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How to Consult an Oracle at Japanese Shrines and Temples

If you have already visited a Japanese shrine, you may have wondered what the folded papers attached to trees or threads were.

These are called omikuji, or oracles. What is written on them is believed to be a message from the deities. They are provided in many forms: some shrines and temples have sorts of oracle vending machines, and some others have boxes in which you can put your hand and pick a paper.

However, the most traditional way is to use an oracle tube that you can find at the reception area/shop. Shake it until a wooden stick falls out. The number written on it indicates the number of your oracle. Give the number to the staff, and they will give you the corresponding oracle. An oracle usually costs 100 yen. 

A shrine lady putting the wooden sticks back into the oracle tube.
A shrine lady putting the wooden sticks back into the oracle tube.

The Origins of Omikuji

The origins of these oracles date back to the Heian period (794–1185).
It originally started as a way for people to determine their destiny. From the beginning of the Kamakura era (1185–1333), the oracle became a way to get your fortune. Nowadays, Japanese people buy such oracles mostly during the New Year period, but also consult them when they want an answer on a specific matter, or as a souvenir when they visit famous shrines.

Reading Your Omikuji

The first thing to look at when reading your oracle is its general luck level. They usually are classified this way:

  • Daikichi” (大吉): Great luck
  • Chukichi” (中吉): Good luck
  • Shokichi” (小吉): Small luck
  • Kichi” (吉): Luck
  • Suekichi” (末吉): Your luck will come later
  • Kyo” (凶): Bad luck
  • Daikyo” (大凶): Very bad luck

If your oracle is kyo or daikyo, you should tie it to a tree branch or at the dedicated space in the temple to cancel the bad luck. You are supposed to wait at least a few days before taking a new one, but some people do it immediately.

If your oracle is a good one, you should keep it in your wallet or another item you carry to keep it with you. If your luck is average, you have the choice to keep it or not, depending on the text written on it.

A lady dressed in a kimono is tying an oracle on a thread in a shrine

The oracle style and format vary depending on the temple. Most of the time, there is a sort of poem that represents your general flow of luck. Under it is an explanation of what it means in modern Japanese. Then, there are details for specific aspects of life. Most of the time, the categories include work, studies, health, love, marriage, pregnancy, business, and dreams.

Lucky cat-shaped oracles on sale at a shrine

Some temples offer oracles in English, and some temples provide more expensive versions of the oracle, including good luck stones or auspicious items. They make good souvenirs, so do not hesitate to give it a try during your next visit!

Born in France, I've been living in Japan since 2011. I'm curious about everything, and living in Japan has allowed me to expand my vision of the world through a broad range of new activities, experiences, and encounters. As a writer, what I love most is listening to people's personal stories and share them with our readers.

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