Omamori (御守 or お守り) are small amulets — usually made of blessed paper or holy wood, and stored in small cloth pouches. They are sold at Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples in Japan. The Japanese word “mamori” means protection, and these amulets are supposed to shield you from harm or bring you good fortune.
There are many different kinds of o-mamori, and you can tell the function by reading the kanji embroidered on the outside of the cloth pouch. Some of the most popular kinds of o-mamori include koutsuu anzen for traffic safety, yaku yoke to ward off evil, kaiun to invite good fortune, gakugyou jouju to pass school examinations, shoubai hanjou for good business, en musubi or love charms, and many others.
Some shrines and temples in Japan are famous for particular kinds of o-mamori. For example, Sensoji Temple in Asakusa is famous for its gakugyou jouju, and many Tokyo University hopefuls go there before exams every year. Victory omamori are particularly effective if purchased from the Zojouji Temple due to its connections with the Tokugawa clan. And if you want to purchase love charms, Meiji Shrine in Harajuku is said to have some of the best.
Although there are no hard and fast rules, a bit of etiquette is practiced with the use of o-mamori. Some Japanese believe that o-mamori should be purchased for other people and not for one’s self — otherwise the effectiveness of the charm is lessened; however not everybody believes this so it should be perfectly alright to purchase one for yourself. You must keep the charm with you at all times — in a pocket, hanging from your phone, or tied to your bag.
You must never open the cloth pouch, otherwise the o-mamori’s blessedness will be negated. While it is recommended that you use a particular o-mamori for one year only, it is perfectly alright to use the same one for several years, especially if you live outside of Japan. If an o-mamori becomes old and soiled with use, you must never throw it in the trash — instead burn it in a respectful manner, or bring it back to the shrine where it was purchased so they will burn it for you.
O-mamori are fantastic as souvenirs for your loved ones when you travel around Japan. Not only are you bringing them something that is uniquely Japanese, you also give them a measure of protection and some good vibes from some of the holiest places in Japan.