Being curious about one’s fortune is something shared by nearly everybody across the globe. Although the practices of each country when it comes to predicting one’s future may be different, it can be agreed that they all provide a sense of excitement and fun.
Japan offers different ways and items for attracting good luck and fortune. Tourists should make it a point to try at least one form of Japanese fortune telling; the omikuji being a highly-recommended one.
What is an Omikuji?
An omikuji is a kind of paper fortune that can be found at many Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines in Japan. When translated into English, the term omikuji literally means “a sacred lot”.
Omikujis have been a part of the Japanese culture for about a thousand years. During ancient times, they were used by the local community as a way of getting advice from the gods and goddesses for different matters. Over time, the use of omikujis has evolved into a way of telling one’s fortune.
However, it should be noted that these are used to foresee both upcoming blessings and curses. As such, tourists should not compare these to the fortune cookies at Chinese restaurants which typically contain cheerful passages and be prepared for the possibility of getting a gloomy prediction.
When to Get an Omikuji – New Year’s Day, Japanese Festivals, Etc.
Although New Year’s Day and Japanese festivals (matsuri festivals, tsuyu festivals in June/July, etc.) serve as the peak times for omikuji fortunes, there is no rule or strict guide that prohibits a person from getting one any other day of the year. In fact, a lot of members of the Japanese community acquire omikujis simply whenever they feel like it.
Where to Get an Omikuji – Shrines and Temples
As previously mentioned, omikujis can be found in nearly every temple and shrine in Japan. The majority of omikujis provided by these religious places feature Japanese writing but English omikujis are slowly becoming popular, as well.
How to Get an Omikuji and What to do with it
During ancient times, the practice of shrines and temples was to offer visitors with an omikuji in exchange for a donation. A five yen coin was often given by visitors as it is believed to be a lucky item. At present, omikujis are typically sold for at least a hundred yen.
Regardless of the change in price, getting an omikuji in modern times still follows the traditional practice used from the very beginning. The act involves a box filled with numbered sticks which a person must shake while wishing for luck (similar to a game of lottery). The box is designed such that only one stick can pop out every time.
After acquiring a stick, the person must locate the number at the end of it and find this number on the series of drawers that contain the omikujis. Once the matching drawer has been found, the topmost fortune inside the drawer should be taken. Consequently, the numbered stick should be returned to the indicated spot.
As discussed, omikujis may bear good or bad fortunes. If one receives an omikuji that predicts some sort of blessing, he must make sure to not gloat about it in order to keep it from turning bad. Furthermore, it is also advised that the omikuji be taken home and kept close to attract as much luck as possible.
In the case that a person acquires an omikuji with a bad fortune or curse, he should make sure to leave it at the shrine or temple. The practice many Japanese people do with regards to unlucky omikujis is to tie them on a tree or any other structure within the complex.
Japanese – English Translations/Meanings of Omikujis
Omikujis are often folded or scrolled up to keep their respective fortunes hidden until they are chosen by a person. Each omikuji includes a general blessing that ranges from a great curse to a great blessing. The pronunciation, writing, and English translation of each blessing are as follows:
Dai kichi (大吉) – which means a great blessing
Chu kichi (中吉) – which means a middle blessing
Sho kichi (小吉) – which means a small blessing
Kichi (吉) – which means a blessing
Han kichi (半吉) – which means half a blessing
Sue kichi (末吉) – which means a blessing in the future
Suo sho kichi (末小吉) – which means a small blessing in the future
Kyo (凶) – which means a curse
Sho kyo (小凶) – which means a small curse
Han kyo (半凶) – which means half a curse
Sue kyo (末凶) – which means a curse in the future
Dai kyo (大凶) – which means a great curse
The omikuji also often includes a list of things the general blessing is for. After one has identified what kind of blessing he has gotten, the following terms should be noted to be able to understand what aspects of his life are being regarded by the fortune:
Hogaku (方角) – which may refer to an auspicious or inauspicious direction
Negaigoto (願事) – which refers to one’s desire or wish
Machibito (待人) – which refers to a person being expected or waited for
Usemono (失せ物) – which refers to a lost object or article
Tabidachi (旅立ち) – which refers to travel
Akinai (商い) – which refers to business matters or transactions
Gakumon (学問) – which refers to knowledge or education
Soba (相場) – which refers to market speculation
Arasoigoto (争事) – which refers to disagreements or disputes
Ren’ai (恋愛) – which refers to love or romantic relationships
Tenkyo (転居) – which refers to a change in residence or relocation
Shussan (出産) – which refers to pregnancy or childbirth
Byoki (病気) – which refers to one’s health
Endan (縁談) – which refers to an engagement or marriage
Temples and Shrines that Offer Omikujis in Other Languages
The Sensoji Temple, which also goes by the name Asakusa Kannon Temple, is one of the most popular and colorful temples of Tokyo, Japan. It is believed to date back to the year 645, which makes it the oldest temple in the metropolitan city.
Some interesting structures to expect at the temple complex include the Kaminarimon (a gate), Nakamise (a 200-meter shopping street), the Asakusa Shrine, and the Hozomon Gate.
The omikujis offered at this temple are available in English.
Address: 2 Chome-3-1 Asakusa, Taito, Tokyo 111-0032, Japan
Hours: 6:00 AM – 5:00 PM, daily (from April to September); 6:30 AM – 5:00 PM, daily (from October to March)
Admission Fee: No admission fee
Naritasan Shinshoji Temple
The Naritasan Shinshoji Temple, or simply the Naritasan, can be found in Narita, Japan. Its location near the Narita Airport makes it a great place for tourists looking for a way to pass the time waiting for their flights.
It was finished in 940 and features several artifacts and structures for visitors to appreciate. There is also an interesting street known as Omotesando for tourists to explore on their way to the temple grounds.
The omikujis offered at the Naritasan Shinshoji Temple include Korean, Chinese, and English translations.
Address: 1 Narita, Narita, Chiba Prefecture 286-0023, Japan
Hours: Always open to the public
Admission Fee: No admission fee
Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine
The Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine is one of the most significant shrines housed by the town of Kamakura in the Kanagawa Prefecture. It was founded in 1063 by Minamoto Yoriyoshi before being expanded and moved to its current location in 1180 by Minamoto Yoritomo. The shrine is dedicated to the god of the samurai warriors known as Hachiman.
The omikujis offered at this stunning shrine are available in the English language.
Address: 2 Chome-1-31 Yukinoshita, Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture 248-8588, Japan
Hours: 5:00 AM – 9:00 PM, daily (from April to September); 6:00 AM – 9:00 PM, daily (from October to March); No closing hours from January 1 to January 3
Admission Fee: No admission fee for entering the complex; 200 yen per person (for shrine museum)
Nishiki Tenmangu Shrine
The Nishiki Tenmang Shrine can be found in Kyoto’s popular shopping street known as Teramachi. It serves as the prime example for Japan’s city shrines and maintains a pleasant balance of the old and the new. At night, the shrine is particularly a stunning sight to see and visit, given its illuminated surroundings and the lively crowd of shoppers and tourists exploring the area.
The omikujis offered at this shrine come with English translations.
Address: 537 Nakanocho, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 604-8042, Japan
Hours: 8:00 AM – 8:30 PM, daily
Admission Fee: No admission fee
Kushida Jinja Shrine
The Kushida Jinja Shrine dates back to the year 757 when it served as an important trading point between Korea, China, and Japan. Several smaller shrines can be located within the complex, as well as several ancient trees, structures, and artifacts.
Address: 1-41 Kamikawabatamachi, Hakata-ku, Fukuoka, Fukuoka Prefecture 812-0026, Japan
Hours: 4:00 AM – 10:00 PM, daily
Admission Fee: No admission fee
Other Japanese Items for Good Fortune/Luck
Akabekos are traditional Japanese children toys that originate from the Fukushima Prefecture. They come from an old folk tale about a cow who helped create a temple and are aptly shaped in the form of the said animal.
According to the story, the cow turned to stone and became a Buddha after the temple was finished. Akabekos are given to children in the hope that they do not acquire any grave illnesses.
Daruma dolls are basically red paper-mâché dolls with white faces that resemble Bodhidharma. The dolls are meant for helping one achieve a particular goal.
According to Japanese tradition, they are often sold without any eyes. Once a person purchases his own daruma doll, he must fill in one of the doll’s eyes using a black marker, all the while keeping his goal in mind. After the goal has been accomplished or met, the other eye must then be filled in, as well.
Ehomaki refers to a tradition that was initially only practiced in Osaka but is now done everywhere in Japan. It involves people quietly eating a whole roll of uncut sushi while facing the lucky direction for the year.
Ema boards can often be found at Shinto shrines. They are referred to as wooden wish boards where people write their dreams, goals, or desires on and hang up at a specified area of the shrine.
Fukusasas are often sold during the month of January to businessmen. They are basically bamboo branches which have been decorated with lucky charms and symbols that are believed to have the power to make one’s business successful for the year.
Koinobori is a term used to refer to streamers that resemble carps. These colorful items are based on an old Chinese legend about a carp that becomes a dragon. During Children’s Day every April, the Japanese community puts up koinoboris as a way of blessing their children with good health.
Kurotamago is a type of egg that is cooked in the volcanic valley of Hakone. According to local tradition, eating one egg will add seven years to one’s life, eating two will add fourteen, and eating three will result in bad luck.
Maneki nekos are a popular good luck charm of Japan which are based on an old legend. They take the form of cats with one paw raised up to their ears, which many misinterpret to be an act of waving instead of a beckoning gesture.
Okiagari Koboshi Dolls
Okiagari koboshi dolls are another kind of traditional Japanese paper-mâché dolls meant to attract good luck. They are similar to roly-poly toys that are able to stand back up when pushed. For the Japanese people, the amount of luck an okiagari koboshi doll can bring is indicated by how fast it can right itself up.
Omamori, which literally translates to mean “protection” in English, is a sealed brocade bag that contains a blessing. These charms are sold at nearly every temple and shrine in Japan and come in different designs. There are also certain types of omamoris intended for specific purposes such as good grades, love, safety, and health.
Senbazuru is a term used to refer to a thousand paper cranes connected to each other through a string. It is believed that creating a senbazuru in a span of one year will grant the person with one wish.
Teru Teru Bozu
Teru teru bozu are simple, white cloth or paper dolls that look like ghosts. According to Japanese beliefs, hanging them upright will bless one with good weather, while hanging them upside down will attract rain.