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Culture

Shrine Fortunes: The Many Levels of Luck in Japan

While you may think that all luck is the same, many different types of luck are available in Japan.

By 3 min read

At portent times such as the new year, Japanese people often wait in long lines at shrines to draw a special kind of fortune known as an omikuji (くじ).

In the past before significant events, lots would be drawn to determine whether the venture would be blessed by the spirits. The final part of the word, kuji meaning a lottery, is apt as omikuji involves drawing a numbered stick from a container. The number refers to the fortune you will be given and how much luck you will receive.

These days, other styles also exist, ranging from the relatively common pulling a folded piece of paper from a container to the less common omikuji vending machine.

Feeling lucky?

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Ready to get your fortune told? Head to one of these at the shrine.

While you may think that all luck is the same, many different types of luck are available in Japan. The character for luck is きち, so look out for these on your omikuji. Even among the lucky, there are different levels of luck ranging from big luck to small.

Some of the common ones to look out for include the following:

Kanji Romaji English
だいきち dai-kichi Big amount of luck
ちゅうきち chu-kichi Middle amount of luck
しょうきち sho-kichi Small amount of luck
はんきち han-kichi ‘Half-sized’ amount of luck
すえきち sue-kitchi Luck in the future
すえしょうきち sue-sho-kitchi A small amount of luck in the future

These are the most common ones, but you may also see とくきち (special luck) and ちょうきち (super lucky) at many shrines. Other shrines have special systems, such as Kusadoinari Shrine, which offers だいだいきち (extra-large amount of luck) for those occasions when even “big” luck isn’t enough.

Another one to look out for is Shimogamo Jinja Shrine in Kyoto, which offers へいきち intermediate luck somewhere between a blessing and misfortune. Turns out that even the spirit world can feel ‘somewhat meh’ about your chances!

Portents for the future

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The true test of Japanese reading comprehension.

You should also notice that some specifics are written on the fortune. These are typical advice about things you should be aware of, portents for the future or advice for how to use your newfound luckiness. In some instances, they may be precise: my omikuji this year specifically warned me against traffic accidents!

For those trying to read them, these will test your Japanese abilities to the max as they are written in a metaphorical, vague language (my fortune advised me ‘to search for things in the direction of the west’) that even Japanese people without a classical education may struggle with.

While there are countless combinations, some characters to look for include:

Kanji Romaji English
うん un Luck
幸せしあわ shiawase Happiness
かみさま kamisama Japanese deities
かげ okage Gratitude
かな kanau Be granted one’s wish
うぬ unubo Conceitedness
しん jishin Confidence
katsu Victory
furi Disadvantage
きん kin Money
あい ai Love

When misfortune strikes

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Leave your misfortune by tying it up.

While luck comes in many forms, so does misfortune. Those who are about to luck out are given omikuji with a different character: きょう. Similarly to the lucky omikuji, misfortune comes in wide varieties, including:

Kanji Romaji English
だいきょう dai-kyo Big amount of misfortune
はんきょう han-kyo Medium amount of misfortune
しょうきょう sho-kyo Small amount of misfortune
すえきょう sue-kyo Misfortune in the future

Obviously, if you get a misfortune or even a fortune that you don’t like, it’s time for damage control. Look for a structure called a musubidokoro (literally ‘tying place’), which will be easy to recognize because it is covered in tightly folded paper.

This is where you’ll be tying up your fortune so it doesn’t follow you outside the shrine. If you are doing it by yourself, look at how the omikuji are folded, as there is a specific way that this folding is typically done, consisting of folding it lengthways before tying it into a small bow.

If all this Japanese leaves you a little overwhelmed, don’t worry. In Tokyo, both Meiji and Senso-ji have omikuji in multiple languages. Similarly, in Kyoto, Kinkaku-ji also offers omikuji in English. Here’s hoping that you get 大吉.

What fortune did you get? Was the fortune accurate? Let us know in the comments.

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