinese legends as the son of Zhuan Xu, who was himself a grandson of the Yellow Emperor.

There is also a good of bad fortune and disease, Yakubyogami (Yakubyoogami 疫病神).

Gabi Greve


Shrines for the God of Poverty
Binbogami Jinja 貧乏神神社

There is a shrine for the God of Poverty in Osaka. The wooden statue is about 3 meters high. In front of it was a stone, where you touched with your hand to give back the poverty to him.

There is another shrine for him in Nagano prefecture, Iida town.

There you bang on a wooden pillar with a red rod, hoping to get rid of the unwanted companion.

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© www.padmacolors.org


Shrine at Kameido, Tokyo

Poverty Brothers Bin-Taroo and Bin-Jiroo
貧兄弟 貧太郎&貧次郎

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. . . . . H A I K U

Issa and his God of Poverty

masayume ya haru haya-baya no bimbô-gami

my dream comes true--
this spring my god
the god of the poor

This comic haiku refers to the first dream of the new year. Issa has dreamed of the God of Poverty, so when he wakes up and finds himself still dirt-poor, he declares it a "dream come true" (masayume).

Haiga by Nakamura Sakuo

The eleventh month of the last year Issa was involved in the trouble of robbery at Natume’s mansion.
Natume is his teacher of haiku as well sponsor, helping in his life.
Natume suspected Issa as a robber and kept him staying in the mansion for three days.
Lastly the money didn’t appear and Issa was released.
Issa couldn’t say anything, but felt very injured.

Sakuo Renku
being poor but never steal

© Haiga by Nakamura Sakuo

waga yado no bimbô kami mo o-tomo seyo

the dirt-poor god
of my house, too
joins the throng

According to Shinto belief, in Tenth Month all of Japan's gods vacate their shrines to congregate at the Izumo-Taisha Shrine.

Tr. David Lanoue


Quote from Robin D. Gill, Simply Haiku 2005

my pal, poverty!

yoi tsure zo binbôgami mo tachitamae (other version: saa otachi)
issa (d.1827)
(good companion! poverty-god, too, go-off deign-to!)

poverty, my pal,
its time you, too
hit the road!

When I first read this ku in Issa's journal, I had no idea what it meant. The original has no title; I only knew Issa called a "poverty god" his "good companion" and bid him to get going. My "hit the road" seems too harsh for the polite "tachitamae" version and too polite for the rude "saa otachi" (hurry, off you go!) version. I had read much more classic Japanese poetry (the Manyoushû (8c), Kokinshû (10c), etc.) than haiku and knew that Longing (koi) could be personified and, like the Blues, hide out in the home of the afflicted, so it did not seem odd that Issa personified his nemesis, Poverty, and played with him. At first, I did not know what made Issa's ku a bona fide haiku, i.e., one with a seasonal element. A year later (in his life, not mine) I found this:

furuzukin binbôgami to nanorikeri issa
(old-head-cloth poverty-god as name-announce [+emphatic])

head wrapped
in an old rag, am i
the poverty god?

Even after inheriting his half-a-house (shared with his step-brother) at age 50 and filling it with the perks (a 27 year-old wife who was indeed perky), Issa did not make enough money to stay home. The aged poet had to spend half of the year on the road officiating at haiku jam-sessions and sharing gossip for his honorariums. He never could shake off his companion, Poverty. Or was he, himself, Poverty? Note that I translated poverty god as "poverty, my pal" in the first ku. That reflects the fact that "god" is pegged onto a name much as "sama" (sir/mister/madam) may be and this turns "poverty" into a name. Look how much better the following works:

old head-wrap
guess i'll call myself
mister poverty!

It was customary to wrap a cotton cloth around the head to stay warm in the winter. So, the season was clear (that was obvious from the month in his journal being the 10th equivalent to the 11th or 12th today), though the seasonal theme under which such a ku would be placed was still a mystery to me. Issa's verb nanori (nanoru, lit. name-mount/aboard/list) is what an old-fashioned samurai does before doing battle. It means standing up and loudly announcing oneself. So,

old head-wrap
i am poverty come
to join the fray!

Ridiculous. But Issa is playing with classical literature. I wish I could recall how Lancelot and Sir Galahad did it. Failing that -

this old scarf
on my head the helmet
of sir poverty!

Sir Poverty. Sounds good, right? If we only had a title for a god! Or, how about something like "This old scarf / my helmet, i announce / for poverty!" After all, a samurai, like a knight, always fights for someone. Or, going back to the original god and Occidentalizing him (poverty is always male for men with means care for most females) into a punch-line: "An old rag / on my head: call me god / of poverty!" I had better get back to that first ku (I'll retranslate, no need to scroll up) before you forget it altogether and explain what this is really about:

poverty, my pal
it's time you, too
deign to leave

Unlike the old scarf, there is no indication of the cold here. So, what is happening? Issa's catch or seasonal excuse for the ku is that it was the start of the Gods-Out-Month (lit. god/s-not-month: kannazuki), when the ancient - i.e. Shintô, not Buddhist - gods leave for a month-long caucus in Izumo, the land of Eight Clouds (from which Lafcadio Hearn took his Japanese last name). Hence, my title. A saijiki (haiku almanac) would place both poems with kami-no-tabi (gods' travel), kami-okuri (gods' send-off) or kami-tachi (god/s-leaving). Issa wrote dozens of ku on this subject, though not all treat his pal Poverty.

© Robin D. Gill, Simply Haiku 2005

. Kobayashi Issa 小林一茶 in Edo .


. Beggars and Haiku  



Anonymous said...

Sweet blog. Helped me on my research a lot. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

in my home village
they're used to poverty...
maiden flowers

furusato ya bimboo nareshi ominaeshi


by Issa, 1815

Tr. David Lanoue