Omikuji (Written Oracles) (おみくじ)
Omikuji (also referred to as Mikuji) are sacred lots drawn at temples or shrines to tell one's fortune. The 'mi' in 'mikuji' is an honorific prefix and is written with different characters for example the honorific 'mi' and 'kuji', or in the case of a shrine the characters for 'kami' (God) and 'kuji' (lot) or in the case of a temple the characters for 'Buddha' and 'kuji' (lot). However, while strictly speaking it is a problem, it is sometimes written indiscriminantly with the characters for 'God' (kami) and lot (kuji).
In ancient times when important matters in connection with the politics of state or choosing of successors were decided, there were cases when lots were drawn to determine the intention of the Gods and this is said to be the origin of the modern day mikuji. Mikuji these days are drawn by visitors to shrines to determine their personal fortunes and this practice became popular from the beginning of the Kamakura period. At that time it was common to prepare your own lot (kuji).
Currently about 70% of omikuji are made by Joshidosha, a company in Shunan City, Yamaguchi Prefecture, and they also export English versions to Hawaii and other countries, and the rest are made independently by various shrines and temples.
There are various methods of drawing lots but the common ones are:
Shake a round or square mikuji box which is of a weight and size which can be held in both hands (some boxes are too big to hold) and contains thin sticks, and one of the sticks will come out of the small hole at the bottom of the box, and receive a lot which has the same number as the number on this stick.
The visitor to the shrine or temple chooses a folded mikuji (lot) from the box.
Put the price in coins into an automatic vending machine which dispenses mikuji.
The company Joshidosha registered a utility model design patent for an automatic vending machine for dispensing mikuji during the Taisho period.
The general outline for fortunes for the slips of paper is daikichi (excellent luck), kichi (good luck), chukichi (moderate luck),shokichi (a little lucky), kyo (bad luck), (and sometimes more including daikichi, kichi, chukichi, shokichi, hankichi (half luck), suekichi (good luck in the future), sueshokichi (small good luck in future), kyo, kokyo (a little bad luck), hankyo (half bad luck), suekyo (bad luck in future), daikyo (very bad luck). Recently there are temples and shrines at which the fortunes written include 'daidaikichi' (very very good luck) and 'daidaikyo' (very very bad luck)), and they include sentences describing fortunes related to things you are looking for, a person you are waiting for, health, financial fortune and lifestyle or other personal fortunes. There are also shrines (including Meiji-jingu Shrine) which add Japanese waka poetry to the explanation of the fortune or express the whole fortune through waka poetry. Moreover the lots at some temples have Chinese poetry added and this is because of the roots in Ganzan Daishi Hyakusen (Gansantaishi's one hundred lots). There are also temples and shrines which do not inscribe the good or bad fortune on mikuji, but only have the explanation or waka poetry (such as Taga Taisha shrine in Shiga Prefecture).
There is a custom of tying the mikuji to tree branches inside the temple or shrine after drawing the mikuji. This began in the Edo period as 'musubu' (to tie) evoke an expression 'en wo musubu' of lovers (to get married). Subsequently, the mikuji were tied to trees to tie a link ('en wo musubu') with the Gods. There are also places, such as Nigatsudo (in Todai-ji Temple Nara Prefecture) where the mikuji are spiked onto an awl. Furthermore, there is also a theory that if you tie a 'kyo' (bad luck) mikuji with the opposite hand to your better hand, then by achieving or performing such a difficult action you can turn bad luck to good. However in recent years some temples and shrines prepare a rope between two tree trunks for visitors to tie the mikuji to because tying the mikuji to the trees is bad for the tree growth.
The ratio of good to bad fortunes in the mikuji varies among temples and shrines however in recent years some temples and shrines are reducing the ratio of bad fortunes. However, rather than good or bad, importance is attached to what is being said by the explanation of the fortune.