What are Omamori?

Posted: 9th June 2023

If you've ever visited a Japanese shrine or temple, chances are you will have spotted stalls selling some colourful items known as omamori (お守り).

As Ippo Ippo has got together with wonderful Edinburgh maker and Japanese teacher Hitomi Kobayashi to hold a special event at which you can make your own omamori, in today's post I thought I'd answer some questions you may have about them.

Whether or not you're able to be there for our event in Edinburgh, I hope you learn something new that adds to your enjoyment and understanding of Japanese culture - especially if you're lucky enough to be visiting Japan any time soon!

Big thanks to Hitomi-san for fact checking this article!

What are omamori?

Omamori are a type of lucky amulet used to wish for good fortune in all different areas of life. Typically sold at shrines and temples in Japan, they come in various colours and patterns, and typically have a string attached to them by which you can them to your bag to carry with you.

What does the word "omamori" mean?

"Omamori" can be written a few different ways in Japanese, including お守り、御守り and 御守。"Omamori" comes from the verb 守る (mamoru), meaning "to protect, guard or defend". As such, the word means something along the lines of "a thing to protect you" - i.e. a lucky charm or talisman.

How much do omamori cost in Japan?

While I personally don't remember ever buying an omamori for more than ¥500 (around £3 or $3.50 at the time of writing), it's common to see omamori on sale for double this or more.

Here are a couple of links to shrines which advertise the prices of their omamori online:

Note: you may notice various other charms or amulets which look nothing like the ones described in this post. For today, we'll stick to talking about the kind you can see in the photo at the top.

What can omamori be used for?

Omamori can be used to wish for luck in pretty much anything you can think of, from exams to jobhunting, good health, safe childbirth and much more.

When buying an omamori, you'll typically see a label next to it stating what kind of luck it's intended for.

While many shrines and temples in areas popular with international tourists will display English translations, here are some phrases you can try and look out for even if you can't read the kanji unaided:

  • 勝 (katsu): success; winning
  • 幸福 (kōfuku): happiness
  • 開運 (kai'un): good fortune
  • 厄除け (yakuyoke): warding off evil
  • 健康 (kenkō): good health
  • 安産 (anzan): safe childbirth
  • 金運 (kin'un): economic fortune; luck with money
  • 縁結び (en musubi): marriage

It's also common to see four-character phrases such as the following:

  • 合格祈願 (gōkaku kigan): prayer for success in an exam
  • 芸術上達 (geijutsu jōtatsu): improvement in the arts
  • 病気平癒 (byōki heiyu): recovery from an illness
  • 交通安全 (kōtsuu anzen): road/traffic safety
  • 恋愛成就 (ren'ai jōju): success/fulfillment in love
  • 旅行安全 (ryokō anzen): safe travel
  • 商売繁盛 (shōbai hanjō): thriving/prosperous business
  • 学業成就 (gakugyō jōju): academic achievement/success

All of the phrases above will be followed by 守:the "mamori" in "omamori", which means "to protect".

Do I have to be religious to buy or use omamori?

When talking to students about shrine and temple etiquette on my Travel Japanese course, it's not uncommon for people to ask whether it's okay to visit and pay respects at a Shintō shrine or Buddhist temple as a non-religious person - or indeed as someone who follows a different religion. Similarly, you may wonder if it's okay to purchase an omamori as someone who follows neither Shintō nor Buddhism.

In my experience, Japanese people have no problem with visitors to the country paying their respects in this manner. In fact, I would say it's encouraged!

While this may feel a little strange, it may help to know that most Japanese people describe themselves as non-religious - something that may come as a surprise considering the number of shrines and temples dotted all over the country. What's more, it's worth remembering that Shintō and Buddhism are, of course, not the same religion. Just as they are able to coexist alongside one another in Japan, they do not deny or reject the existence of other religions and their gods, making them far more inclusive than many other religions or belief systems you may be familiar with.

If this topic is something you're at all worried about during your time in Japan, I encourage you to seek the opinion of someone Japanese, such as your tour guide or your hotel concierge. There's no harm in asking!

Blog_omamori image 2

Bonus Fact: What does the knot on omamori symbolise?

If you take a close look at an omamori, you're bound to spot one of its most notable features: the special knot by which its string is tied. Known as nijuu kanō musubi (二重叶結び), the name of this knot can be broken down as follows:

  • 二重 (nijuu) - double, two-fold
  • 叶 (kanō) - to grant (e.g. a wish)
  • 結び (musubi) - knot, join

According to this Japanese website, nijuu kanō musubi are also known more colloquially as お守り結び (omamori musubi). However, the official name is said to come from the shape of the knot.

If you look carefully at the kanji for kanō (叶), it contains two parts: 口 and 十。These two shapes mimic the shape of the knot, the front of which looks like 口 and the back of which resembles 十。As such, this special knot is said to contain the meaning represented by the character 叶:お願い事が叶う (o-negai goto ga kanau - a wish comes true).

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