Said to be the ancestor of the fortune cookie, omikuji are the typical feature of most shrines and temples around Japan, reverberating in wider Japanese culture with restaurant gimmicks and self-made games for kids. The game of fortune roulette boils down to drawing a numbered fortune at random, and seeing whether you have normal luck, great luck, a little luck, or the infamous bad luck. People say that the bad luck fortunes are less common, but on my first trip to Japan, I tried two fortunes. They were both bad.
People also have differing explanations for why you tie your fortune at the shrine and leave it there instead of taking it home with you. If it’s bad luck, you don’t want it to follow you home, so you leave it at the shrine instead. If it’s good luck, you have to leave it there at the shrine in order for the gods to know to give the luck to you. Whichever it is, you typically toss in your 50~200 yen, draw a slip of paper at random, read whatever advice or specific predictions it has in store for you (content varies according to each shrine/temple), and then tie it up on a fence or a tree at the shrine. If you want something to take home, you should buy an o-mamori protective amulet, which come in a variety of decorative styles.
If you follow the rules of o-mamori use, you’d typically buy one for the year or for whatever specific purpose you have in mind (passing an entrance exam or safe childbirth, for instance), and then return the old o-mamori the following year to be ceremoniously burned. For those unable to return to the shrines they visited and especially for foreign tourists, they make charming souvenirs. I don’t really do o-mamori anymore, but I still like drawing omikuji sometimes as part of visiting the multitude of shrines out here in the Izumo region. I don’t get to take anything home with me, though–even if you eat the fortune cookie, you still get to keep the fortune, right? Oh well. I’ve already taken home the one daikichi (great luck) I drew when I was studying abroad years ago, so I don’t need any more than that.
However, on a recent visit to Sada Shrine, most famous for Sada Shin Noh, a dance deemed UNESCO Intangible Heritage, I noticed this little spin on the usual omikuji. Who doesn’t like stickers? The occasional sticker, anyway!
In addition to your usual paper slip to tie at the shrine in order to receive or avoid your fortune, you get a sticker to take home with you signifying some particular kind of luck–happiness, health, longevity, warding off evil, prosperity, etc. This shrine, like many others, is based on an honor system. Toss in your coins and grab whatever package you like.
My fortune, #88, was kichi. Good old-fashioned good luck. In addition to some general advice about how I have to continue to work hard to see my luck begin to blossom like flowers in spring, it went on to provide advice for my career, love life, health, and studies. Stick with what works and be patient, the outlook is good so be confident, watch out for relapses of illnesses but you really have nothing to worry about, stay focused and work hard.
Speaking of hard work, that’s the sticker I got. The daruma is a symbol in Japan for determination, given that you aren’t supposed to be able to knock down a round daruma doll without them getting back up. But why is it round in the first place? Because it’s based on a monk who meditated for so long that his legs fell off due to atrophy. This is supposed to be admirable, but it really just makes me more wary of sitting in seiza. That said, the daruma dolls themselves are a charming and varied culture of their own within wider Japanese culture. Yaegaki Shrine has a whole series of them in different colors based on what kind of goal or wish you have. The don’t have eyes, though–you paint one eye on when you make your wish or set your goal, and you paint the other eye on when it’s actualized.
I can take this little bit of luck for perseverance and success with me, but the fortune stays at the shrine, however cold it would be there on a post-rainstorm December morning.
With that shiny new luck carried with me, I put on a hard hat to go inspect the roof of the shrine, but that’s for another upcoming enry.