Omamori

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Omamori (御守 or お守り) are Japanese Shinto and Buddhist amulets worn or carried for various types of good luck. Omamori is the honorific form of mamori (守り) (protection).

Omamori are often dedicated to Buddhist figures or Shinto kami (spirits), and sold by shrines and temples. Though they resemble bookmarks, they’re paper or wood prayers enclosed within a brocade bag.

They became popular in the Edo period (1603–1868).

Copyright 松岡明芳

Copyright Kanko*; Source

Traditionally, omamori aren’t opened, for fear of losing their protection and luck. They’re carried in a pocket, purse, backpack, etc., or tied to a suitcase, handbag, cellphone strap, car mirror, etc. Omamori are supposed to be replaced once a year, to chase away the past year’s bad luck.

Old omamori should be returned to the temple or shrine they came from, to be disposed of properly. This is similar to the Jewish genizah, a storage area for worn-out religious books, papers, and Torahs in a synagogue or library. Periodically, the contents are collected and properly buried.

Old omamori are typically returned on or shortly after New Year’s, so one may start the new year off fresh. Instead of buried, the old ones are burnt, to show respect to the spirit who helped that person in the past year.

Copyright Sun Taro; Source 2014SpringKyoto

There are many types of omamori, with purposes including:

Avoidance of evil (yaku-yoke)
Safety for one’s family and peace at home (kanai-anzen)
Luck in business and money (shobai-hanjo)
Better luck (kaiun)
Safety in travel and driving (kotsu-anzen)
Luck with school and passing tests (gakugyo-joju)
Love luck or continued love and success in one’s relationship (en-musubi)
Protection during pregnancy and childbirth (anzan)

In the modern era, it’s not uncommon to see omamori with sports motifs, or featuring popular characters like Donald Duck, Minnie Mouse, and Hello Kitty. Another modern development is omamori for the protection of pets.

Obviously, these contemporary omamori aren’t sold in shrines or temples!

One need not be Buddhist or Shinto to buy omamori, or even Japanese, but it’s common decency to respect their religious nature and purpose. They shouldn’t be treated like bookmarks or exotic tokens to display.

If a temple or shrine doesn’t have an omamori which matches one’s needs or wants, one can ask a priest to have it custom-made. The shrine or temple may begin producing those types of omamori in large quantities if there are enough requests.

Copyright 田島飛松

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Traditionally, only shrines and temples made omamori, but with their increasing popularity in the modern era, many popular shrines and temples have farmed their production out to factories. In spite of this, some priests take strong issue with the quality and spirituality of these mass-produced omamori.

Some modern omamori eschew the traditional wood and paper for materials such as credit cards, bike reflectors, and bumper decals.

Copyright Igor 1045

My character Rodya Duranichev finds an omamori in the pockets of a dead Japanese soldier when he and his best friend, Patya Siyanchuk, are helping with burying both dead Americans and Japanese during the Battle of Tarawa in November 1943.

Rodya also finds a letter, a photo of the soldier with his wife, and black, white, and red beckoning cats. He takes them as souvenirs, though he has no idea what they are.

Rodya keeps the cats and omamori on his person during the Battles of Saipan and Tinian, in the hopes they’re good luck charms.

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While he’s in Hawaii after being wounded at Tinian (on top of his previous wounding from Saipan), waiting to be sent home, someone tells him what the four amulets mean.

Those amulets, the photo, and the letter on the dead Japanese soldier are meant to show the common humanity of the other side. We’re more alike than we are different.