Fortunetelling at Shrines and Temples

I am not a really a person who is into horoscopes, fortunetelling and the likes, but the Japanese seem to generally like it. So in shrines and temples, other than the small bag like protection amulets, there are also various types of O-mikuji ( おみくじ) which are random fortunes written on pieces of paper.

I had no clue what these were, and the first time I heard about it was from one of the teachers in my class who asked us to write fortunes to our friends. I really felt bad for my teacher trying to explain to me what it was. Here is some Wikipedia about it.

The o-mikuji is scrolled up or folded, and unrolling the piece of paper reveals the fortune written on it. It includes a general blessing which can be anyone of the following:

  • Great blessing (dai-kichi, 大吉)
  • Middle blessing (chū-kichi, 中吉)
  • Small blessing (shō-kichi, 小吉)
  • Blessing (kichi, 吉)
  • Half-blessing (han-kichi, 半吉)
  • Future blessing (sue-kichi, 末吉)
  • Future small blessing (sue-shō-kichi, 末小吉)
  • Curse (kyō, 凶)
  • Small curse (shō-kyō, 小凶)
  • Half-curse (han-kyō, 半凶)
  • Future curse (sue-kyō, 末凶)
  • Great curse (dai-kyō, 大凶)

It then lists fortunes regarding specific aspects of one’s life, which may include any number of the following among other possible combinations:

  • 方角 (hōgaku) – auspicious/inauspicious directions (see feng shui)
  • 願事 (negaigoto) – one’s wish or desire
  • 待人 (machibito) – a person being waited for
  • 失せ物 (usemono) – lost article(s)
  • 旅立ち (tabidachi) – travel
  • 商い (akinai) – business dealings
  • 學問 (gakumon) – studies or learning
  • 相場 (sōba) – market speculation
  • 爭事 (arasoigoto) – disputes
  • 戀愛 (renai) – romantic relationships
  • 転居 (tenkyo) – moving or changing residence
  • 出產 (shussan) – childbirth, delivery
  • 病気 (byōki) – illness
  • 縁談 (endan) – marriage proposal or engagement

The o-mikuji predicts the person’s chances of his or her hopes coming true, of finding a good match, or generally matters of health, fortune, life, etc. When the prediction is bad, it is a custom to fold up the strip of paper and attach it to a pine tree or a wall of metal wires alongside other bad fortunes in the temple or shrine grounds. A purported reason for this custom is a pun on the word for pine tree (松 matsu) and the verb ‘to wait’ (待つ matsu), the idea being that the bad luck will wait by the tree rather than attach itself to the bearer. In the event of the fortune being good, the bearer has two options: he or she can also tie it to the tree or wires so that the fortune has a greater effect or he or she can keep it for luck. Though nowadays this custom seems more of a children’s amusement, o-mikuji are available at most shrines, and remain one of the traditional activities related to shrine-going, if lesser.

A box of Omikuji in a temple in Kyoto, you pay some money and pick one.

These one have a small lucky cat (招き猫 read “ManekiNeko”, literally “beckoning cat”) attached to them.

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