March 13, 2020

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In Japan, both Omikuji and Omamori are types of fortunes found in Shinto and Buddhist shrines and temples across the country. Though these two words are similar in sound, they are quite different when it comes to the fortunes’ appearances and functions.

Minatogawa Shrine in Kobe, Japan

Fortunes are an important part of Japanese culture, and traditions of luck charms and fortunes have been around for thousands of years. Omikuji, which are Japanese paper fortunes, can be positive or negative. Meanwhile, Omamori are Japanese amulets that are more positive, bringing people luck or protection. People purchase Omikuji to learn about their futures while Omamori are more akin to good luck charms.

During Japan’s new year holiday, Hatsumōde, or the first shrine visit of the year, people flock to temples and shrines and can pick up Omikuji and Omamori in the hope of attaining luck for the upcoming year. Both Omikuji and Omamori can be purchased in major cities (like Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka) throughout the year as well.

Tourists are tying Omikuji on a pole.

Omikuji

Omikuji can tell people about their futures, regarding everything from business, health, and love to study, travel, and work. To receive a Omikuji or paper fortune from a temple or shrine, a kind of ‘offering’ needs to be made. Nowadays, this just means some form of payment, typically ranging from five to 200 yen.

To get this kind of fortune, you usually use a box (which can be square or cylindrical in shape) containing thin, numbered sticks called “Mikuji-bo” inside it. You shake this box, pick whichever stick comes out, and retrieve your Omikuji from a drawer with the corresponding number. The fortunes will often be rolled up like a scroll or folded.

When reading your Omikuji, your fortune can be positive, calling for a blessing or luck “kichi". These range from a great blessing “dai-kichi,” middle blessing “chū-kichi,” small blessing “shō-kichi" and half-blessing “han-kichi” to a future blessing “sue-kichi," future small blessing “sue-shō-kichi.” On the other hand, your fortune could tell of a curse “kyō," future curse “sue-kyō,” half-curse “han-kyō,” small curse “shō-kyō,” and finally a great curse “dai-kyō.”

Should you happen to receive a bad fortune or curse, you certainly don’t want to hold onto it. In fact, your bad fortune will give you a chance to improve your fortune by designating a place for you to put it. Some popular options include folding up the fortune, tying it to a tree or pole, and leaving it on the grounds of the temple or shrine. This should help you leave the bad luck behind.

While specific traditions vary between different temples and shrines, generally speaking, if you get a good fortune, be sure to carry it with you or bring it home to get the luck to stay with you.

Omikuji are available in temples and shrines across Japan. Some locations that include Omikuji written in English include Senso-ji temple in Tokyo and Nishiki Tenmangu shrine in Kyoto. Omikuji can also be found in vending machines in cities across the country.

Omamori wrapped in a yellow brocade bag.

Omamori

Omamori are Japanese amulets or talismans dedicated to specific Shinto kami (or spirits) as well as Buddhist religious figures. Traditionally made from wood or paper—and featuring a thread from which they can be hung—these amulets usually come in brocade bags made from silk. They also often have a stamp denoting the temple or shrine from where it was attained.

In both Shintoism and Buddhism, Omamori offer people good fortune and/or protection while also warding off bad luck. "Mamori” literally means protection or defense in Japanese. More specifically, Omamori can bring success: “katsumori,” health: “kenkou,” love: “enmusubi,” happiness: “shiawase,” safe child birth: “anzan,” etc. however, it’s said their powers only last about a year.

Traditionally, Omamori were blessed by priests to help ward off evil spirts. Today, small prayers still often accompany the amulet in the brocade bag. Omamori can be found at locations like Sensoji Temple and Meiji Shrine in Tokyo, and they can cost between 300 and 1,500 yen. Modern interpretations of Omamori can also be found in Japan’s many vending machines. These good luck charms come in all kinds of colors, sizes, and shapes, with a wide variety of designs, and some even feature cute characters.

Though they started as a traditional and religious trinket, Omamori are still very popular in Japan today. They hang from people’s bags, rearview mirrors, cell phones—you name it!

There are thousands of Buddhist and Shinto temples and shrines across Japan, and a majority of them are home to Japanese paper fortunes and amulets. If you find yourself visiting Japan, why not learn about your future with Omikuji or pick up Omamori for good luck?

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Dallas Ernst
Dallas Ernst

Dallas Ernst is a content producer, writer, and creative with a B.A. in English/Professional Writing. She enjoys editing, writing, baking, and film. She currently lives in Long Island, NY.