WHAT IS OMAMORI?
If you’re the type of person to go to the cinema to enjoy popcorn, you’re like 99% of the Japanese who visit Shrines and Temples! Because even though greeting the Gods is the what’s on the menu, people come for the little extra you can find there: the Omamori (and Omikuji, but we’ll talk about that later)!
The Omamori, commonly known as the Japanese lucky charm or lucky amulet, usually takes the form of a small bag closed on top by a rope.
The word mamori (守 り) comes from the verb mamoru which means to protect. The "o-" is used as an honorific particle, like we can find in o-kane (money) and o-sake (alcohol. Yes yes!).
The origin of the talisman is not really clear but it can be traced to the Jomon Era (-300 BCE). The concept of Omamori (sacred talisman remote from the sacred source) started during the Heian Era. Nevertheless, it really became popular and commonly used by people around the Edo Era with the use of transportable amulets.
Priest created Omamori to carry the power and strength of the Gods and keep people safe and motivated. This sacred feature is hidden inside the bag, with a message on a paper or thin piece of wood. You should never open the bag, otherwise the blessing will disappear!
Omamori are unique to a temple or shrine, thus you have thousands of different Omamori all across Japan. Which makes the hunt even more exciting! Because of their compact size, Omamori can be placed almost anywhere! In your pocket, your wallet, hanging from purse or backpack, attached to you car, your bicycle…
There are various benefits with the use of the Omamori. It is usually made to bring luck, wealth, protect against disaster or evil spirit… But is sometimes found to serve different purpose.
Here is a list of the most common benefits:
Anzan (安 産): Protection of pregnant women during the full term of pregnancy to ensure a happy pregnancy and a safe childbirth.
Bioki Heiyu (病 気 平 癒): Get well soon and encourage to stay healthy
Chôju (長寿): Long life
En-musubi (縁 結 び): Romance omamori the exists in two kinds: for the one seeking love and for people in relationships who wish to stay together strongly
Gakugyô Jôju (学業 成就): Success for school children, students and researchers.
Kaiun shofuku (開 運 招福): attract good fortune
Kanai Anzen (家 内 安全): Safety at home (no accident) but also no illness in the home.
Kenko (健康): help keep you in good health
Kôtsû Anzen (交通安全): Protection of drivers and travelers of all kinds.
Ren-ai jôju (恋愛 成就): For success in love
Shôbai Hanjô (商 売 繁盛): Success in business and prosperity.
Shiawase (幸せ): help you achieve happiness in life
Yaku Yoke (厄 除): Chasing Evil
After a year of protection, the Omamori is said to lose its power. Japanese sometimes replace the amulet and bring back the old one to the temple where it will be burnt. But most people keep them as a souvenir!
While Omamori are usually associated with sacred and spiritual matters, you can also find a lot of more “casual” and cute amulet, with famous manga characters, prefecture mascots, sports teams, brand logo… Some people also make their own hand-made Omamori!
Round 2: The Omikuji
Just like Omamori, Omikuji are a staple of the Temple or Shrine experience! Omikuji is a small stripe of paper with written fortunes on it. You will easily find them near the main office, waiting for you in a box. Leave your small offering (usually around 100 yens) in the polls next to it and randomly pick up your price! Sometimes, to get your Omikuji, you will first have to draw a wooden stick from a cylinder box, show it to the person in charge so they can give you the corresponding Omikuji. Some places are also equipped with more fancy devices (vending machines, mechanized Lion, etc) to distribute the fortune telling paper.
Is it your lucky day?
Now the best part! Or not… Time to find out what your future is made of! Unless you’re fluent in Japanese and can read Kanji, you’ll have to find help to understand what’s up. Even though Japan is one of the most touristic places on earth, most of the Omikuji are only written in Japanese. But don’t worry, Omikuji in other languages, mostly English, are getting more common nowadays!
Once opened, you usually check the general fortune first. Omikuji are ranked by blessing, from great blessing (大吉, dai-kichi) to great curse (大凶, dai-kyou) with 11 stages in between. You’ll usually find yourself “chuu-kichi” (middle blessing), “shou-kichi” (small blessing) or “kichi” (basic blessing). If you pick “dai-kichi”, you’re a lucky fella! It doesn’t happen very often! It might be a good time to buy those Loto tickets! If you end up with a “kyou” of some sort, well… you might wanna keep reading to know how to get rid of that bad luck!
Under the general fortune, you will find more specific predictions related to your health, to travel, business, romantic relationships, lost things, childbirth, studies… You don’t have to read them all if don’t want to. Just the ones that concern you the most!
What to do with your Omikuji?
You basically have 2 choices. If the fortune is good and/or pleases you, keep it with you! Japanese usually carry Omikuji inside their wallets, bags, etc. If the fortune is bad, leave it at the Temple or Shrine! You’ll find designated area where you can tie it up. Often it will be around tree branches but nowadays it is common to leave them on a string setup for this purpose (easy cleaning). The idea here is to leave the bad fortune waiting behind so it doesn’t stick to us!
Round 3 (you're still here? Good!): The Ema
Ema literally means picture horse (絵馬). It’s a small wooden plaque where you write what you’re wishing for. It can be anything! Peace in the world, success to an exam, love… even car parts! Why not? That’s what we do anyway! You can find them at both Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. The front face usually has an illustration that varies from a zodiac sign (rat, cow, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog & pig) to a specific symbols related to the shrine or temple. The back face is were you write your wish. Sometimes both faces are empty and you can even make your own drawing on the front face!
Once done, you only need to hang it on the ema-kake (絵馬掛け). Once in a while, during special occasions, the monks will collect them and burn them, so the wish from the writer can be answered!
But why is it called a “picture horse” if there’s not always a horse on it? During the early Shinto and folk traditions, horses were seen as message carriers for the Gods. Unfortunately, horses were very expensive and rare at that time (probably like a Ferrari nowadays). It is only from the Togugawa period that objects with artist representation, like the Ema we know today, started to be used to send messages to dinities. The Ema is now a common way to communicate your wishes to the Kami-sama, to the priest but also to the public as they are displayed at the Shrine or Temple for everyone to see (and people looove to read them) before the burning ritual.