Reference Pages Index -- Oniko Goes To Japan Main Page
Almost every Buddhist temple and Shinto shrine in Japan sells protective charms, collectively called "O-Mamori". The name for these charms is taken from the Japanese verb mamoru, meaning "to protect or defend". They generally sell for about 300 to 800yen.
They can take many forms, but the most common shape is that of a flat rectagular bag measuring around 1-3/4 x 3 inches, with a decorative knot at the top to keep it closed, the name of the temple or shrine it's from on one side, and a loop of string so you can hang it on stuff... like your briefcase, cell phone, backpack, purse, and rearview mirror, among other places I've seen these things worn or kept. The mamori bag can contain any number of things -- sometimes a paper talisman with a Buddhist incription, sometimes dirt from a sacred spot, etc. -- BUT DON'T OPEN THE BAG TO LOOK! The point to the charm is not what is in the bag, but the association these contents have to a sacred person or place. If you open the bag, the protective power will be dissipated, eh?
The O-mamori give supernatural protection against all forms of evil or mis-fortune, but some are very particular about which evil or mis-fortune they protect against. These tend to be related to the properties of a particular diety or deified priest, or may have a connection to the origin myth of the temple or shrine. For instance, at a shrine I visited in Kyoto which memorializes a time when a man who was unable to walk was miraculously rescued from danger by boars, I was able to buy a charm that would protect against feet ailments; and at a temple in Tokyo that had a famous scholar living at it once, I was able to buy a charm that protected against poorly written papers [popular with students!]. But how do you know what each charm is for? Learn Japanese and ask the priest selling it to you! But I wouldn't worry about it too much; all are beneficial to you, after all.
The O-mamori are such a common item in Japan that they are imitated in a number of ways in other parts of the economic sphere. O-mamori can found with popular cartoon characters on them: Sanrio's "Hello Kitty" would be familiar to many Americans, but my favorite is an O-mamori that features the characters from "GeGeGe no Kitarou" ["Kitarou's Creepy Laugh"], a monster comic book well known in Japan. Also, many products that look like O-mamori can be found: everything from chocolates to condoms are packaged to imitate the charms.
Oh, and for those of you who are dying for some sort of cross-cultural comparison of the importance of the O-mamori in Japanese culture to something in America, I offer the following few thoughts. Consider how ubiquitous the simple Christian cross is in the States: how often do you see someone wearing one, or one on or in a car? And what are the reasons for this? Do the people who buy and display them expect any form of supernatural protection to be attach to these? Hmmmmmm...
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