O-mikuji (御仏籤 or おみくじ) are Japanese fortunes written on small strips of paper, sometimes accompanied by a poem or words of wisdom. Omikuji are acquired at Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples.
Different shrines and temples offer different styles of omikuji — some are illustrated, some only deal with very specific topics such as career or love, while others feature translations in English and Dutch (don’t ask).
The word “omikuji” means “sacred lot”, which is an apt name as the fortunes are dispensed randomly. There are three main ways of doing this: via vending machine (because Japan!), via random pick from a bowl or box, or — the most traditional method, via an omikuji ritual. First you drop a small donation (usually a single JPY 100 coin) into a collection box. You then grab a shaker jar (mostly wood but also steel) and shake it vigorously until a single stick falls out of the jar hole.
The stick has a number written on it (in Japanese characters most of the time, but also in English in more touristy areas), and it is your job to match that number to the various drawers located nearby also marked with numbers. These drawers containing the omikuji, and once you find a match you open the drawer and take one fortune.
The omikuji contain a general blessing which can be any one of the following: great blessing (dai-kichi), middle blessing (chuu-kichi), small blessing (shou-kichi), blessing (kichi), half-blessing (han-kichi), future blessing (sue-kichi), future small blessing (sue-shou-kichi), curse (kyou), small curse (shou-kyou), half-curse (han-kyou), future curse (sue-kyou), and great curse (dai-kyou).
The omikuji also has fortunes for more specific aspects life, such as: wishes (negaigoto), missing items (usemono), travel (tabidachi), business (akinai), studies (gakumon), conflict (arasoigoto), love (renai), and illness (byōki).
If the omikuji you received is unfavorable, it is a custom to tie it to a nearby tree or some wire fencing that the shrine has put up specifically for that purpose. The belief is if you leave the unlucky omikuji behind, the bad fortune will stay there instead of following you around.
If the omikuji you received is good, you can keep it on you (like an omamori) so the good luck stays with you, or you can tie to to a tree or fence just like a bad fortune and hopefully increase the good luck and prosperity coming your way.
If you would like to give it a try without having to fly to Japan, there are plenty of virtual omikuji sites online (although all of them are Japanese-language only). We recommend the Ikoino Jinja site as it’s the most well-done — it looks like an actual omikuji and not just a bunch of text randomly generated via Java :3 The most important thing to keep in mind is to take the fortunes with a grain of salt — it’s only srs bsns if you think it is 😀