Omamori (御守) are the amulets that are always seen at shrines and temples throughout Japan. Literally meaning “to protect”, these often intricately designed charms are a popular gift item for travelers who will inevitably visit at least some of Japan’s shrines.
Most omamori are usually made of cloth and resemble pouches. They actually enclose tiny ofuda, the paper or wooden blessings boards that are available at the shrine’s amulet office or Juyosho too.
Omamori often have a specific purpose, such as for health, studies or work. Often shrines or temples may also provide generic all purpose good luck charms while certain shrines may offer unique charms which they are associated with such as for a successful relationship or safe pregnancy.
While to the tourist it may seem like you are purchasing the charms, Omamori are actually a streamlined process of donating. For as long as there have been places of worship, people have been making donations in exchange for having their prayer’s supported. Omamori (and ofuda) represent a transparent way of making such donations.
It’s also a pretty handy approach since in Japan at least the visitors’ well wishes are often intended for others. The omamori can be passed on to the intended loved ones.
Like in our Japan Manhole Covers article not too long ago, here’s a collection of some example Omamori. Many more have already left my hands.
Nikko has perhaps the most beautiful Omamori I’ve seen so far in Japan.
All smaller shrines and Buddhist temples also have some form of omamori too, but are often kept simpler.
Little known tidbit: Many Japanese omamori, like most other things, are actually made in China. Not that it should matter. Hesitating to donate because of this fact, will make you a bad person.