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Visit any shrine or temple around Japan and you’ll find strips of paper tied to the branches of trees or rack-like structures. These are omikuji or “sacred lots.”
Long ago, omikuji were used to divine the gods’ opinion on important matters, choosing successors, determining battle strategy, etc. and was an extremely sacred occasion. In contrast, these days anyone can freely take their fate into their own hands.
Finding out your fortune with omikuji is quite easy with these simple steps:
First things first: pay your respects
Cleanse yourself at the temizuya (hand-washing pavilion just outside the entrance to the shrine or temple). To do this, you’ll fill the ladle with water, pour some over your left hand, then your right hand, finally pouring a small amount in your cupped left hand which you will then slurp into your mouth, swish, and spit into the trough at your feet (all done as delicately as possible, of course!). Before returning the ladle to its resting place, lift it vertically, so that the remaining water in the cup runs down the handle, cleaning it in preparation for the next visitor. Now you’re ready to pay your respects to the deity.
Next things next: fortune awaits!
There are a myriad ways to do this. Sometimes, you’ll reach your hand into a box and pull it out, other times, you’ll pick it off a tray, or even just insert your money and have it vended to you by a machine. One of the most common ways, though, is to use lots.
Before going any further, you should bring to mind a hope, a dream, or something that’s weighing on your mind and you’d like some insight into. Next, give the container a shake, tip it upside-down, and a stick will come out. Usually, the stick will have a number written on it, and that’s what you’ll use to get your fortune, either from a drawer or an attendant at the shrine. Oh yes, and don’t forget to give a donation!
The first thing most people will look for is whether their fortune is whether its “good” or “bad.” However, as you can see below, it’s possible to get any number of in-between fortunes!
Fortune in hand, have a read (if you can) and see what it says regarding the things that concern you. Your omikuji will probably contain a lucky number, a brief explanation of your fortune, or even a poem. It could also contain information about any number of topics, such as romantic relationships, lost articles, and even market speculation.
However, what I always look for is what is says regarding travel. I can’t say that I’m a very suspicious person, or that I believe in fortune-telling, but I do appreciate the benefits of positive thinking!
If in the end you decide that this fortune just isn’t a good fit for you, then you’re free to tie it on a tree branch or, more commonly these days, a nearby wire rack or ropes. By doing so, you’ll leave that (unfortunate) fortune there and you can be on your merry way. On the other hand, if this is a fortune that fits for you, then you’ll want to keep it close. Tucking it into a pocket in your purse or bag, or even wallet are all good options.
While the majority of omikuji are written in Japanese, you can find ones written in English at some of the larger, more visited shrines in the country, such as Senso-ji Temple or Meiji Shrine (both in Tokyo).
This year, I went to the local shine in my neighbourhood for hatsumoude (the first shrine visit of the new year). The vast majority of people, myself included, who do hatsumoude will also get an omikuji to see what kind of a year it could lie ahead. I won’t burden you with the details of what mine said, but I will tell you that I did get “great fortune!”
As I said before, I don’t believe in fortune-telling, but it is quite a nice feeling to start the year off on such a positive step!