What symbolizes good luck in your country? Is there some particular type of item or food that is said to bring you good fortune? In many countries and cultures, there are various traditions that involve eating a certain food, wearing or using a specific item, or even performing a certain to ensure that good luck comes your way. Even though most people no longer believe in the “magical” properties of these traditions, many superstitions continue to this day. Some people even swear by them!
Japan is a country of tradition and there are different symbols in the country that people have considered from the old ages as a catcher of luck and happiness, wealth, good fortune, and more. Shrines are visited by people to pray for good fortune from the coinciding god or spirit or use an item to help them with whatever they are pursuing in life. Most of these beliefs are inherited from Buddhism, Hinduism, and from various Chinese religions. In Japanese, small items such as dreamcatchers are said to be “engimono” (lucky charms). Here are ten engimono that are popular in this country and just might help you along with a spot of good luck.
The carp, or the koi fish, is a symbol of great importance in Japan and it is very respected. We can see colorful fish swimming around in ponds and rivers that are associated with temples and shrines, such as in Ueno Park. These pretty fish are believed to be symbols of good luck, happiness, and well-being. The koi fish can swim across the stream, hence it is also believed as the symbol of courage and willpower.
Koi fish paintings are often painted on men’s kimonos and during the boy’s festival, which is called “Tano no Sekku” and is held on May 5th every year. Every house having boys hang “koinobori” (koi fish windsock flags) in front of their house. If you are in Japan during the end of April, you will definitely see these pretty koinobori around, symbolizing good luck and strength for the boys in the family.
The frog is another symbol that is believed to bring good fortune. As well as meaning “frog”, “kaeru” is the Japanese word meaning “to return”. The frog is hence representing people or things returning to their origin or home. People used to hang small frog dangles on purses or bags while traveling, which is believed to carry people’s wishes for a safe return.
An owl, or “fukurou”, is also a symbol of a life “free of hardship” and “luck to come”. In a typical Japanese suburban neighborhood, you may be able to see owl-themed ceramic pots and statues in most gardens. It is believed that they will protect you from hardships. There are also accessories, toys, and more of owls sold at many shops and souvenir stores.
“Maneku” means to invite or beckon, and “neko” means cat. The maneki neko is something you may have seen in Asian markets as sweet little gifts. This beckoning cat is made of ceramics, plastic, or metal and can be mostly seen at the entrance of shops. They have various colors such as golden, red, white, or black, and is found in different postures. Each color and pose means different things; for example, gold is said to bring prosperity and wealth and black is believed to ward off evil spirits and promise safety.
The maneki neko can be found with either its left paw or right paw raised. The right paw invites money and business, and the left invites customers and people. It can, therefore, be said that either paw raised is good for business, however, the left paw is traditionally used for night entertainment such as geisha houses and restaurants. Next time you see a maneki neko, take a look at which paw is raised!
The daruma dolls come mostly in reddish colour with the face of a man with thick eyebrows and a moustach, which is also believed to be a good luck charm in Japan. They are made of paper or ceramics and it is also believed that this will bring luck, love, courage, and power. These dolls are available in five important colours and each has different meaning based on the goals. For example, a red daruma doll brings good luck and fortune, a white doll promotes love and harmony, and a gold doll brings wealth.
A crane, or “tsuru” in Japanese, can be seen in most Japanese paintings and it is another good luck charm for the Japanese. They are mainly associated with New Year and marriage. Traditional wedding kimonos commonly have broideries containing paintings or patterns of cranes. It is a well-known belief that if you make one thousand paper cranes, your wish will come true.
Daikokuten is believed to be the god of prosperity in Hinduism and Buddhism. Daikokuten statues, both big and small, are kept inside many households and shops and it is also believed to be a symbol that brings wealth and good luck. Daikokuten is one among the seven lucky gods of Japan.
The laughing Buddha, also known as Hotei, is another statue available in various poses. These are also made of metal or ceramics. A popular color includes the golden one holding a beaded chain in one hand and a big bag on its shoulder. The symbol of this fat and jolly god is also believed to bring good fortune, good luck, and good health if kept at houses and shops. Hotei is another god belonging to the Japanese seven gods of fortune.
The Omamori is an amulet with covers made of Japanese style silk cloth pieces. They enclose prayers written on paper or on wooden pieces kept inside. “Mamoru” means in Japanese “to protect”, so “omamori” literally means “protection”. We can see them in different colors and shapes available in almost all shrines and temples. They are believed to bring good luck and they are available in various names for bringing safety and fortune in different places and situations. It is also believed that the cover, if opened, will lose its power of protection and hence it can never be opened.
Matsu, or pine trees, can be seen in many Japanese gardens. Pines are the evergreen tree species that can survive in even the harshest of climates, and hence it is believed to be a symbol of good fortune and longevity. During the New Year, an arrangement containing pine, bamboo, and plums are used to make “kadomatsu” which is kept at the entrance of houses, offices, and temples to welcome the new year. All these trees are considered as carriers of good fortune.
Although these are ten well-known lucky charms in Japan, it barely scratches the surface when it comes to the Japanese and their beliefs of what will bring certain fortune. Other symbols of luck include the peony flower, the sakura (or cherry blossom), and many more. If you meet a geisha, be sure to accept the small piece of paper or sticker she gives you, for if you keep it in your wallet, you’ll come into money! Even if you’re not superstitious, it is always fun to join these traditions and then thank your lucky charm if something good happens to you. Some hold more belief in certain parts of the country, and some, such as the maneki neko, have found fame internationally.
Believing in lucky charms is not only restricted to Japan, either. It seems we as humans enjoy putting our faith in something we consider to be more powerful, and feeling like we have a little control over our futures. Which of these ten good luck charms have you seen, and do you think that they work?