When traveling abroad, it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with the traditions and conducts of the country you are visiting. Oftentimes, having an understanding of the customs will allow you to immerse yourself in the culture and enjoy your trip even more.
Having said that, I would like to introduce you to the Omamori. You may come across these items being sold at religious sites or when you visit a Japanese friend’s home, ride in their car or you may even receive one as a gift.
The Omamori in an amulet (charm, talisman) which provides “luck” or protection to the bearer. Consequently, they are meant to be carried on the person. They are typically sold at both Shinto and Buddhist temples and shrines and offer everything from luck in love to safety while driving. New Year, a time when the Japanese visit temples in droves to offer the year’s first prayer, is a popular time to purchase these amulets. The charms are typically kept for one year. Originally made from paper or wood, the modern omamori is a small prayer or inscription often placed inside of a beautiful brocade bag and made sacred through ritual. The omamori are sealed and it is considered back luck to open them up to see what is inside. At the end of the year, the charms are disposed of in a special ceremony called Dondo Yaki (どんどやき)where old omamori are burned in a bonfire. It is also considered bad luck to simply toss your omamori into the garbage.
The different types of omamori include:
Kotsu-anzen: For traffic safety.
Yaku-yoke: For protection from evil.
Kaiun: For luck & fortune.
Gakugyo-joju: For education and passing examinations.
Shobai-hanjo: For prosperity in business & money matters.
En-musubi: For love & marriage.
Anzan: For a healthy pregnancy & easy delivery.
Kanai-anzen: For peace & prosperity in the household.
If a temple or shrine does not offer an omamori which meets the needs of the requester, a priest can make a special one to address that person’s area of concern. If the priest receives enough requests for the same type of omamori, the temple or shrine may start producing them on a regular basis.
So, the next time you are in Japan, pick up an omamori for yourself, your family members or your friends. We can all use a little bit of good luck.