Kristina Elyse Butke
The Story of My Omamori
I've been to hundreds of shrines all over Western Japan, from Yakushima up into Tottori. And besides collecting goshuin (red shrine stamps that go in a special shrine book), I've collected omamori from the shrines.
Everything I'm about to share with you is what I learned through personal experience with shrines, with information gleaned from friends who have travelled with me. That said, I am not an expert and it's possible I've gotten something wrong. This is just what I've been told. I'm happy to share it with you!
I think (but am not positive) that the word omamori is related to mamoru, which means "protect." And these amulets are meant to provide protection and luck of some kind.
Omamori are amulets, fabric or otherwise, that you can buy from Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples (I have a mix of both, though they are predominantly from shrines). The amulets are meant to give you good luck in a variety of fields. There are omamori for driving and travel safety, warding off evil, love, health, study, and more! Usually the omamori will say what the wish is on one side, and then the name of the shrine on the other.
The omamori are kind of like pouches, and inside of them is a little written prayer. You are not supposed to open the omamori and look at the prayer inside! You just need to have faith that the prayer is inside doing good work. Then you can tie the amulet to your bag, stick it in your wallet, or put it in your car windshield or on a keychain. The idea is that you keep it on your person somehow for the luck to rub off.
Omamori are only supposed to be kept for a year, then on New Year's Day or during the three-day New Year holiday at the shrines, you dispose of your omamori, which will then be burned.
I...have broken some rules in my collecting of omamori. First, according to one of my co-teachers at one of the high schools I taught at, you're not really supposed to hoard omamori. And...I've totally done this. I have tried to justify it by saying that I've supported the shrines by giving them my money with purchasing them...it's less about "hoarding luck" for me and more about collecting the beautifully embroidered amulets. But I'm totally not supposed to be doing it. Forgive me, kami and Buddha!
Second, I obviously did not dispose of my omamori after a year. I did do that my first year in Japan, but I wanted to not only collect omamori for myself, but I wanted to bring back omamori to give to my friends as souvenirs. So I brought home a ton of them and stopped disposing of them altogether.
Third, I can't read kanji, so a lot of omamori I bought I'm not sure of what they could be. I often chose them based on how beautiful their designs were. This means I could've bought some fertility/childbirth ones (which I'm totally not interested in) on accident. When I deliberately sought out omamori, I often chose study the most--partially because I'm a teacher, partially because I was continuing studies while I was in Japan, and also, I asked my co-teachers if there were any writing omamori, and they told me omamori for study could count, because the kami of study is Tenjin (the real-life poet from history, Michizane no Sugawara). Also at different times, if my health was precarious, I'd ask for help, and if I was feeling lonely, I bought enmusubi (love/relationships). There was even a special shrine I visited that specialized in mental health, so I got some of those too! But overall, study was my most popular one.
The problem is, when I went to give out omamori to friends and family, I had no idea what I was giving people. So I wrote disclaimers with their gifts saying the omamori I was giving them were pretty much a mystery! I wish I would've been more diligent about translating and cataloging them before coming back home, but, oh well.
I have a few favorite omamori.
My top one is from Itsukushima Shrine in Hiroshima prefecture. You may not know the name of the shrine, but you'd recognize its torii gates anywhere. They're photographed all the time. They are considered "floating gates" because they are out in the sea.
The reason why I like the Itsukushima Shrine omamori so much is because on the amulet is a picture of the goddess Benzaiten. Benzaiten is one of the seven Lucky Gods and she is the goddess of all things that flow. That could be water, money, music, creativity...so while I was in Japan I sort of treated her like my patron and prayed for help with my writing, hoping the words would flow. While I don't remember specifically what the omamori is for, I sort of assumed that I'd get good luck in the things Benzaiten is known for.
My next favorite omamori is from Takeo Shrine in Saga prefecture. Takeo Shrine is known for its 3,000-year-old camphor tree. Apparently it's the seventh largest tree in Japan! The omamori shows an image of the tree on it, and I thought the colors were pretty. I also have a super-good-luck omamori in gold with the same tree on it, although I don't find that one as pretty as the regular one you see here.
I do not know what specific luck the camphor tree omamori grants, but I picked it up as the perfect souvenir from Takeo Shrine.
My last two favorite omamori don't have shrine pictures because one of them, I have no idea what it is or where it's from, and the other, from Dazaifu Tenmangu, is a place I've been to like four times but have no pictures from! I know I've taken pictures, but they're totally lost.
Anyway, the omamori on the left I think is a beautiful design and has gorgeous colors. My cell phone tends to over-brighten so the colors aren't showing up properly. It's very beautiful in person. The omamori on the right is from Dazaifu Tenmangu, a historic shrine dedicated to the kami Tenjin. I talked about him a little bit earlier in the post. I picked out a study amulet and the design features plum blossoms, affiliated with Tenjin's myth.
Lastly, here's a shot of one of my collections. I have many omamori in a bag still, so I need to build a second display, but here's the first one, hanging up in my room at home. Look at the variety of designs and colors! There's a lot of great embroidery on them, too. I love them.
I hope you found this post on omamori interesting! I'm so happy to share some of my Japan hobbies and interests with you!