According to this Tofugu story, Hotei is an ancient man turned laughing Buddha who gives presents to children before the New Year. He and Santa Claus have a great deal in common.
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.
Author John writes that Hotei has become known as the Laughing Buddha in Western Culture. Here’s more on the similarities between Santa Claus and Hotei of Japan from this author.
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.
Tofugu gives Hotei a make-over in several pictures posted along with the article. Here’s one named Santa-Hotei.