I’d seen a Hotei Statue many years before I ever knew who or what it meant. When I was a young boy I would frequently get dropped off at grandma’s house for baby sitting and since her husband had served in WWII for the Navy in the battles for Japan he became familiar with Japanese culture and art; and thus brought back several Large Laughing Buddha Statues to decorate his home with. They were gold leafed and very pretty. At that time I was unfamiliar with who Buddha was and just looked at them as silly decorations.
I think my second encounter with seeing a Hotei Statue was as a preteen, at the age of 13 years, when I was at a Chinese food restaurant my parents loved to frequent. Once again, I never paid the laughing Buddha Statue any attention and just figured it was a cultural decorative piece.
Then as an adult, I saw a Hotei Statue at an uptown, sheik, clothing store where my friend was the manager. I asked her why they had a Buddha near their cash register. She explained it was the owner’s idea and they placed it there for good luck for the business.
When I did a bit of research on the internet, I was able to confirm this lore of placing a Hotei Statue in a place of business for good luck. Some can this an application of Feng Shui. Feng Shui is a complex body of knowledge that reveals how to balance the energies of any given space to assure the health and good fortune for people inhabiting it.
What surprised me the most was that the Hotei or Laughing Buddha is considered a “patron saint” of restaurateurs and bartenders. How is that a Buddhist monk [Budaishi (d. 917)] receives accolades with Christian terminology “Patron Saint” and that who is it that a “Christian term is applying as blessing the work of bartenders? Ha! Now that sort of boggles the mind.
We have not yet touched on the serious facts or details about a Hotei Statue and the lore about him, but I do like the back story of how the laughing Buddha become famous. “Budaishi; a Chinese monk was said to have spent his life feeding the hungry and poor from his cloth sack. In fact, when translated directly “cloth bag” literally means “Hotei”. What makes this Hotei a Buddha then? Well, it must be that his large cloth sack, was said, to never run out of goodies… making it/him magical and “as walking with Divinity. “
One thing is for sure… this article has only touched on the mere surface of the complexities and symbolisms present when researching or talking about a Hotei Statue.