If you plan to travel to Japan, you will surely see small cloth bags that Japanese people carry on their backpacks, or in their wallets. You can also see them in series, Japanese anime or manga. These small cloth pouches are sold in the entrance of Shinto shrines and Japanese temples with the effigy of Buddha!
The omamori are Japanese amulets and charms that protect against bad spells and diseases. The Japanese word omamori comes from the term mamoru (守る) which means to protect.
Just like the Japanese cat maneki neko, the koinobori, the Japanese doll Kokeshi or the famous Daruma Doll, this talisman is a Japanese lucky charm that will protect and bring luck to the people who wear it. It is also an excellent gift idea for fans of the Japanese universe or for those who wish to discover Japanese culture!
In order for you to understand the complexity of the legends and superstition surrounding the omamori, we will explain you in this article :
So let's start right away by seeing how traditional omamori are made and what they mean !
The terms charm, amulet and talisman all have subtly different meanings in French. But in Japanese, "omamori" is used for these three words. Moreover, in Japanese society the word omamori also refers to charms and amulets from all over the world !
In the land of the rising sun, for an omamori to work, prayers, invocations or sacred things must be written on a piece of paper, wood or cloth.
The inscriptions are then wrapped in a Japanese brocade bag. It is traditionally made of silk or cotton. In keeping with Japanese tradition, the bag is closed with a string with a loop to keep it closed.
Then the bag is blessed by the priest of the temple or shrine. In the traditional and feudal era of Japan, omamori were made locally, but today, the manufacturing is sometimes subcontracted. This is especially the case in tourist temples or shrines. But don't worry, Japanese omamori are always blessed by a monk !
Until the end of the 18th century, Buddhism and Shintoism were closely linked. That is why Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines both made omamori. Shinto beliefs are based on goshintai, the consecrated kami spirit, while Buddhists derive their power from the veneration of gohonzon.
There are many omamori throughout the world. Each shrine or temple has its own Japanese motifs. The name of the temple is also inscribed on the omamori bag. There are different kinds of omamori :
The oldest Japanese amulet is the magamata. These comma-shaped beads with a hole are among the most common objects in feudal Japan. In the age of samurai and geishas, they were hung on a wire and made of precious stone or glass.
Even today, no one knows exactly what magatamas were used for or what their shape means. What is known, however, is that they became important in religious ceremonies. They appear several times in the founding texts of Shintoism such as the Kojiki and the Nihon Shoki.
Among the omamori, the Shinto talisman has a whole collection of objects impregnated with the power of Japanese deities called kami. Among these objects are the ofuda. They look like long wooden plates on which are written the name of the Japanese temple and the Japanese god. They protect Japanese houses and their inhabitants.
The history of Zen Buddhism is closely linked to the omamori. They are so popular in Asia that they are even found in Thai Buddhist temples. Even though there is an ancient history for these amulets from Japan knows that omamori, as we know them today, are actually a product of the 17th century. They were made popular thanks to the Tokugawa shogunate. For information, shogun are Japanese generals who influenced the whole Japanese archipelago.
Some shrines and temples also have exclusive charms that can only be purchased at certain times of the day or only at certain Japanese festivals (matsuri). Each shrine and temple has its own Japanese deity and superstitions. That said, the most common types of omamori are the following :
For protection here are the different types of magic talismans :
An omamori can help you reach any goal, but the divine talisman in itself is not enough if you don't do everything possible to reach your goal.
For this lucky object to work, it must be placed on you, or on something that you often keep close to you.
It works the same way as a Japanese lucky cat (maneki) that you place at the entrance of a shrine, store or bar to bring good luck and attract customers.
In the case of the omamori, you can for example, if you want to improve your financial situation, put it in a pocket of your wallet. The lucky charms will act as a symbol of prosperity and good fortune. Those intended for education should be hung in school bags or pencil cases. Those for pregnancy should be kept under a pillow, futon or mattress.
A sacred omamori amulet must be treated with respect and honor because it is an object blessed by monks and gods. But don't panic if it is a little worn or dirty. According to Japanese rites, as long as you do not neglect it voluntarily, it will continue to act. It is even said that if you accidentally lose it, it means that the charm absorbs all the bad luck around you.
The only rule to be followed if you are superstitious is never to open the omamori. This would cause you to lose the magical power of your good luck charm.
If you can no longer hang the magic talisman on its string, you can put it in a bag, pocket or drawer or put it on a shelf at home. It should not be washed either, as this would remove its protective power. The consequence would be to bring back all the blocked bad luck.
Some Japanese people say that we must keep the magic omamori forever. Japanese families pass them on from generation to generation. Some believe that if the omamori is blessed, it means that it must be separated in some way. Japanese beliefs emphasize the renewal of all things. Omamori must therefore be replaced after one year.
The main temples and shrines have a "repository of old omamori". They are called "koshinsatsu osamedokoro - 古神札納め所". In smaller temples omamori boxes are only available at New Year's Day!
During the first, second or even third week of the New Year, each omamori will be burned as an offering in a ritual fire called o-takiage (お焚き上げ). The fire purifies and eliminates all accumulated bad luck.
If the talisman is brought back to another temple, the sacred god or goddess might interpret this act as a profane gesture. So don't provoke the anger of the Yokai or oni (Japanese demon or evil spirits)!
It depends; are you looking for protection in one area or several? If it is for one area then one will suffice. If you need more protection, you can also have several. You can also carry a good luck omamori with other religious objects, such as rosaries, chains and star of David, Hamsa, fatma hand etc. However, keeping Shintoist omamori with Buddhist omamori can cancel their effects.
If you are on a trip to Japan, talismans are excellent souvenir gifts to bring back. They are small, pretty, and representative of the image of Japan (and generally not too expensive). As we have seen in this article, the meaning of omamori is profound ! So that the person to whom you offer it understands how to use it, don't hesitate to send him the link of our article!
Omamori are a great gift idea for someone who wants to discover Japanese culture. Moreover, it is not necessary to be Buddhist or to believe in Shintoism to use or buy them. Even if the person to whom you offer it is not superstitious, an omamori is a nice gift to offer as a decorative object coming from Japan and it is especially a symbol of unique luck...
At Japanese Temple, we are big fans of omamori. They are ideal for remembering a shrine or temple, and it is always an asset to have a supernatural being at one's side.
If you want even more protection, don't hesitate to take a look at our collection of Japanese lucky charms. It includes kokeshi dolls in kimono, lucky cats with their paws up, or daruma statues with piercing eyes !