I gave several of my friends omamori (お守り) as souvenirs from my last trip to Japan so I decided to write up something explaining what they are.
In short, they are amulets or talismans sold at shrines to ward off bad luck.
They are often a brocade bag holding a wooden, metal or paper object with a prayer inscribed on it that has been made sacred through rituals performed by the priests at the shrine (or temple – Japan has a blurry line between Buddhism and their indigenous religion, Shinto). The recipient of the charm usually carries it with them (in their wallet, attached to their bag, hanging from their car rearview, etc.) as a means of protection.
The bags are not meant to be opened or the “spiritual offshoots” may escape and the protective benefits may be lost.
They are usually kept for about a year. When an omamori is old, it can be returned to the shrine to be burnt in ceremony and a new one can be purchased. Obviously, for people not in Japan, this isn’t really possible. As long as the item is treated with respect and not just carelessly tossed in the garbage, it’s okay. The omamori works by deflecting the misfortune away from you so if it’s beat up and worn, that just means it’s working. (I still have all the ones I’ve ever bought. Since they are souvenirs, I’m just gonna hold onto them.)
My friends ~ keep in mind, I gave you yours with wishes for your good future in mind but as souvenirs. You can keep them without feeling like they will become ineffective. I will still continue to want good things for you. And if you DO want yours replaced, just let me know and I’ll get you another one next time I’m in Japan.
There are a dizzying array of various types of omamori. There are specific ones for travel, study, business, health, romantic and family relationships, etc. or just general good fortune. (Hey Ames, there is even one I’ve seen that is ‘Safety from Bears’. Haha. I’ll pick one up for you next time.)
This is a GREAT article with tons more info.