Japanese Lucky Item Object

When traveling in Japan, you may have seen raccoon dog (tanuki) figurines in front of shops. Have you ever wondered "what are these for?" Actually, they are one of the lucky items or lucky objects in Japan.

Japan has long had a custom of valuing 'things that bring good luck' (縁起が良いもの / Engi ga yoi mono), and there are customs to display these "lucky items" (called 縁起物 / Engi-mono - auspicious items) in homes, shops, and offices, and even to give them as gifts to loved ones.

'Things that bring good luck' can be tangible things, such as food or decoration objects or intangible things, such as customs or numbers. This time we will introduce in detail about the auspicious "Okimono" (置物 - decoration objects / figurines) which are often seen at tourist areas in Japan.

What is 'Engi' in the first place?

The word "縁起" (engi) originally comes from the Sanskrit word "pratītya-samutpāda", which means "everything has a cause and relation to such a cause". In Japanese, the phrase is represented by the four-letter-kanji word "因縁生起" (in'nenshouki), which came to be abbreviated as “縁起” (engi).

In modern times, it is often used in expressions such as "good luck" (縁起が良い / engi ga yoi) and "bad luck" (縁起が悪い / engi ga warui), meaning "(things with) an element that gives a foreboding of good (or bad) events".

4 must-know classic lucky items in Japan

In Japan, there is a custom of giving lucky items to celebrate and pray for luck and there are various types of gifts. Among the lucky items, decorative objects / figurines (Okimono) are one classic type often used as gifts. We have put together a list of some of them for you to know more in depth!

Manekineko (beckoning cat): A lucky item that beckons customers and financial luck

A lucky charm that beckons customers and financial luck: Manekineko

"Manekineko" (招き猫 - beckoning cat) is a standard lucky item for good luck in terms of 'prosperous business'. Recently, it has become a popular souvenir among foreign tourists, who call it “Lucky cat” or “Welcome cat”.

There are various theories about how it came to be used as a lucky item, but one of the most famous is an anecdote passed down at Gotokuji Temple in Tokyo. One day, when Naotaka Ii (井伊直孝), the lord of the Hikone Domain, passed by Gotokuji Temple on his way home from falconry, he was beckoned by a cat and decided to stop by the temple grounds. While spending time at the temple, a thunderstorm suddenly fell, but thanks to the cat, he was able to stay dry and enjoy talking with the priest, so the Lord Naotaka took good care of the cat. After that, at Gotokuji Temple, the cat that beckoned good fortune was called "Manekineko" (spelled as 招福猫児), and the Shofuku-den (招福殿) was built to enshrine it.

Each Manekineko has a different shape and form with a variety of benefits (bestowed luck).

  • The basic type is one raising its right paw that invites financial luck. If it is raising its left paw, it invites people (customers).

  • *There are also Manekineko products that raise both paws, whereas it also means "raise your hands" (like forfeiting) and is said to be bad luck.
  • The cats often have a koban (Japanese coins in older periods). There are also others that come with a sea bream, a gavel, and even a rake.
  • In recent years, there are various Manekineko with newer benefits such as "love", "longevity", and "big wins in the lottery", reflecting the changing times.
  • Each color is said to have its own meaning and benefit. For example:
    • Gold/Yellow: Money fortune
    • Calico: Good luck
    • Black: Wards off evil, wards off bad luck, home safety

There are many famous spots related to Manekineko all over Japan. At Gotokuji Temple, which is theorized to be the stage of the birth of Manekineko, you can meet many Manekineko not only in the precincts but also in the surrounding shopping streets. In Aichi PrefectureTokoname City has the famous “Tokoname Manekineko Street” and Seto City has the “Manekineko Museum”. There you can experience large variety of the beckoning cats.

Tanuki (raccoon dog) figurines: A lucky item for prosperous business often seen at the entrance

A lucky item for prosperous business often seen at the entrance: Tanuki (raccoon dog) figurines

"Tanuki no Okimono" (狸の置物 - Raccoon dog figurines) are also often seen in front of shops and around the entrances in Japan as lucky items for prosperous business. They are popular as gifts for the opening of a new store as well.

It is said that the origin of the figurine was a raccoon dog figurine made by Tetsuzo Fujiwara (藤原銕造) of the Honke Tanuki Pottery (now named "狸庵" / Rian). It then became famous worldwide after Emperor Showa (Hirohito) made a visit to Shigaraki and composed a poem in 1951.

In addition, the Shigaraki raccoon dog figurine and its belongings express the eight meanings of "Hasso Engi" (八相縁起 - 8 elements of luck).

  • Hat: Protect oneself from unexpected disasters on a daily basis

  • Big Eyes: Be able to look around and deticated to making correct decisions
  • Smile: Pray for business flourishes by being nice to each other
  • Tokkuri sake bottle: Strive to have virtue (徳利 / 'Tokkuri' contains the word 徳 / 'Toku' which means 'virtue')
  • Kayoicho wooden sign: Trust and be trusted by people
  • Big belly: Calmness and boldness
  • Kinbukuro money pouch: Money fortune
  • Fat Tail: To have a solid (good) end to anything!

Places where you can meet raccoon dog figurines include Shigaraki Town, Koka City, Shiga Prefecture, and Hozukyo Station on the Sagano Torokko Train in Arashiyama, Kyoto Prefecture. Be sure to take commemorative photos if you go there!

Daruma doll: A lucky item that wards off evil and prevents illness and misfortune

A lucky item that wards off evil and prevents illness and misfortune: Daruma doll

"Daruma" (だるま) doll is known as a lucky object for prosperous business and good luck in life, as it is made to stand up immediately after being knocked down.

Daruma doll is said to be modeled after a Buddhist monk from India, Daruma-Daishi (達磨大師). Daruma-Daishi was born in Kanchipuram, South India, about 1,600 years ago, and earned a Buddhist monk name "Bodhi-dharma" (菩提達磨 / Bodaidaruma) when he ordained. He is said to have later traveled to China and laid the foundations of Zen Buddhism.

The birthplace of "Engi Daruma" (縁起だるま - lucky daruma doll) is "Syorinzan Darumaji Temple" in Takasaki City, Gunma Prefecture. It is said to have originated from the fact that the monk 'Togaku' (東嶽) of Darumaji Temple taught Tomogoro Yamagata (山縣友五郎), a farmer who was suffering from famine, how to make Daruma dolls.

The feature of Takasaki Daruma doll is that it expresses two kinds of auspicious animals on its face as symbols of auspiciousness and longevity - crane as eyebrowns and turtle from the nose to mustache. There are various theories as to why the Daruma is painted red, such as because Daruma-Daishi who it was modeled after and the high-ranking Buddhist monks wore scarlet robes, and because red color is meant to ward off evil spirits. Furthermore, it is said that drawing the Daruma's eyes by oneself represents "the opening of the eyes of the heart."

If you want to buy a Japanese Daruma doll as a souvenir, check out the souvenir shops around Mt. Kataoka Darumaji Temple (片岡山達磨寺) in Nara Prefecture, which is said to be the birthplace of the Daruma faith, and in Takasaki CityGunma Prefecture! Also, there are other shops specializing in daruma dolls in places like Nakamise in Kawasaki Daishi temple, which is easily accessible from Tokyo. Be sure to check them out!

Kokeshi doll: Good luck item for childbirth and celebration of children's health and growth

Good luck item for childbirth and to celebrate children's health and growth: Kokeshi doll

"Kokeshi" (こけし) doll is a traditional craft wooden doll that is used as a lucky item for praying for fertility (blessed with children) and for the growth of children. It is said to have originated in the end of the Edo period when it was made as a souvenir for visitors to the hot springs in the Tohoku region. The origin of the name of kokeshi dolls is said to differ by areas until it was unified using three hiragana characters "kokeshi" (こけし) when the "Tokyo Kokeshi Association Naruko Tournament" was held in 1940 at Naruko Onsen, where kokeshi craftsmen and related parties gathered together.

The three regions of Togatta, Narukoand Tsuchiyu Onsen are known as the “Three Great Kokeshi Birthplaces”. The shapes, patterns, and techniques that have been passed down from generation to generation vary from region to region.

You can purchase some of the lucky decorative items introduced here at the FUN! JAPAN Select Shop!

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