Before buying any amulets, please read through this page which will explain their significance and how to properly take care of them.
What are amulets and omamori?
An amulet is an ornament or jewelry that is said to confer a kind of protection or benefit on its bearer. In Japanese, these are called omamori, which translates to protection or guard. Most of the time, these amulets are obtained from Buddhist temples and Shintō shrine and are considered holy items. They may have a specific blessing attached to them, such as "success in reaching your goal" or "prayer for a safe childbirth," and are often given at important events throughout life.
Though their forms can vary, omamori usually come in the form of a decorated cloth sack with a small string attached. The decorations can be quite colorful, with each shrine or temple having their own unique designs.
How do you use an amulet?
Amulets can be carried with you or placed in your house. The can be attached to backpacks and carried inside wallets. Some are meant to be worn or carried in your hand.
While its fine to carry it with you in your everyday life, you should make an effort to treat it with care. If you keep it in a room, keep it on a shelf and off the ground. If you attach it to a bag or carry it on your body, make sure to gently wipe it occasionally with a soft, damp cloth to remove any dirt that may have accumulated.
Do I have to be a believer in Buddhism or Shintō to have an amulet?
No. Though spiritual in nature, the giving and receiving of omamori in Japan is a tradition of goodwill and even those who would otherwise be considered areligious may still carry an amulet.
However, you should be receptive to the idea of what they represent and respectful of its role as a holy item.
What's inside an omamori?
First things first: You should never open an amulet! The colorful sack is meant to be a protective cover for its contents.
Inside the bag is usually folded paper or a wooden board on to which may be inscribed words or symbols which relate to the intended benefit of the amulet. This is called the naifu, the inner amulet, which has been blessed with a prayers from the priest at the shrine or temple from which it was purchased.
Some amulets are actually designed with an opening to show the object inside. These usually come in a clear plastic covering. The same rule applies though: don't open it up!
How long is an amulet good for?
Traditionally, an amulet is effective for one year. It's said that this is because the omamori has absorbed kegare, "uncleanliness" or "bad luck," and no longer has any effect. After that period, people return their omamori to a shrine where it will be ceremonially burned. This usually happens towards the end of the year, in December, and many people buy a new one in January during their first shrine visit of the new year.
Living outside Japan, where Shintō shrines are quite uncommon, returning an amulet for burning is likely to be difficult. If you wish, you can (carefully) burn it yourself. Some shrines accept old omamori via mail service as well.