Omamori: all you need to know about Japanese Talismans, amulets, and other lucky charms
As a follow up to my earlier post regarding Japanese Lucky Charms: the Engimono, now as the year is starting I would like to talk a little bit about Omamori (お守り) which can be roughly translated to amulet, talisman or simply to lucky charm, which is extremely popular both to buy and to gift especially in the first days of the New Year (Nengajo).
The key difference between Omamori and Engimono
The key difference between Omamori and Engimono is, that while Engimono can be of diverse forms and ways, Omamori has few distinct shapes and works in different ways too. Nowadays, however, Omamori is also used as an umbrella term for lucky charms and therefore, under Omamori also Engimono is featured.
The origins of Omamori
Japanese, just like the Chinese are deeply superstitious by tradition. The word „Mamori” means protection. And the O- before it signifies the holiness of the thing itself. Luckily the superstitions of Shinto and Buddhist traditions can be paired up or they can live happily side by side. Omamori has been used by the Japanese as a distinctive talisman since the 17th century and has remained extremely popular ever since.
Omamori has two distinctive origins. First, it originates from the Shinto O-fuda ( which is sold to this day in a form of a hanger paired up with a paper citing important verses), that’s a traditional amulet sign. This still serves as overall protection and is often featured in Japanese households. On the other hand, Omamori also has Buddhist roots. In Buddhism protective verses have long been used as talismans.
All in all, one religious belief does not close out the other. Talismans have always been extremely popular. And in Japan where competition and stress are extremely high, people feel they just need all the luck they can get. Omamori contains Buddhist or Shinto holy blessings which serve to protect or to bring luck to its bearer in certain areas of life. Each Omamori has its purpose written on it (alongside the name of the Shrine it originates from) with Kanji characters. Although Shinto and Buddhism were separated they still really overlap and neither one does require exclusivity.
Omamori is traditionally gifted to friends and family members during New Year’s time. But one can go and buy an Omamori at any shrine any time of the year. Buying Omamori at any shrine is also regarded as a charity for that particular shrine.
How does an Omamori look like?
There are two distinctive types of Omamori: the envelope style and the hanger ( morphic) style that often features a bell.
The classic Omamori are small envelope-type hangers featuring a little pack with distinctive signs on it, which signal the ultimate reason for the Omamori. The Omamori is often covered with a richly decorated silk or brocade material. Omamori is hanging just like all the blessings and good fortune signs and messages do, which you can see in both Buddhist and Shinto shrines. And as you may have guessed there are distinctive Shinto and Buddhist Omamori. Omamori can feature bell, Chinese-type lucky coins and they always have a distinctive, sacred knot.
The morphic Omamori is small and also serves with being hung on places that are close to you or which you wear. Distinctive types are the circular ones that have a bell inside, the bottle gourd, that serves as the oldest talisman of Japan and they can also have the shape of a mallet. Nowadays, Omamori is also sold wearing the shapes of zodiac animals. Many hanger style Omamori comes in packs guarded by holy scripts.
Traditionally Omamori is mainly sold next to shrines in designated stores or stalls. Each shrine has its collection of Omamori. And by the time, one Omamori ’s luck it brings expires the bearer needs to take it back to its home, where it’s set on holy fire and get a new Omamori instead.
How does the magic of Omamori work?
Each Omamori is made sacred through a ritual in the shrine where they are selling them.
The sacred force is being attributed to either the shrined Kami ( ghost or spirit – Goshintai) of the Shinto temple or to the Gohonzon of a Buddhist sacred image. The more popular the shrine is ( in terms of magical happenings in or around it) the more powerful one Omamori would become.
During the ritual, the Omamori are opened and a holy script called Busshin is being sealed in it and closed down, secured by a holy knot.
Omamori is destined to be shown off. They are worn on bags, hanging in cars, windows above tables on the walls. Omamori serves as the shell that’s storing a magical verse, which is to protect the owner in several different ways. Each Omamori is closed and protected by a holy knot. It’s ok if an Omamori gets dirty or worn.
Best sacred places for buying Omamori include the following:
- Sensei Temple in Asakusa
- Ise Jingu Shrine: one of the holiest places in Japan. Located in Mie Prefecture it’s one of the best places for buying Omamori that’s effective.
- Meiji Shrine: one of the most popular for Omamori buyers, this is the shrine to go to buy a powerful Omamori, especially the one that gives extra luck for academic success.
- Fujisaki Hachimangū shrine in Kumamoto
- Akagi Shrine: this is among the only shrines to buy a GeGeGe no Chanchanko Omamori ( famous manga)
- Shiba Daijingu: this is the place to go especially if you strive for business prosperity
- Tokyo Daijingu is extensively popular for its marriage amulet
The general rules of Omamori
- The expiration period of an Omamori is traditionally one year.
- After expiration or when the Omamori becomes literally unusable or unwearable, you ought to bring your Omamori back to the same shrine where you bought it after one year passes or if your Omamori is so worn that it’s practically unusable. Each shrine has a box, drop-off point where you can dispose of your expired Omamori. The shrine should dispose of it through a holy fire. Never just trash your used or expired Omamori. For this reason, lots of people keep their Omamori as memories or souvenirs even after they are expired.
- You should never, ever open your Omamori. Opening it means that you release the good luck or protective force that’s inside.
- There are absolutely no religious requirements for buying an Omamori.
- Each Omamori has its purpose or is intended for certain occasions only. it’s not bringing universal luck or protection it only does protect or help in one certain way ( like bringing help for an exam, job, health benefits, help in becoming pregnant, etc.).
- Omamori only works jointly with its bearer. This means, it only helps when it senses all the efforts behind one’s actions. All in all, if one is lazy and won’t study, he or she cannot expect the Omamori to work.
- Each Shrine’s Omamori would bear the name of the Shrine.
- Omamori is the best when it’s actually attached to you ( worn on bags, clothing, etc.)
The most popular types of Omamori
Some of the most popular types include the following. I did my best to also include the Kanji as it’s likely that you will see featured on them.
- kōtsū-anzen: 交通安全 traffic safety—protection for drivers and travelers of all sorts
- yaku-yoke: 厄除(やくよ)け avoidance of evil
- kaiun: 開運open luck, better fortune – this paired up with the Yaku –Yoke are two of the most generic Omamori.
- gakugyō-jōju学業(がくぎょう) 成就(じょうじゅ): education and passing examinations—for students and scholars
- Kenko: 健康 (けんこう) for health protection ( preventative).
- Byouki heyu病気(びょうき) 平癒( ): this Omamori serves as a help for somebody to recover from sickness.
- Shōbai-hanjō商売繁盛: prosperity in business—success in business and matters of money. Unlike in China where the key color for prosperity is red, in Japan it’s a bright orangy-yellow.
- En-musubi: 縁結び acquisition of a mate and marriage—available for singles and couples to ensure love and marriage
- Anzan: 安産 protection for pregnant women for a healthy pregnancy and easy delivery
- Kanai-anzen: safety (well-being) of one’s family, peace and prosperity in the household.
- Pet Omamori ペットお 守まもり – some shrines also sell pet Omamori so that you can grant health to your beloved pets as well.
- Shiawase: 幸せ Omamori for happiness.
There are over 70 Omamori that can be sold in shrines or even online nowadays. These enlisted are some of the most popular ones.
Nowadays you can buy Omamori in any souvenir shop and even from designated Omamori vending machines. Modern Omamori also can come in the form of pics, stickers, keychains.
Recently Omamori Dolls are also being sold: these are some sort of new-age lucky charms that would like to provide the protective powers of the Omamori with the good luck powers of the Daruma Doll.
Omamori apps are becoming extremely popular. This way one can make an Omamori to a friend or family member just to wish good luck for them for a certain occasion. Modern type Omamori can be bought online as well. Some of them may even feature Hello Kitty or other popular anime characters.
As it goes with everything that’s popular in Japan Omamori has also become an anime character.
Great overall information which taught me a lot.
This one features some weird Omamori and shares some of the best places to go to to get them.
Check out all the weird types of Omamori on Timeout.
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