How to get your O-mikuji (おみくじ) fortune told

O-mikuji (おみくじ)

(at a temple in Asakusa where we got our fortunes told)

In general, I don’t believe that fortunes come true. I think when I was younger, I used to take a great deal of time in picking out my fortune cooking at the Chinese restaurant- trying to mentally feel out which fortune was “mine” and was “calling out to me.”

None of them ever “called out to me” though. Somewhere along the line I think I gave up trying to figure out my destiny by picking out pre-stamped cookies.

That is, until I got to Japan.

Now, I still don’t believe that fortunes ever come true. I’m just going to say that right there. But I haven’t completely abandoned the idea that maybe some sort of cosmic fate happens to know more about me than I do. If I’m lucky, they might even lead me to a pre-written future that solves all of my worries.

Or just makes everything worse.

 (But remember guys, the sign says “you can carve out your own fortune”)

How to get your Omikuji fortune told.

1. Find a sign that says “みくじ”.

Most Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines in Japan have O-mikuji, or random fortunes written on strips of paper that you ‘randomly’ select (by either drawing a straw, rolling a dice, or picking up a tile).

2. Pay 100 yen for your fortune. It is all on the trust system, and surprisingly enough, I haven’t seen anyone try to cheat the system.

But then again, stealing a fortune from a temple seems like a stupid thing to do. Even if you draw a good fortune, you will probably still be cursed.

3. Get your number. Like I said before, you either have to draw a straw, roll a dice, take a card, or pick up a tile. Once you get your number, return the straw/card/tile.

This shrine in Asakusa had me shake a heavy, metal hexagon until a long cylinder until a bamboo stick with my lucky “number” fell out of the bottom.

(In the background of this picture, you can see the みくじ sign and slot for your 100 yen coins)

Last summer I was in Sanda (near Osaka) and I went to a huge festival with friends. That was the first (and only other time) I have ever gotten an Omikuji fortune – and I got the best fortune there. It promised me money (when I was a broke college student), a fantastic love life (when I was single), a lots of friends.

A couple months later I met Ryosuke, who is everything I ever wanted, got a great roommate in college who was like my other half, and won a fantastic scholarship to study abroad in Japan.

So while I don’t necessarily believe in fortunes, that one from Osaka hit spot on.

4. Find the box that corresponds to the tile, stick, or card number. In this case, mine was number 84.

Most places trust you enough to pick the correct number. It’s not like I would know when I drew 84 that it was horrifically unlucky (spoiler alert) and would try to take a “luckier” fortune instead.

5. Open the box and get your fortune. There is usually a nice stack of fortunes in each box, all with the same thing. It’s a pretty ingenious way to make money; even at almost 8PM when all the shops were closed, people were lined up four or five deep to get their fortune. Each one deposited 100yen ($1.20) for a small piece of paper.

That fortune telling business must have been racking up hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars an hour. Lucky.

6. Try to figure out what is actually written. Hint: everything is in Japanese. Even if they provide nice, cute English instructions at the beginning, don’t expect anything but Japanese on your fortune.

My tip: either get better at Japanese so you can read your fortune or bring along a Japanese friend.

Last year I couldn’t read mine at all, and just had to trust my two Japanese friends to tell me the truth.

(We were all great company)

They look like the happy, caring, truthful sort.

This year, though, I could actually read my fortune. It’s rather nice being able to track that kind of change in my Japanese ability.

Too bad I got the worst fortune.

The luckiness of each fortune is broken down into 12 sections, ranging from best (大吉) to worst (大凶).

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

This was mine.

I thought I just got the regular curse, but the girls I was with told me that I got the worst fortune possible. You know me, I do everything 100%. If I’m going to mess up, I’m going to do it big.

7. Try to decide if you really believe in a pre-written fortune that came in a box.

According to mine, I’m destined to be sick for a year (ironic, because I was just really sick for a week and a half before that outing), destined to have a breakup/make no progress in my relationship (also ironic because the night before, my boyfriend and I had a long, serious talk about our future), I’m supposed to fail at things, I will fail at my dream, a bad guy is going to rob me, and I will fight with friends. Basically, it says that this year will be the worst year of my life.

Ouch.

Pleasant, right?

When I asked Ryosuke if my fortune made him sacred, he was like “nah, not really. I don’t believe in those things anyways. Besides, I always get bad fortunes. I like just doing the fortunes because it’s fun!”

8. Dispose of your fortune.

If you get a bad fortune, you are supposed to fold the strip of paper nice and thin, and tie it to a nearby wall of metal wires – specifically for this purpose.

A long time ago, they didn’t have convenient walls of metal wires, so people used to tie the fortunes on nearby pine trees. It is a bad pun on the name for pine tree 松(まつ) “matsu” and the verb ‘to wait’待つ (まつ) also “matsu.” The thought was that the bad luck would “matsu” or wait by the “matsu” pine tree instead of following you home. And who says the Japanese don’t have a good sense of humor?

I, of course, tied my fortune right alongside all the other bad ones. This is my study abroad, I don’t have time to get bad luck.

If you get a good fortune, you can do one of two things, You can attack it to the wall of wires – and no, that’s not some sort of “self-sacrifice” thing where you use your fortune to cancel out the bad in other peoples fortunes. You still get the good fortune. The idea here is that the wires somehow multiply the amount of good luck the person will get.

Or you can just keep the fortune and pull it out every time you’re having a bad day, in order to remind you that some part of the cosmos decided to give you a luck number that meant you get infinite luck for the year. When anything goes wrong, it’s just a phase, because this year ‘you are the chosen one!’

8. Try not to be offended when right after you tie your fortune, a man in a blue uniform comes by and throws all the fortunes away.

It was really hard to not be offended.

I don’t know if my fortune stayed on the wall of metal wires long enough to pass the curse off. What if, when the old man was removing fortunes, mine wasn’t done latching on? What if it jumped off the sheet and latched itself onto me (because I was only a couple steps away. I literally JUST finished tying my fortune)?

(Yes, buddy. I am watching you. Why, you ask? Because you just took my fortune.)

That way a brave man, touching all those cursed fortunes.

But in the end, it’s ok. Even if I’m cursed for this next year, I’m pretty sure I will be just fine.

And the moon was so lovely that night.

Add me on Google Plus: +Grace Buchele

About Grace Buchele Mineta

I got into the writing business by accident. Now I live in the countryside near Tokyo with my husband, Ryosuke, where I draw comics, blog, and make videos about our daily life. Contact: Website | More Posts

3 Comments on How to get your O-mikuji (おみくじ) fortune told

  1. Hello, I’m Japanese. This page is very good for foreign people to know about omikuji.
    Tell the truth, like explanation board says omikuji is supposed to take it and keep it. Many Japanese don’t know it. I also didn’t know it before. But about ten years ago I found out I should keep it, Then read the sentence as your daily guide, and next time you go to temple or shrine, you’ll tie it there. But when I keep it in my purse, omikuji became really dirty. So I started to make omikuji case. I sell it at some shrine. I hope to take a look at my page. It’ll be also good souvenir with omikuji for foreign people too.

    http://omikujiire.shichihuku.com/index,english.html

    By the way I lived in Houston,TX before.

    • Hi Tetsuo,

      Thanks for sharing. I’m glad you agree with this information (sometimes I get worried that I am writing the wrong thing, since I am a foreigner and don’t necessarily understand everything in Japan). The Omikuji case is very clever! Great idea. Thanks!

      (PS – awesome that you lived in Houston!)

  2. I will pray that your bad fortune didn’t bind itself to you, and since the man took it away so quickly, that it didn’t get bound to anyone else but just flits harmlessly away into never-never land! You are way too wonderful to be clouded by a bad fortune! <3

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