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Omikuji: Japanese Fortune Telling

I’m not into opening up a paper in the morning and reading my horoscope. I just don’t believe in that stuff.

But, if you make me shake a metal box until a magical stick that tells me my fortune comes sliding out, well, that I’m down for.

Enter omikuji: a style of Japanese fortune telling popular at temples and shrines. Tourists at Sensoji Temple in Asakusa district in Tokyo were crowding around the many omikuji stands, eager to take part in this whimsical activity and know how the future bodes for them.

Here’s how it works:

Many omikuji stands will look like this:

It says: mikuji, one hundred yen

Walk up to the omikuji stand and you’ll notice a bunch of tiny drawers, several metal canisters on the counter and some coin slots for you to make a small donation. The coin slots will usually tell you how much you have to donate. The one at Sensoji Temple said 100 yen (about one dollar). Although omikuji runs on the honour system, many people wouldn’t dare to seek their fortune without paying. You might end up with an awful curse on your head!

Make sure you donate… or else

After you pay your dues, pick up the metal canister and shake it (like a Polaroid picture). Shake that thing like there’s no tomorrow. That canister is filled with thin bamboo sticks and makes a hell of a racket when you’re roughing up its insides, but everyone else is doing the same thing so don’t be ashamed if you go a bit over the top with it. You might even end up pulling out a good fortune because you worked that much harder for it!

This guy knows what he’s doing

After you’ve thoroughly manhandled the canister, tip it over and try to shake one of the bamboo sticks out of the tiny opening at the top. It’s kind of like shaking out a gigantic toothpick from a gigantic toothpick container.

Once you shake one out, you’ll notice some kanji (Japanese characters) written on the side. It’s a number that indicates which drawer you need to open to retrieve your fortune. Do your best to match the kanji with the correct drawer (you can probably ask someone for help if you’re feeling extra clueless that day). Once you’ve found a match, open the drawer and pull out the first slip of paper.

Come on number 21! Don’t screw me!

Time to read your fortune!

There are apparently twelve kinds of fortunes you can have the privilege of being blessed (or cursed!) with (thank you Wikipedia!)

  • 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)
  • Ending blessing (sue-kichi, 末吉)
  • Ending small blessing (sue-shō-kichi, 末小吉)
  • Curse (kyō, 凶)
  • Small curse (shō-kyō, 小凶)
  • Half-curse (han-kyō, 半凶)
  • Ending curse (sue-kyō, 末凶)
  • Great curse (dai-kyō, 大凶)

Some of these sound pretty bad. Ending curse? Is that like Avada Kedavra? Or half-curse? Does that mean you’re cursed every other day? Or the curse only applies to your lower body? I didn’t want to find out. So I closed my eyes, prayed to every God under the rising sun and pulled out my slip of paper.

This looks promising… I think

Hell yeah! I received a “good fortune”, or on the Wiki scale, a “Blessing”. I especially enjoyed the comparison of me to an exceptionally clean flower being washed so well. Really makes me feel better for not remembering to pack enough underwear.

After you’ve read your fortune, do whatever you want with it! If it’s good I’d suggest hanging on to it, but if it’s bad, especially if it’s a Great Curse, no need to lose your pants! The Japanese have solved that problem for you. Around the omikuji counter will be a stand with rows of thin metal wires going through, usually with a bunch of fortune slips tied to them already. This is the designated “bad fortune” banishing machine. The belief is that when you leave your fortune here, instead of attaching itself to you, it “waits” on the wires and never comes to fruition. This is a pun on the Japanese words for wait (待つ) matsu, and pine tree (松) also pronounced matsu, as the fortunes were traditionally tied to pine trees.

Where fortunes go if they’ve been bad

If you’re ever in Japan, you should try your luck at omikuji. They can be found at any major shrine or temple, though if you want a fortune with an English translation, stick to the heavily touristed places. Omikuji at smaller temples and shrines will all be in Japanese.

And always remember, good or bad, the one who has the most control over your fortune is you. You have way more power than you think. I took this philosophy to heart straightaway and bought myself a mini ice cream sandwich, because ice cream sandwiches were in my future. I said so.

This was destined to be eaten by me
Published inCultureJapanTravel

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