Guardians of Fortune: The Enigmatic World of Omamori Amulets

by Nana Young
Japanese charm (protective amulets) blessing in many way selling at Toshogu shrine in Ueno Park in Tokyo

According to traditional Japanese lore, no evil will befall you when you carry an omamori on your person. This colorful amulet is a vital piece of Japanese culture that visitors should experience. Let’s help you learn everything about omamori before you get your first one!

Introduction to Omamori: Japan's Protective Charms"

Couple of Japanese amulet sold in most shrines

An omamori is a Japanese amulet believed to bring good luck and ward off evil. They are sold at Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines as good luck charms. The term omamori is derived from the Japanese word mamori, which means “protection” in English.

An omamori is made of paper or wood and kept in an embroidered brocade bag or cloth stamped with the name of the shrine or temple where it was sold. The pouch may contain a fuda, a piece of written prayer or a religious inscription. Most omamori come with a string attached to them. They’re said to have spiritual value because the priest prays over them before they get to their new owners. Every omamori is dedicated to a Shinto kami (deity or spirit) or legendary Buddhist figure. It’s made for the personal use of tourists who visit religious grounds. Some people also give omamori as a gift to friends and family members.

Omamori generally bring good luck and protection from evil. However, they tend to have other specific purposes, such as happiness, academic success, good health, and love. So before you buy a new omamori, be sure to find out its meaning. 

Meaning and Significance: Power of Omamori

Japanese charms commonly sold at religious sites Shinto and Buddhist, provide various forms of luck or protection

If you understand Japanese, you can grasp the omamori’s symbolic meaning straight from its name. As stated earlier, the term is derived from mamori (protection). According to kanji symbolism, adding “o” as a prefix denotes high respect for whatever follows. Hence, omamori means a highly respectable object that brings protection to its owner.

It also serves as a representation of the two most important religions in Japan, Shinto and Buddhism. Recently, there has been a shift in the perception of these amulets, and fewer people link them to religious practices. You can even buy religion-neutral versions in gift shops. Omamori also represents various aspects of life and protection. How people use it generally depends on the type of omamori they have. For instance, if the omamori is meant to protect you while traveling, it makes sense to keep it in your car. The amulets also serve different purposes that can impact specific parts of your life. Here are some examples:

  • You can get one for business prosperity

  • You can get one for love if you’re hoping to find your soul mate

  • You can also seek encouragement in school with the help of an omamori for academic success

Origin Story: History of Omamori

A hands holding Japanese amulets (Japanese on the amulet is mean a good relationship with your lover ). Love talisman for their relationship

There are multiple origin stories for the omamori, but the most common is that it began in 14,000–1000 BCE, during the Jomon period of Japanese history. That was the first appearance of a talisman in Japan, and it took the form of the comma-shaped beads called magatama. The magatama was worn to protect people from evil spirits.

At the time, temples and shrines were gaining prominence in Japan, and their members were traveling far and wide to find more believers. However, transportation was too limited for most of the believers to visit the temples themselves. Inspired by the magatama and the concept of animism, which believed that inanimate objects could hold spiritual essence, the priests introduced the practice of leaving wooden and stone pieces near households. The omamori we know today first appeared in the Heian Period  (794–1185). It became even more popular in the Kamakura Period (1185–1333), with the ruling samurai class wearing it as a protective amulet during battle. In the same period, regular people also began carrying omamori among their personal belongings.

Modern omamori is more widespread and diverse. It can come in the form of a bag (the most popular), an arrow, a bell, or wood. What matters most is the fuda in the charm, which signifies what type of prayers were used to bless the charm and what benefits it provides.

Types of Omamori: Purposeful Charms

Many types of Japanese traditional charm for good luck called “Omamori”, always sold in major temples

Let’s explore the ways omamori vary based on their specific purpose. Check out our quick guide.

  • Kai-un (good fortune or luck): For when you’ve had a run of bad luck and need that to change or when you are attempting something that needs some luck to be successful.

  • Kenko (sound health): To prevent illness, ensure surgery success, or deliver a pregnancy safely.

  • Kanai anzen (family safety): protects the family of the owner from harm and evil spirits.

  • Shiawase (joy): brings happiness to people’s lives.

  • Kotsu-anzen (travel safety): helps travellers and passengers feel safe while embarking on a journey.

  • Gakugyo joju (academic success): for students and scholars who want to excel in their education or pass an examination.

  • Shobai-hanjo (business success): for business people who want to prosper and make more money.

  • En-musubi: to help single people find love or marriage over time and to protect relationships from evil.

  • Yaku yoke (protection): for general protection against evil.

  • Shigoto (job success): for job seekers or employees who want to advance their careers.

Craftsmanship and Design: Artistry of Omamori

A Kitty Style Popular Omamori (Good Luck Charms) is popular in Kinkakuji Temple

The omamori is a reflection of the intricate craftsmanship and beautiful designs of Japan’s artistic heritage. Traditional versions of the amulet are typically made from an encasing of brocaded silk, while the fuda is a piece of paper or wood with written prayers. The designs on these charms are simple, embroidered, and bright-colored.

Modern versions of the amulet are made from a wide variety of materials and use more elaborate designs. These newer designs include motifs of animals, flowers, and symbols. The shapes and forms of omamori have also gotten more adventurous over the years. You can now find them as stickers, pouches, and cards. Many of these omamori were handmade, but there have been recent attempts to make them in factories, which caused some controversy and were met with disapproval from Shinto priests. As a result, some of the omamori you see sold in stores and shops have no spiritual value, especially those featuring popular pop culture characters like Mickey Mouse and Snoopy. You don’t have to follow any of the associated rituals and practices with those kinds of omamori.

Rituals and Practices: Using Omamori

Omamori, good luck charm

We know that we’ve used the term “buy” a few times in this post. But please note that you do not buy an omamori from a shrine or temple. Rather, you “receive” one from a Buddha or kami after making a donation to the religious site. The money you give is dedication, not payment. If the temple does not have the type of omamori you need, you can make a request, and the priest will make one for you. The more times they receive similar requests from others, the higher the chance of making those types of amulets in bulk. 

Ideally, you want to carry the doll on your person - hanging from your bag, car key, phone, etc. However, if you can’t do that, you may leave it at home as long as its environment is clean and bright. Omamori’s resting place should be elevated (at least higher than your eye level). 

While the omamori is in your possession, you should never open the bag or pouch. Doing that disrespects the kami and releases the blessings from the amulet. Also, while some people think it’s bad luck to keep a charm for more than a year, others have used the same one for several years. According to the lore, the stains and natural wear of an old omamori are believed to be a result of the bad luck it has helped you to avoid. However, when it’s time to dispose of the omamori, you can take it back to the same shrine or temple where you got it for ceremonial disposal. Alternatively, you may dispose of it at home. A home disposal is a ritual in its own right. You have to sprinkle salt on the charm and cover it in white paper. After that, you may dispose of the omamori. Don’t forget to give thanks to the deity during the process. 

Protection and Blessings: Omamori in Life

Japanese girls in kimono clothes looking for good fortune luck charm or talisman "omamori" for good luck in New Year.

Even though there are many claims that Japanese people are not very religious, there is a strong belief in the protective and auspicious qualities of Omamori. Every New Year’s Day, millions of Japanese people visit their favorite temples and shrines to receive a new omamori. They also go to these places when they require the assistance of the kami. Furthermore, the omamori serves as a thoughtful gift for people in Japan. For example, you can give the gakugyo joju to someone who has a big upcoming exam. 

Omamori in Traditions: Religion and Folk Beliefs

Person show Japan souvenir Omamori for passing exams

Every culture has its own version of these Japanese lucky charms, which are based on the religious concepts of their region. Omamori is rooted in both Shinto and Buddhist traditions, serving as a bridge for cultural and religious beliefs.

The Buddhist amulet tradition encourages people of all ages and backgrounds to wear an amulet in their daily lives. Buddhist omamori are made according to the images of Hotoke, a spiritually enlightened person. They’re considered sacred objects that should be treated with care and respect. Shinto charms are typically shrine-dedicated to the kami, which are gods, deities, lords, or forces of nature. Omamori is the perfect combination of both Buddhist amulet traditions and Shinto charms!

Omamori and Travel: Protection on Journeys

a lot of fortune colorful pouch hanged on the wooden rack in hikawa shinto shrine

One of the most common reasons people give for getting omamori is the need for protection during travel. It’s only natural to worry about potential accidents when you drive your car or board public transportation. For this purpose, a Kotsu-anzen is the go-to choice due to its promise of travel safety. You’ll find a lot of these traffic safety omamori attached to the rearview mirrors of cars. You can carry it on your person, but having the charm in your vehicle is easier and more convenient. You don’t want to be halfway to your destination only to discover that you left the amulet at home. You can find these omamori charms at Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines in popular tourist destinations in Japan.

Cultural Significance: Omamori and Tradition

Omamori good luck shop. Available in almost all shrines

Omamori greatly contributes to Japan's cultural heritage and the preservation of traditional beliefs and practices. It brings people closer to religious sites and allows believers to interact with the priests and other workers at the shrine. Just like in ancient times, omamori is still a way for believers to spiritually connect with temples and shrines without having to travel there physically.

Visitors from all over the world who travel to the country also participate in the practice, irrespective of their religions. They do so because of how easy it is to take part in the rituals and rites associated with the amulet. After all, who doesn’t love a good luck charm?

Omamori in Modern Life: Adaptation to Needs

Oriental good luck charms "omamori" talisman or amulet on souvenir market near Asakusa, Tokyo.

Omamori remains relevant in modern society because of how well makers are adapting to address contemporary challenges and needs. Modern redesigns now use characters from popular culture, a practice that not all religious sites agree with. However, these versions of omamori exist and are mostly sold in gift shops. Mickey Mouse, Hello Kitty, Kewpie, and Snoopy are some of the most common characters incorporated into omamori designs.

Another modern adaptation of omamori is the type used for sports. It protects athletes and fans while also featuring sports-related motifs. Then there’s the pet omamori, which is much smaller than typical versions and is made for household pets like dogs and cats.

Custom and Superstition: Beliefs Around Omamori

Colorful Japanese Omamori charms

Let’s take a quick look back at the beliefs surrounding the charm, including omamori etiquette, customs, superstitions, and taboos.

  • Removing the fuda from its enclosure is considered an act of disrespecting the deities that blessed the omamori.

  • Burning the omamori is a better method of disposal than dumping it in a garbage can.

  • Omamori has no spiritual essence unless prayed upon by a priest.

  • Visible wear and tear means the amulet is working.

Where to Find Omamori: Sourcing Authentic Charms

Young japanese women wearing traditional japanese kimono clothes, choosing souvenir in Asakusa traditional Japanese souvenirs market

Getting your omamori from a reputable source will ensure that you acquire these powerful symbols of protection with confidence. You can get authentic omamori from stands that sell amulets and other spiritual tokens at religious sites. In temples, these stands are called jimusho, and in shrines, they’re called shamusho.

If you’re considering getting the omamori as a meaningful gift for a loved one, gift shops might not be the best option. However, you don’t need to worry. There are many other special and authentic gift ideas at Bokksu Boutique. Feel free to explore our catalog to find the best gifts. You can also learn how omamori compares to another sacred item by reading our comparison article on omamori and omikuji. Enjoy!


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