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.
While you may think that all luck is the same, many different types of luck are available in Japan. The character for luck is 吉, 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:
|大吉||dai-kichi||Big amount of luck|
|中吉||chu-kichi||Middle amount of luck|
|小吉||sho-kichi||Small amount of luck|
|半吉||han-kichi||‘Half-sized’ amount of luck|
|末吉||sue-kitchi||Luck in the future|
|末小吉||sue-sho-kitchi||A small amount of luck in the future|
These are the most common ones, but you may also see 特吉 (special luck) and 超吉 (super lucky) at many shrines. Other shrines have special systems, such as Kusadoinari Shrine, which offers 大大吉 (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 平吉 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
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:
|叶う||kanau||Be granted one’s wish|
When misfortune strikes
While luck comes in many forms, so does misfortune. Those who are about to luck out are given omikuji with a different character: 凶. Similarly to the lucky omikuji, misfortune comes in wide varieties, including:
|大凶||dai-kyo||Big amount of misfortune|
|半凶||han-kyo||Medium amount of misfortune|
|小凶||sho-kyo||Small amount of misfortune|
|末凶||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.