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japanese luck amulets

To: alt.magick
From: (nguyen)
Subject: japanese luck amulets
Date: 23 May 2003 21:02:21 -0700

Taken from the website of the LA Times:,1,7952928.story?coll=la%2Dheadlines%2Dworld

Good Luck Comes in Small Packages
   Omamori charms have had a centuries-long hold on Japan's psyche.
   Today they're used for everything from the lottery to SARS.

  By Mark Magnier, Times Staff Writer

TOKYO — Part rabbit's foot, part religious relic and part
security blanket, omamori were created centuries ago to keep the devil
at bay and the gods attentive.

These days, the tiny amulets are busy battling more worldly problems.

As Japanese have stressed out in the last few years over rising
unemployment, mounting crime, record suicide rates and new strains of
disease, they're rediscovering this ancient ally in their bid to fight
off the gloom.

"Japanese feel more and more afraid, battered by problems beyond their
control," said Shigetsugu Sugiyama, head of Kokugakuin University's
Institute for Japanese Culture and Classics as well as a Shinto
priest. "Omamori provide spiritual reassurance as people search for
supernatural advantage."

Some omamori offer general protection, others have specific purposes.
Most live their lives in pockets, wallets or purses, ideally in close
proximity to any source of worry. Thus a shopkeeper faced with
bankruptcy might place his between banknotes in his billfold, while a
commuter fearful of accidents might attach one to her car keys.

There's little emphasis on touching or rubbing them as one might with
a rosary or mezuza, although some angst-ridden Japanese have been
known to grip theirs tightly during exams or job interviews.

Omamori use isn't limited to those who see the teacup as half-empty.
Japanese astronauts, Olympians and baseball stars draw on them to
attain new heights, golfers swear by them and trendy teenagers use
them to adorn their most precious possession: their cell phone.

Most Japanese own at least one omamori and some boast several dozen,
adding up to an estimated half a billion for a population of 127
million. Although they can take different forms, they're generally
made of paper or thin slabs of wood the size of a matchbox, inscribed
with sacred writings and encased in a colorful silk sack. Most are
sold by Buddhist temples or Shinto shrines after a blessing.

Japanese tend to believe that omamori hold supernatural power, an
outgrowth of the nation's animist tradition, and that they draw on
spiritual forces linked to the temple or shrine that sold them.

"In the old days, Japanese believed there were spirits in rocks, trees
and nature," said Hisami Nakahara, a 44-year-old computer graphics
worker, who owns three. "As things are getting tougher, we're
returning to the roots of what makes us Japanese."

Nakahara said she keeps at least three with her at all times —
one attached to her monthly train pass so she doesn't lose it, another
with her keys so her house isn't robbed and a third decorative
purple-and-white number for general good luck.

Many Japanese enter and leave the world in the presence of omamori.
Michiyo Takada, 32, clutched hers recently in a hospital delivery
room. It worked, said Takada, who gave birth to a lively son. "With
all the medical malpractice scandals lately, I wanted the extra
security," she said.

Between life's goal posts, omamori are in quiet attendance as Japanese
fret over pink slips, divorce, sickness, test results, even finding
that special someone.

"Maybe I would have met him without it," said Michiko Arai, a
30-year-old publishing industry worker who found a boyfriend after a
five-year search. "But who knows?"

Junko Kezawa, 28 and unemployed, always carries a quartz omamori her
aunt gave her. "If I forget it, something bad always happens," she
said. "Five years ago, I fell down the stairs and was badly hurt. Then
I checked and, sure enough, I'd forgotten it."

Yuri Fujishiro, 31, working in finance, relied on hers a couple of
years ago when she got pregnant. "I wanted a girl," she said. "Sure
enough, out she came."

Some people, however, like 34-year-old administrator Yoshinobu
Kobayashi, think that omamori are a bit of hocus-pocus. "It's silly
superstition," he said.

Others say the amulets are effective because the mind wants to believe
in them, like a placebo.

"Japanese carry them for mental peace," said Shizuo Machizawa, a
psychiatrist at the Mental Health Research Institute in Tokyo. "I'm
not religious, but I have two jade omamori myself that calm me down
when I'm upset."

Many people believe that the amulets' spiritual power wears down, like
a battery, and replace theirs regularly, especially when the omamori
is entrusted to do something vital like prevent car collisions.

"It's a bit of a hassle getting a new one every year," said Kanae
Arai, a 61-year-old farm cooperative employee. "That's more often than
you renew your driver's license. If I had an accident and didn't have
it, though, I'd feel pretty bad."

Part of the amulets' attraction is their adaptability to each new
concern that life throws one's way.

Office worker Eriko Sayama, 34, made sure that her brother had one to
protect against SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, when he
left the country recently. "Since there's no effective cure for SARS
yet, we're placing our trust in the omamori," she said.

That sort of thinking can be dangerous, counters Shinichi Hosokawa, a
30-year-old consultant. "I think it's a lot more practical to wear a
face mask."

The oldest of these little talismans date from the 8th century,
linked, some scholars say, to the peach-wood charm used by Chinese
Taoists after the 2nd century BC to ward off evil. More than 1,000
years ago, Japanese warriors carried miniature protective swords and
Buddhas into battle, while women and children back home adorned their
kimonos with more decorative omamori.

In feudal times, they were affixed to the back of samurai helmets.
World War II kamikaze pilots clutched theirs tightly on their final

"Throughout history, you see Japanese becoming much more reliant on
omamori during unstable times," said Hiromi Iwai, director of the Oita
Prefectural History Museum.

Nowadays, omamori are offered through online auctions and by express
delivery services. There are omamori for pets, "safe sex" condom
omamori and virtual omamori for downloading onto mobile phone screens.
Gangsters use them to ward off danger and gunshots, while street
toughs operating protection rackets "sell" omamori to construction
companies at inflated prices.

Chiaki Mukai, Japan's first female astronaut, had one sewed into her
spacesuit, while journalist Toyohiro Akiyama took one along to
complement his $2.3-million life insurance policy when he traveled
aboard a Soyuz spacecraft in 1990. And Japanese baseball star Kazuhiro
Sasaki brought along 22 omamori when he left home to join the Seattle

For centuries, omamori were used to ward off evil in its broadest
forms. Today's consumers have placed more emphasis on targeted —
even selfish — applications such as winning the lottery,
marrying someone rich or avoiding scratches to their Lexus, say
scholars. Most omamori cost between $5 and $20 and play an important,
if unspoken, role in helping shrines and temples pay their bills in
tough economic times.

Themes that are embraced by a fickle public can pull in hundreds of
thousands of tax-free dollars for temples, spurring quiet competition
among monks and priests to come up with new "hits." The annual harvest
for Japan's 80,000 Shinto shrines and 70,000 Buddhist temples is
estimated at well over $1 billion.

Some religious sites gain visibility by being associated with sacred
objects. The town of Usuki in Oita prefecture recently became a mecca
for anxious office workers when the head of a Buddha statue was
reunited with its body after a 300-year separation. In Japanese,
"having your neck severed" is shorthand for getting fired, while
reattachment suggests steady work.

At the Futami Okitama shrine in Mie prefecture, a frog statue draws
those worried about overseas travel, terrorism, SARS and war jitters
because "frog" in Japanese connotes safe return. And the Zensho Temple
in Gunma prefecture offers hole-in-one, lower-your-handicap and
avoid-getting-hit-in-the-head-with-the-ball omamori inspired by its
statue of the goddess Kannon, who is depicted with 13 clubs on her
back and something vaguely resembling a putter in her hand.

Other temples and shrines rely on wordplay. Japanese with ailing
relatives flock to Saitama prefecture for amulets from the Pokkuri
Temple, whose name also means "drop dead," hoping that loved ones will
depart quickly and painlessly.

A secondary tier of omamori reflects Japan's rich folk history,
although purists say these lack spiritual firepower because holy men
or women haven't blessed them. Dried seahorse omamori, being shaped
vaguely like a fetus, are said to reduce birth pains and danger when
held during delivery. Grains of sand previously used to increase
friction and help keep trains on their rails are sold in packets to
anxious high school students hoping to gain "career traction."
Pumpkin-shaped omamori are said to help stave off Alzheimer's disease,
while the follically challenged collect tickets from Japan Railway's
Mashike station because its Chinese characters mean "restore" and

Some young Japanese have turned them into a new fashion item. College
student Rika Takahashi, 19, in black jeans and a peacoat, says color
coordination and design are essential as she brandishes an off-pink
omamori attached to her off-pink cell phone. Recently it also helped
her snag a call from a boy she likes, she said, as she waited near
Tokyo's Harajuku neighborhood, Japan's teen capital.

This is sacrilegious and undermines the omamori's high spiritual
purpose, said Ayako Kawamata, a 60-year-old homemaker.

"I just don't understand how these young people think," she added.

Others take the (very) long view. "Actually, they were something of a
fashion item on kimonos a thousand years ago," Shinto priest Sugiyama

Scholars say omamori bear witness to the faith, hopes and
superstitions of the Japanese people. This leads some to wonder
whether their power can be tapped to address the nation's economic and
political malaise.

"Maybe if these worthless politicians got more omamori, they would be
less self-absorbed and the nation wouldn't be in such a mess,"
Kawamata said.


Rie Sasaki in The Times' Tokyo Bureau contributed to this report.

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