Who’s fat and jolly and carries around a big sack full of goodies? Santa Claus? Guess again! It’s Hotei, the fat man from Japan. More commonly known as the Laughing Buddha or the Fat Buddha in the Western world, Hotei is about as close as you’ll ever get to a Japanese Santa Claus. There are a ton of similarities between Hotei and Santa Claus, and some might even surprise you.
All About Hotei
Hotei is the Japanese God of Contentment and Happiness, and his legend goes all the way back to ancient China. According to the Chinese tradition, Hotei was a Zen Buddhist monk who lived in the 10th century before he became a god. In Japan, Hotei is one of the Seven Gods of Luck, lording over satisfaction, abundance, and happiness. He’s also the patron of children, fortunetellers, and bartenders.
Hotei has a shaved head, a jolly face, and a big belly which symbolizes the largeness of his soul, as well as how much Christmas cake he is capable of consuming.
Like Santa, Hotei is fat, jolly, and extremely generous. He holds a Chinese fan which was used in the olden days by nobles to indicate to their subjects that their requests would be granted. It’s probably also where Hotei writes notes about who’s been naughty and nice this year.
Now here’s where the major similarities start. Hotei also carries around a large linen bag where he stores gifts and fortunes for those who believe in him. He most often gives to the poor and needy, and his bag never empties. Hotei doesn’t have any elves or a winter workshop or anything, but who needs one when you’ve got a magic bag? This is also where he got the name Hotei, literally meaning “cloth bag” in Japanese.
Mr. Cloth Bag here is also often shown surrounded by kids, giving them candy and food. Like Santa Claus, Hotei is considered all knowing as well. You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout I’m telling you why, Ho~tei is coming to town~
Hotei is also said to bring his gifts at the same time each year when he arrives together with the six other Gods of Luck come New Year’s. And as we all know, New Year’s is awfully close to Christmas… hmm…
Before he was Legend
Hotei stands out from the other six Lucky Gods because he is the only one known to have been a real person, rather than a fabricated mythical being. His birth date is unknown, but he supposedly died in the year 916. Some say he was an incarnation of the Bodhisattva Miroku, the Buddhist Savior of the Future.
However, Hotei was kind of strange for someone who would eventually become a god. For example, he would beg for meat and fish even though they were foods forbidden to monks. For a belly that big, vegetarian monk food just wasn’t enough, I suppose.
Hotei’s appearance was also kind of unusual, being fat and scruffy and all, and to top it all off Hotei had no regular place to sleep or stay. Legend says he once slept outside during a snowstorm and didn’t get cold or wet at all. Sounds like something Santa would also be capable of, don’t you agree?
Is Santa Claus Just Hotei in Disguise?
Think about it. Look at all the similarities. Hotei has been around for a long time – maybe he got bored. He’s a god, so he’s certainly capable of delivering gifts to the entire world and not just Japan – plus Japan has six other Lucky Gods to take care of them. What if Hotei became Santa Claus?
Being the god that he is, Hotei could have just left Japan, set up shop in the North Pole, grown a beard, and bam! Santa Claus! His bag is magic, so making toys is super easy, he’d just hire a few lesser gods (the elves), find some reindeer, and he’s good to go. It all adds up. Hotei could very well be Santa Claus!
But even if Hotei isn’t Santa, he’s still a pretty cool guy. Bringing gifts and happiness to the needy, Hotei’s pretty awesome in my book.
Merry Christmas Eve, Everyone
But before I go, I’d like to leave you with an instant Christmas classic from one of the Japanese bands that just barely missed the cut for having a whole Saturday Timewaster post written about them, Momoiro Clover. Enjoy.
So tell me, what are you asking Hotei for this year? A custom Tofugu Action Ningyo, perhaps? Let us know in the comments and have a great holiday!