Thursday, December 30, 1999

By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
The omamori good luck charm, hung on the rearview mirror
of your car, is believed to ensure you safe travel.

‘critical’ for luck
in new year

Many Japanese Buddhists
carry the charm

By Suzanne Tswei


THE Tamura family of Pauoa has a winning formula for getting the new year off to a good start.

At the stroke of midnight, all three generations of the family will be gathered at the Liliha Shingon Temple for a traditional New Year's service. For good luck, a Buddhist priest will bless every member of the family with prayers and taps to their heads with a book of rituals. A drink of sake will follow -- also for good luck.

Then, another measure for good luck and perhaps the most important: taking home omamori, traditional Japanese good-luck charms to dispel misfortunes in the coming year.

"Each time we go down to the temple at New Year's, we get our omamori. This is kind of critical," said the patriarch of the family, Alan Y. Tamura, a firm believer in the magical powers of omamori.

He survived a tour of Europe during World War II; his brother and a friend returned from the Korean conflict without a scratch; his whole family was spared a serious accident when the car's brakes gave out; and two of his daughters narrowly escaped a speeding car. All carried omamori.

"It has been really fantastic. That's why I try to be as faithful as I can," said Tamura, who has shown his devotion to the temple by making three pilgrimages with his wife to all 88 Shingon temples in Japan. The family has a variety of omamori, offering protection from personal injuries, traffic accidents and household mishaps.

By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
Bishop Joyo Ogawa of the Nichiren Mission in
Nuuanu with an omamori.

Omamori are "good, old magic" that the Japanese immigrants brought to Hawaii, and have remained a New Year's ritual in many island households, said George Tanabe Jr., University of Hawaii religion professor who co-authored "Practically Religious: Worldly Benefits and the Common Religion of Japan."

"It's amazing to see how many people have omamori. It's something that has a real enduring nature," Tanabe said.

Although omamori also are available at nominal fees or donations throughout the year, many islanders believe a new year must be accompanied with a fresh round of omamori. Old ones are brought to Buddhist temples or Shinto shrines to be burned to get rid of any bad luck from the previous year.

"The thing about omamori is that the magic does wear out. You are suppose to get a recharge with new ones. New Year's is always a time for renewal, in some ritual way, of your chances of getting good luck. It's a new beginning, and omamori, in theory, give you a good start," Tanabe said.

In Japan a big variety of omamori cover everything from healthy pregnancy to computer malfunctions, he said. Omamori apparently are not all created equal. Certain temples have reputations for powerful omamori for specific protections.

At the Nichiren Mission of Hawaii on Pali Highway, the Buddhist temple has a special type of omamori available, thanks to the Rev. Bunshu Kosho. He spent 100 days in vigorous training in Japan for the temple to receive 30 special omamori that offer all-encompassing and long-lasting protection.

"It's special kind. It's for family, person and house -- everything," said Kosho, who endured a meager diet of plain rice, continuous chanting and a daily dousing of cold water in freezing Tokyo winter to qualify for the special omamori.

The usual omamori can be simple or ornate, ranging from folded white paper written with protective words in black ink to fancy brocade bags embellished with gold embroidery and containing paper or wood plaques. These small omamori, about 1 inch by 2 inches, can be carried in wallets or hung on cars' rearview mirrors. The special omamori are 12-by-4-inch wood planks to be placed on the family altar.

To receive these omamori, the usual donations alone won't do. Kosho wants worshippers to complete 40 minutes of chanting before he will consider rewarding them with the remaining omamori.

At the Jodo Mission of Hawaii on Makiki Street, Bishop Yubun Narashiba is prepared for the annual run on omamori, carrying more than 1,500 pieces that are available with donations to the temple.

While omamori are readily available in most traditional Japanese places of worship, one group of Buddhist temples, Honpa Hongwanji, is an exception. The sect does not sanction the practice, although its leaders are aware that their temple members purchase omamori from other sources.

"I can understand the psychology of it. As long as you have something to lean on, it gives you comfort. That's what omamori does," said retired Hongwanji Bishop Yoshiaki Fujitani.

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