It’s the season to better oneself with New Year’s resolutions and ask for a little divine help in doing by visiting shrines and temples for Hatsumode, squeezing in your prayers along those of all the other visitors and trading in the old good luck charms for freshly powered new ones. Hirahama Hachimangu Takeuchi Shrine, located in southeastern Matsue, is especially popular with people who are seeking longevity, trying to avoid bad luck, seeking prosperous business, safety for one’s family, and especially traffic safety. Though they may have the specialties they are known for, no shrine is limited to their specialities, and many general wishes are made at any given place as well.

The primary deity at Hachimangu shrines is Hachiman-jin, considered a god of war in Shinto and in Buddhism. Historically he has been popularly worshipped by the samurai class, along peasants have worshiped him as a harvest god (though Inari is usually the more notable harvest god, and samurai like local hero Matsudaira Naomasa had a notable devotion to the fox deity). Seeing as success in war is a not a common wish for many people in Japan nowadays, the “safe return from war” seems to now translate as “a safe commute home with no traffic accidents.” Furthermore, although Hachiman-jin is not readily associated with success in passing one’s exams (Tenjin’s the obvious choice there), one could consider exams a sort of battle in and of itself.

With that in mind, these statues seem right at home in the most well-known Hachimangu shrine of Matsue.

First, we have a frog.

Frogs are frequently used for good-luck puns, since they are called kaeru in Japanese. This is synonymous with “to return,” such as in “many returns of good fortune.” In this case, it more blatantly refers to the safe return home of both people and their cars. The statue is called “Buji Kaeru.” This phrase means “return home safely” (無事帰る) but in this case, you could call it the “No Mishap Frog.”

It makes sense to have something like at a shrine well-known for its good graces it is supposed to provide in avoiding traffic accidents (among many other special intentions you could also select ema (prayer boards) for).

Then there’s the Daruma next to it. The Yaruki Daruma.

Daruma is the Japanese name for Bodhidharma, a monk said to have transmitted Chan/Zen Buddhism to Japan. In Japan, it is popularly said that he meditated so long that his legs fell off due to atrophy, and cute, round, and humorously serious Daruma dolls are a popular symbol for the merit of hard work (though if your legs fall off, I’m not sure how fortuitous that can really be). They are found at Shinto shrines throughout the country, with many shrines putting their own spin on how to use the simple and recognizable doll. A common practice is to purchase a Daruma when you have a goal in mind, and to paint on one eye. It is after you attain the goal that you needed to work hard for that you paint on the other eye. You can put any kind of spin on accomplishing any kind of goal, such as Yaegaki Shrine‘s blue and pink En-musubi dolls for couples.

The Yaruki Daruma provides willpower (yaruki) for studying. We all need a little help with this sometimes, right? I know I do. The sign next to the Yaruki Daruma says:

Willpower Daruma
冷頭静修: Cool your head and study quietly.
Pour some cold water on Daruma-san’s head and then say your prayers.

Pouring water on statues when saying prayers is a pretty common practice throughout Japan, such as pouring hot water on the Oyukake Jizo at Matsue Shinjiko Onsen (and yes, his name is literally “the Jizou to pour hot water on”). I like how stark the advice is on this statue. It’s not just a blanket “study, study, study!” command, it’s “hey, COOL IT and sit down and be quiet and DO THE THING.”

The advice seems even more effective when you imagine this face saying it to you.


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.

Mine is the one that isn’t soaked.

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.