Minister Akihiro Okada holds a tray of omamori, or japanese amulets, which will be sold by the Daijingu Temple of Hawaii.

Amulets for luck

People flock to temples to buy
them for the new year

When the heavy drumbeats began at the stroke of midnight last New Year's Eve, hundreds of people waited in line at two Shinto temples in Nuuanu.

The Rev. Daiya Amano of the Izumo Taishakyo Mission of Hawaii in downtown Honolulu remembers that "many people came even in a heavy rain" to buy good luck amulets and receive a blessing to start the new year with a clean slate.

At the Daijingo Temple of Hawaii off Pali Highway, hundreds of people line up every year New Year's Eve to receive a purification blessing, make a donation, offer prayers and buy three or four amulets, said the Rev. Akihiro Okada, who has led the ritual for 20 years. The ceremony lasts for several days into the new year.

Both ministers said the hundreds are from various ethnic backgrounds and religions, and people of all ages come to observe these rituals.

Okada said the amulets are purchased for specific kinds of good luck -- family relationships, prosperity in business, safety in traffic, and personal protection, for example. There are even special charms for children, teenagers, college students who need help while hitting the books. People are asked to donate $3 to $8 per amulet.

Okada ordered 4,500 amulets from Japan. Some of the amulets need to be assembled by the members of the temple, who start working on the following year's supply from January on.

There are also "ema," or wooden plaques on which worshippers may write their wishes and leave at their own shrines at home, Okada said.

Traditional omamori will also be for sale at the Izumo Taishakyo Mission of Hawaii.

Amano, whose temple will celebrate its 100th anniversary in Honolulu in 2006, said 10,000 people will visit the shrine for the week following New Year's Day for the blessing and good luck charms. His regular congregation is considered small, only 200.

Amano said carrying amulets makes it easy to think about the Shinto faith.

"Whenever I open my wallet, I can see it (the amulet). It reminds me that I'm always watched over ... (I am) more appreciative," he said.

Temple member Dazzman Toguchi took two weeks vacation from classes in Japan to help prepare thousands of amulets for this year's celebration. He also remembers how amazing it was to see people coming out in the bad weather last year to take part in the New Year's ceremony: "A lot of them could barely walk or see."

Toguchi, a student at Geidai University, has been helping with the Shinto temple activities since he was nine. Observing Shinto traditions "gives me a feeling of peace." A student of traditional Japanese dance, Toguchi said Shintoism is "part of my culture and roots," and it helped him develop the self-respect that generates respect for others.

Another member, Colleen Izutsu, also took two weeks vacation to help with the New Year celebration because she gets a good feeling from carrying on sacred traditions and "knowing that there's something higher up watching over me."

Shintoism, an indigenous religion of Japan, dates back to 200 B.C. and has no formalized book of laws. It emphasizes a constant searching for harmony with nature and the recognition of and appreciation of the presence of gods in one's surroundings. The basic belief is that gods or "kami" are found in all living things.

Another selection of traditional omamori.

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