You’ll find them inside cars, on backpacks and packed in suitcases — but what are omamori? Equating to a talisman, amulet or charm, omamori are portable blessings said to contain divine power. These can be obtained at almost any shrine or temple in Japan, and although primarily purchased by Japanese people for specific purposes many foreigners find these to be wonderful souvenirs to bring home.
Stemming from Shinto and Buddhist beliefs when they were not separate, omamori come in many shapes, colors and sizes and are said to help you along in your daily life. Certain charms might be found in specific colors or shapes, but usually the same type can be found in a rainbow of colors to appeal to a variety of tastes. Some motifs and colors correspond to a specific temple’s history or aesthetics while others are universally recognizable as omamori with a specific purpose.
Each written blessing is stored inside a baroque bag. It won’t bring bad luck but opening the omamori will release the blessing, taking its benefits with it. Remember, a little dirt will never hurt an omamori. This is actually a favorable sign that the omamori is working hard with you. It’s suggested that omamori are replaced yearly and, having served its purpose, the old omamori be returned to its origin where it can be burned in a ceremonial fire.
Along with being a blessing, the ornate charms also make for great souvenirs. They usually range in price from ¥300 to ¥1,000.
Common charms found at temples and shrines
These six type of omamori are very common ones that can be found at most shrine or temple visits.
Hoping for better grades or studying for exams? Be sure to grab a charm with the kanji 学業成就 (gakugyou jouju, or academic achievement). These omamori can appear as a standard rectangular talisman or a scroll, school backpack or similar item.
2. Traffic safety
Embroidered with 交通安全 (koutsu anzen, traffic safety), these charms come in many shapes and colors and sometimes with a suction cup. This makes it easy to adhere to car interiors for maximum effectiveness. If you have tickets, work in public transit, commute daily or are studying for your driver’s license; consider one of these useful charms. Don’t drive a car? No worries, attach the traffic safety charm to your bike instead for similar protection. Some temples will even offer charms specifically for bicycles.
Everyone deserves love but some need a little extra assistance. When purchasing an omamori for love with 縁結び (enmusubi, or marriage) please consider:
- Are you single?
- Are you in a relationship?
- Are you married?
This will determine which omamori to get. Charms for single people come individually while those for couples can be found in a “his and hers” set with one in pink and one in blue. For LGBTQ individuals looking for couples omamori in alternate colors — it is possible! Gender neutral colors are rare but available. I would suggest visiting Kyoto’s Shounkoin Temple for alternate talismans due to their progressive views regarding marriage rights.
Working off debt or hoping for financial fortune? Look for bright gold or yellow talismans with 商売繁盛 (shoubai hanjou, or prosperous business) on them — there are even those that look like a money bag. Keep this charm close to your wallet (or better yet, inside it) and hopefully it will soon be overflowing!
5. Protection against evil
The oldest form of omamori are those to protect against evil or misfortune. Remember the kanji 厄除け (yakuyoke, or warding off evil) as this will definitely be one you want. If you’ve had some bad luck lately or just don’t know which amulet to buy, this one is always helpful.
The success omamori with 勝守 (katsumori, or victory) is very popular and easily found. This is a general purpose charm designed to help you achieve your goals. Depending on the objective, it might be better to get a more specific omamori but acquiring a success charm from a well-known power spot (especially Meiji Jingu in Tokyo) is never bad.
More obscure charms
There are many temples and shrines connected to anime: Akagi Shrine in Tokyo (Gegege no Kitaro), Washinomiya Shrine in Saitama (Luck Star) and more recently Suga Shrine in Tokyo (Your Name). However, be sure to visit Ryoho-ji (aka the “Moe” temple) in Tokyo’s Hachioji area for their various charms featuring Benzaiten (a Japanese Buddhist goddess) in anime form.
Where to find it: Ryoho-ji, 2-1 Hiyoshicho, Hachioji-shi, Tokyo
8. Sexual health
Kawasaki’s annual Kanamara Matsuri (Festival of the Steel Phallus), commonly known as the “penis festival,” is well documented for obvious reasons. Even if it’s not April, you can visit Kanayama Shrine for its sexual health omamori. Although amusing, this charm does serve an important purpose. Aside from helping with fertility this charm is also used to prevent the spread of — and bring awareness to — STDs and AIDS.
Where to find it: Kanayama Shrine, 2-13-16 Daishi Ekimae, Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture
9. Breast health
The companion to our sexual health charm is one for breast health. An omamori found at the Kawasaki Kannon temple in Yamaguchi Prefecture (also known as the oppai, or boob, temple) will help expectant mothers provide for their children and will help those with breast-related illnesses.
Where to find it: Kawasaki Kannon Temple, 2-1 Kawasaki, Shunan-shi, Yamaguchi Prefecture
10. Custom charms
Omamori continually adapt, but that doesn’t mean that there’s a charm for everything — or does it? Toyo’s Ikegami Issou-ji has a modern solution: simply visit their website and enter your wish or concern. From there, the monk will use a collection of traditional Japanese motifs to create an special omamori designed just for you. If you like it, you can purchase it for about ¥3,000. However, at this time shipping is limited to Japan only.
Where to find it: Ikegami Issou-ji, 2 Chome-10-17 Ikegami, Ota-ku, Tokyo
If you’re afraid of flying or you work in the industry, you can get a little extra protection for your flight by visiting the Haneda Shrine — conveniently close to Tokyo’s other international airport. Here you can find a variety of charms that will help ensure safe travels — specifically when flying.
Where to find it: Haneda Shrine 3-9-12 Honhaneda Ota-ku, Tokyo
12. Electronic protection
A whole new set of problems arise with technology: viruses, stolen information, hacked passwords, closing a document without saving, etc. Thankfully, the Kanda Shrine offers visitors cutting edge help with their modern omamori. For people in the IT industry or those who are technologically challenged, simply adhere this charm to your computer or carry it with you.
Where to find it: Kanda Myoujin Shrine, 2-16-2 Sotokanda, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo
Whether you’re living in or just visiting Japan, be sure to visit at least one shrine or temple and bring home an omamori for yourself or a loved one. Don’t be afraid if you aren’t Buddhist or subscribe to Shinto priniples as these amulets can be enjoyed by all. Hopefully, this knowledge will give you some confidence in your purchase but anyone selling omamori would be happy to help you if you’re looking for something specific or have questions.
Have a favorite omamori or Japanese charm? Let us know what it’s for and where you got it in the comments!