Omamori: The Good Luck Charms of Japan

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A red kai-un omamori charm against a red satin background.

An omamori is an amulet or good luck charm from Japan or warding away evil. There are many amulets/charms for different milestones such as passing a school exam, getting married, and so on. Omamori also comes in different shapes, sizes, and prices. This article will explore the history of omamori and the different types of omamori you can buy in Japan.

History of Japanese Good Luck Charms (Omamori)

There are several theories about the exact time of the omamori’s origin. The most common theory is that omamori were based on magatama (comma-shaped stone jewels). Magatama originally appeared sometime in the Jomon Period (14,000–300 BCE).

People originally wore magatama to ward off evil spirits. From then on, temples and shrines were looking at ways to promote their religions to common people. At the time, it was difficult for people to visit a temple or shrine because they were quite far.

An asortment of red and blue omamori.
Omamori are usually made by priests or mass manufactured. Image via Shutterstock

So priests combined the Shinto/Buddhist belief of animism with the practice of leaving pieces of wood or stone near dwellings. This was began the precursor of modern omamori, and eventually spread to the general public.

The closest thing to what omamori is like today first emerged in the Heian Period  (794–1185). People started carrying them with their personal belongings during the Kamakura Period (1192 – 1333). Samurai in particular received protective amulets to help them survive on the battlefield.

A peach colored omamori with a black background.
This one is meant to ensure success. Image via Shutterstock

Over time, priests made hundreds of different types of omamori for different occasions. Thanks to this, you can find whichever ones you want at shrines and temples.  Nowadays, most omamori consist of similar features: fuda – a small written prayer or invocation. Priests/manufacturers then wrap the fuda in a silky cloth/bag and stamp it with the shrine/temple’s name.

A string is attached to it and then a priest prays over it. The omamori is then sold at shrines or temples for around 300-1000 yen (roughly 2-7 USD) each. Occasionally some shrines or temples may have exclusive omamori that can only be purchased during a set period.

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Types of Omamori

The most common types of omamori are shiawase (happiness), kai-un (good luck), kotsu-anzen (traffic safety), en-musubi (love and marriage), kenko (health), katsumori (success and victory) and kanai anzen (family safety).

A yellow omamori good luck charm from Japan, representing good health.
This omamori is meant to bring vast wealth. Image via Shutterstock

Shiawase (Happiness)

Because everyone lives very busy lives it is sometimes hard to remember the value of happiness. This charm’s purpose is to bring happiness into your life or whoever you are giving it to. Make sure you pay attention in your daily life so you can receive the blessing in full!

Kai-un (Good Luck)

If you feel like a bad luck magnet, you should buy a charm to help draw good luck to you. If you want extra protection, you can see if the shrine or temple has a yakuyoke (avoiding evil) omamori.

A red and dark green omamori good luck charm from Japan.
It might seem redundant, but “kai-um” omamori charms are to *increase* good luck. Image via Shutterstock

Kotsu-anzen (Traffic Safety)

Whether you use your car to travel or use public transport there is always some underlying worry that an accident may occur. This charm will help you feel safer and prevent you from getting into an accident. Many Japanese people put this charm in their car, attaching it to their rearview mirror. 

En-musubi (Love and Marriage)

For those who are concerned about their romantic relationships, the en-musubi charm is perfect for you. This charm will help you find love and help protect your relationship or marriage from evil forces.

Kenko (Health)

Health is very important, if you want to help prevent illness you should get this charm! Some shrines or temples will have more specific health charms for different body parts. They also have then for specific specific health-related events such as ansan (safe pregnancy delivery) or byouki-heiyu (surgery success).

A red and blue omamori good luck charm from Japan, representing good luck for marriage.
These good luck charms are meant to ensure a good marriage. Image via Shutterstock

Katsumori (Success and Victory)

This charm is for anyone working on a project or activity that wants to receive a favorable response. Some shrines or temples have specific omamori for those in school – Gakugyo Joju (academic success), Gokaku (exam success), or for those working in a business field – Shobai-Hanjo (business success). 

Kanai Anzen (Family Safety)

If you have a family or are planning to have one this charm is for you! Kanai anzen means “Please keep my family safe.”It promotes good health and ward off evil for members of your family.

How to Dispose of an Omamori

Omamori has a limited lifespan of just a year. Most priests recommend that you should get rid of an omamori after a year or you may invite bad luck.

A rack of different kiinds of  omamori for sale.
Omamori are quite affordable. Image via Shutterstock

Simply return it to the original shrine or temple that you returned it from so that the staff can properly dispose of it for you. Returning the omamori to the shrine or temple represents the Shinto/Buddhist belief of the importance of renewal.

However, if you can’t make it to a shrine or temple, please take the following steps at home:

  1. Spread white hanshi (rice paper or calligraphy paper on the floor).
  2. Place the charm on the paper.
  3. Sprinkle salt in on the left side of the charm, then the right, then the left once more.
  4. Wrap the charm in the paper and dispose of it
  5. Give thanks during the process.

Nowadays it is common for people to collect omamori and use it as decoration around the house. As long as you do not break it and maintain respect towards it nothing bad should happen to you. It is also common to pass down omamori in families. Omamori, when used correctly can become a perfect gift for your family, straight from Japan.

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