Omikuji: finding your fortune in Japan

Omikuji (御御籤/御神籤/おみくじ) are random fortunes written on strips of paper at Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples in Japan. Literally “sacred lot“, these are usually received by making a small offering and randomly choosing one from a box, hoping for the resulting fortune to be good.

My source for the printed information in this post is Wikipedia. My photo source is Shikets Kou.

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The omikuji predicts the person’s chances of their hopes coming true, of finding a good match, or generally matters of health, fortune, life, etc. When the prediction is bad, it is a custom to fold up the strip of paper and attach it to a pine tree or a wall of metal wires alongside other bad fortunes in the temple or shrine grounds. A purported reason for this custom is a pun on the word for pine tree (松, matsu) and the verb ‘to wait’ (待つ, matsu), the idea being that the bad luck will wait by the tree rather than attach itself to the bearer.

In the event of the fortune being good, the bearer has two options: they can also tie it to the tree or wires so that the fortune has a greater effect or they can keep it for luck. Omikuji are available at many shrines and temples, and remain one of the traditional activities related to shrine or temple-going.

A similar custom of writing a prayer on a specially-prepared wooden block called an ema, which is then tied to an ad hoc scaffold, also exists.

What type of fortunes may you hope to obtain? In Japan, it’s very specific:

Fortunes

Omikuji at Hokkaido Shrine Tongu in Sapporo
The standard Ganzan Daishi Hyakusen sequence contains the following fortunes (from best to worst):

Great blessing (大吉, dai-kichi)
Blessing (吉, kichi)
Small blessing (小吉, shō-kichi)
Half-blessing (半吉, han-kichi)
Future blessing (末吉, sue-kichi)
Future small blessing (末小吉, sue-shō-kichi)
Misfortune (凶, kyō)
Other sequences may include additional degrees such as “middle blessing” (中吉, chū-kichi), “great misfortune” (大凶, dai-kyō), or “blessing [and] misfortune still undetermined” (吉凶未分, kikkyō imada wakarazu, i.e. one’s fortune could end up being either good or bad depending on one’s actions).

It then lists fortunes regarding specific aspects of one’s life, which may include any number of the following among other possible combinations:

hōgaku (方角) – auspicious/inauspicious directions (see feng shui)
negaigoto (願事) – one’s wish or desire
machibito (待人) – a person being waited for
usemono (失せ物) – lost article(s)
tabidachi (旅立ち) – travel
akinai (商い) – business dealings
gakumon (学問) – studies or learning
sōba (相場) – market speculation
arasoigoto (争事) – disputes
ren’ai (恋愛) – romantic relationships
tenkyo (転居) – moving or changing residence
shussan (出産) – childbirth, delivery
byōki (病気) – illness
endan (縁談) – marriage proposal or engagement

My friend, Shiketsu, visited the Okayama Shrine yesterday and took these photos then.

Okayama Shrine, January 9, 2023

Kadomatsu

Is it too late to discuss New Year’s?

Nah.

A few years ago, when I was living in Seattle, I frequented a Japanese import store and purchased these small but lovely decorations. I assumed the 2 round objects represented wreaths, but the other taller item, I had no idea. I suspected it had something to do with the winter holidays.

But Rudy, my Chinese friend in Japan, enlightened me! The bamboo rods are often combined with foliage from pine trees, for in ancient times, the Japanese believed that god dwelled in evergreens, see below.

Above is my kadomatsu and below are my two wreaths with it.

[Today’s Japanese word “Kadomatsu”]

Continued below:

Rudy sent me the following photos of Kadomatsu in his Japanese city.

Now you know. Live and learn! Happy New Year’s!