When living in or traveling around Japan, you are bound to run into your fair share of Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines. One enjoyable Japanese ritual while visiting these sites is drawing an omikuji or paper fortune slip.
This is especially popular around the new year to learn one’s fortune for the coming year, so if you haven’t yet done this for 2021, you should try it! These fortunes can be quite specific, with intriguing information in areas such as work, studies, travel, love, and even health or childbirth.
In the past, it had been difficult to find omikuji in English or other languages. But, these days, there are several places around Tokyo that offer multi-lingual omikuji. Read on for some recommended spots to discover your fortune for the New Year.
What is Omikuji?
But first, what is it, anyway? Omikuji means “sacred lot,” and this method of fortune-telling has been practiced in Japan for centuries. Originally, omikuji were based on a collection of Chinese poems. Some omikuji slips still have poems printed on them today, as well as advice on specific areas of one’s life.
At a temple or shrine, look around for the stalls selling talismans, as they will often offer omikuji nearby. Most omikuji cost between ¥100 and ¥300 JPY, although it varies from place to place.
The traditional method of getting your fortune slip is quite fun. You will be given a long, cylindrical box filled with sticks. Give it a good shake, and randomly draw a stick from the box. The stick will be numbered. Either tell the attendant the number, or look to find the matching one listed on a chest of tiny drawers nearby. Your paper fortune will be inside.
Some temples and shrines have different ways of dispensing omikuji, such as a large bin where fortune seekers pull one out at random, or a gacha machine, the coin-operated toy dispensers seen all over Japan. It is not uncommon to see multiple options available at the same location, and I have found that sometimes a temple or shrine may only have Japanese omikuji available through one method, but might have other languages through another.
The contents of the fortune slip will vary, depending on the location.
First, it will state the degree of luck or blessing, from “super lucky” or “great blessing” all the way to “very bad” or “great curse.” Then it will list fortunes in various areas of one’s life, which could include general areas, such as health or love, or more specific ones, such as lost objects or moving.
The chances of getting a good blessing far outweigh the bad, but if you aren’t happy with your omikuji, there’s a workaround for that: simply tie it to a pine tree or scaffolding nearby that has been designated for that express purpose. The idea is that the bad luck will wait here instead of coming home with you. Even if you draw an unlucky fortune, there is still wisdom you can take away from this experience through the advice written on the paper slip.
The Best English Omikuji in Tokyo
When trying your hand with omikuji, you could do no better than to visit Sensoji Temple in Asakusa, the oldest temple in Tokyo. With such venerable credentials, it is an impressive, atmospheric place, and a great opportunity to experience shaking the traditional wooden box to get your omikuji.
Once you pull the stick out of the box, you’ll have to do a little detective work to find the correct number for your fortune, as the sticks are numbered using the Japanese numbers.
The omikuji at Sensoji are printed in a variety of different languages, and the descriptions of the fortunes feel a little mysterious, rather like an American fortune cookie.
If you aren’t satisfied with your fortune-telling experience at the oldest temple, head out to Chofu in western Tokyo to try your luck at Jindaiji Temple, the second oldest temple in Tokyo. Nestled in a more woody, natural setting, Jindaiji is a sprawling temple complex, and you will find the talisman stall located near the Hon-do, the main hall.
For multi-language omikujis, choose from ones that come with a daruma doll or with a lucky charm. The fortune slips give general advice, as well as specific advice for work, love, health, and studies. Plus, you get to keep the daruma or golden charm!
Hanazono Shrine, located right in the middle of the flashing lights and commercial hub of Shinjuku, offers a serene break amid the chaos of the city. Multi-language omikujis can be drawn from the bin next to the talisman stall, and come enclosed in a lovely paper tube with a flower pattern. Along with the general advice, these offer specific advice in love, work, studies, money, travel, and even mention a lucky item.
Meiji Jingu Shrine
Meiji Jingu Shrine is one of Tokyo’s most iconic and lovely tourist spots. It was built in 1920 and dedicated to Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken, both of whom were passionate poets in the traditional Japanese waka poetry style.
Thus, the omikuji at Meiji Jingu Shrine lack the more common words of advice, but offer waka poems from the emperor and empress, with the idea that this poetry will be meaningful to the reader. Also, Meiji Jingu recently added a virtual omikuji to their website. Check it out here.
Now that you have an idea of where to go for English and multi-language omikuji in Tokyo, go out and seek your fortune! Note that although this activity is extremely popular at the New Year, it can be done at any time. Good luck!
Author: Mo Stone