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We skipped getting omikuji (おみくじ) during our new year visit to a shrine nearby, or hatsumode, this year. I guess getting omikuji is only something I do, once a year or so. Omikuji are the thin strips of paper that we can buy at shrines and temples, translated as ‘omen’ or ‘fortune.’ We can see the folded papers tied to trees at shrines and temples. If you choose to visit a shrine or temple and pick up a fortune after the new year, here’s a quick guide.
On the papers, there are varying degrees of luckiness or unluckiness, a few comments about where you are at in your life, something to think about or focus on, suggestions for improvement, etc. Most omikuji are in Japanese only, and in sort of old fashioned sounding Japanese at that. Each shrine or temple has slightly different ones. They are usually 100 yen, unless they are a fancy type that comes with a keychain or something like that. I have gotten one with a heart shaped bell cellphone strap, for example.
Omikuji are not taken very seriously by many people, but can be helpful when you feel stuck and need some advice on how to proceed next. To me omikuji is for entertainment only, and sort of like gacha gacha, there are a variety we can find. I’m mostly interested in unique omikuji, like “Koimikuji” (love fortune), or ones with charms. They’re more like getting toys along with the fortune, usually something cute.
There are a variety of types of omikuji vending.
Post box red vending machines for fortunes are charming I think. If it’s old fashioned – Put 100 yen in a box (sometimes with a coin slot) and take a random omikuji from another open box. If it’s a little more high tech – your coin goes into the slot and there’s a little door to take an omikuji, although some aren’t going to limit taking one only after putting in the correct change each time. They are usually more honor system type vending machines. Sometimes you can find omikuji for free in a box also.
The omikuji are usually more fancy (come with a strap or something) and more expensive in this case. I rarely see them in capsules, but sometimes the machines they come from are similar to gacha gatcha.
Usually at temples, like Sensoji in Asakusa, Tokyo. Take a random long chopstick looking bamboo stick from a tall box after shaking it. There are 100 bamboo sticks in each box at Sensoji. Read the number on the stick. Find the drawer with that number. Open the drawer to take a sheet of the omen you drew. This is an unfolded type and a wider shape than most omikuji.
Usually this is reserved for huge shrines on busy days, but only for very special omikuji or other items for sale.
Most are folded paper only. We can also get charms with some omikuji. The ‘fancy’ and more expensive omikuji come in a few varieties.
1. Charm – usually a tiny charm is folded inside of the paper. This can be a character or Chinese zodiac animal – with twelve different boxes to select from, so your fortune is based on your zodiac animal or the year you were born in.
2. Special shape or color, usually seasonal and more expensive designs. I’ve seen flower shaped designs with a different fortune category on each petal. I saw little umbrellas in different colors at Asami Jinja last time, with the fortune on the umbrellas. Some places will have colored or patterned paper, for example during the hydrangea season, Daizenji has purple paper.
3. Strap – comes with a keychain / phone strap. This can be a bell or something in one of the other categories, sometimes going along with a theme at the shrine or temple where they are bought.
Or some combination of the above.
There are several types of ‘luck’ that you could end up when you draw an omikuji. The traditional ratio (practiced at Sensoji in Asakusa) is 30% bad luck, but even that much of a chance is considered too easy to get bad luck these days. Here’s a quick guide to the luckiness:
大吉 – Great fortune (Daikichi)
吉 – Good luck (Kichi)
中吉 – Middle fortune (Chuu Kichi)
小吉 – Small luck (Shou Kichi)
半吉 – Half-fortune (Han Kichi)
末吉 – Future fortune (Mi Kichi)
末小吉 – Small future fortune (Mi Shou Kichi)
凶 – Bad luck (Kyou)
小凶 – Slight bad luck (Shou Kyou)
半凶 – Half-bad luck (Han Kyou)
末凶 – Future bad luck (Mi Kyou)
大凶 – Great bad luck (Dai Kyou)
Especially for unlucky omikuji, it’s common to tie them to a wire or tree near the temple or shrine, “tie the paper” 紙を結ぶ (kami wo musubu), and maybe say ‘itadakimasen’ (I don’t receive it). This is a sort of way to reject the bad luck or leave it behind. Lucky fortunes can be kept with you as a reminder.