Both Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples in Japan raise a little extra income by selling omikuji, or “sacred lot” paper fortunes. The omikuji are usually white paper strips that are rolled or folded. They are randomly dispensed to a fortune seeker after he or she drops 100 yen coin in a wooden box at a booth or into a vending machine.
Omikuji fortunes have two parts. The first part is a kind of blessing; the options range from great blessing to half blessing to future blessing, but also from small curse to great curse.
The second part of the fortune concerns some aspect of life; it could be business success or travel or childbirth, or something like that. Suggesting that the individual will find new and unusual hashioki doesn’t seem to be one of the standard fortune options, but there’s always hope. In any case, the fortune is derived by combining the two parts. So you could have a great blessing in business, or a small curse in travel, and so on.
If you visit a shrine or temple in Japan you may see a lot of these paper strips tied to branches of a nearby tree or to wall strung with metal wires. There are two schools of thought regarding these tied omikuji. Some claim this is how you dispose of a bad fortune you do not want, while others insist that tying a good fortune on a branch or wire will increase its chance of coming true. Lots of people believe that buying one of these fortunes, reading it, and then tying it to something is part of the fun of visiting a shrine or temple.
I’d like to suggest that using an omikuji hashioki might guarantee the fulfillment of the good fortune you may have received at a shrine or temple earlier that day.
People also believe that omikuji were the inspiration for fortune cookies, especially those people who insist that fortune cookies were in invented in Kyoto (where there are many shrines and temples) in the eighteenth century. I’ll write more about this in a future post about fortune cookies.