Omikuji: Telling Fortunes the Japanese Way

Flickr-Jesslee Cuizon-eelssej
Women tie their omikuji to the wire rack at a Japanese shrine.
Photo: Jesslee Cuizon (jessleecuizon.com) via Flickr.

Omikuji are Japanese paper fortunes found at shrines across Japan. Traditionally, you shake a cylinder until a numbered bamboo stick falls out. The number on the stick corresponds with a paper fortune, which is then given to you by the priest or shrine maiden. Today, many shrines have boxes that allow you to randomly select a fortune yourself.

The paper you receive will predict your upcoming luck with one of several ratings, ranging from dai-kichi (great blessing) to dai-kyou (great curse). Oftentimes your luck will be further broken down into forecasts for specific categories like “romance” or “travel.”

If your fortune is good, the custom is to keep the paper slip close to you, like in a purse or wallet. If it’s bad, many fold up the strip and tie it to a pine tree or rack of metal wires that is provided at shrines. Traditionally, a pine branch is used because the Japanese word for “pine” (matsu) is phonetically the same as the verb for “to wait,” although written in different characters (kanji). The hope is that the bad luck will wait by the tree instead of coming back home with you.

CR Omikuji 1 Shoji
JANM volunteers hand out omikuji at the 2013 Natsumatsuri Family Festival. Photo: Tokumasa Shoji.

 

You can get an omikuji any time, although many people specifically include it in Hatsumode (the first Shinto shrine visit of the Japanese new year) or seek it out before major life events like exams. Omikuji are not commonly found in the United States outside of Japanese enclaves. However, you’ve probably seen what some say is its modern-day incarnation—the fortune cookie!

Whether you have an important decision coming up, or are just looking for a little guidance, an omikuji opportunity is coming soon. Visit the omikuji table at JANM’s free Natsumatsuri Family Festival on Saturday, August 9, 2014 and see what’s in store for you!

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