Engimono (縁起物)

Engimono (a lucky charm) is an object with which to celebrate or pray for something good.

Engimono in Japan

There is so wide a variety of Engimono, including those to pray for huge harvest (of cereals), good catch and memorial service, prosperous business, safety of the family, a state of perfect health, peace and longevity, a harmonious marriage, fertility and family prosperity, ancestor worship, good luck and protection from evil, as well as those concerning 'hare to ke' (which means 'appare' [splendid] or a good mood, not fine weather). Engimono also means something to be sold or offered to visitors at sando (an approach to the temple), temple or shrine grounds, Monzen-machi (a temple town) and Toriimae-machi (town in front of torii [Shinto shrine archway]) on the day of festivals and fairs, based on the historical and cultural backgrounds. Special examples peculiar to Japan include fukuotoko (the luckiest man) selected in a festival, performers such as namahage (folklore demons of the Oga Peninsula that pay frightening visits to children at the New Year) and people who become yorishiro (object representative of a divine spirit) in events such as the ground sumo tournament. Eel and hatsugatsuo (the season's first bonito) are also included in Engimono, because they are eaten for the purpose of nutritional fortification according to seasons as well as in the hope of obtaining longevity and medical effects. Some are derived from Indian culture such as Buddhism, Esoteric Buddhism and Hinduism, some originates from manners and customs of civilization in China such as five seasonal festivals and Nijushisekki (24 divisions of the old calendar), and in some cases these elements have been blended together with the Japanese traditional Shinto.
(Concretely speaking, 'Daikoku' (god of wealth), one of the Seven Deities of Good Luck, originates from Hinduism, and in Japan there are three kinds of Daikoku which differ in form and implication: 'Daikokuten' of Mahayana Buddhism, 'Daikokuten' of Esoteric Buddhism and 'Daikoku-sama' created through syncretization of Okuninushi no Mikoto (a Shinto deity) with Daikokuten of Buddhism.)

Something to be sold or offered to visitors in temples, shrines and their grounds

Daruma doll (Daruma fair)

Rake (Cock Fair)

Hagoita (Battledore Fair)

Morning glory (Morning glory fair)

It is also known as 'kengyu' (Cowherd) (its flower is called 'kengyuka') because in ancient China its seeds (called kengoshi) were so expensive and so valuable medicines that people who were given the seeds would thank the giver taking their cows with them. It was introduced to Japan in the Heian period, and kengoshi was highly valued as the chief of all medicine since then.

Later, in the Edo period, it was generally called 'Asagao-hime' (Morning Glory Princess), compared to the Weaver longing to see the Cowherd. Morning glory in bloom was regarded as a kind of lucky charm, because people believed that it was a sign that the 'Cowherd star' and the 'Weaver star' could see each other again that year.

Hozuki (ground cherry) (Ground-Cherry Pod Fair)

The origin of the Obon festival is the Urabon-e festival originated in Buddhism, but in Japan, it became the current style of 'Obon festival' incorporating ancient ancestor worship and spirit worship. As hozuki is written '鬼灯' (ogre's light) in kanji characters, it is offered on the Shoryodana (shelf placed ancestral tablet and altarage in the Obon festival) as a symbol of lights leading ancestors' souls (one of the meaning of '鬼' [ogre]) safely back to their home.

Maneki-neko (a welcoming cat)

Seven Deities of Good Luck

Treasure ship

Hamaya (ritual arrows to drive away devils) and Hamayumi (ceremonial bow used to drive off evil)

Omamori (a personal amulet)

Ema (a votive horse tablet)

Sacred lots (a fortune slip)

Ablution' at the chozusha (purification trough)

Smoke from incense sticks' in the Daikoro (large incense burner)


Festa and show enterprise
Mikoshi (portable shrine)
Dashi (float)
Fukuotoko and fukumusume (Good fortune Girls)
Sumo wrestler
In addition, those who are specially singled out for a certain role in a festival, those who have won a game in the course of a Shinto ritual or those who become yorishiro

Red and white
Mizuhiki Cord (an ancient applied art of tying various knots of special cords)
Shugi (tip)
Shugibukuro (special envelope for momentary gifts)
Origami (old style paper folding)
Noshi (a thin strip of dried abalone wrapped in folded red and white paper)
Tsunodaru (two-handled keg)
Heigoshi (also referred as heigushi, staff to which shide are attached to make a go-hei paper streamers)
It is attached to the part of the wooden framework of a roof called tsuka after raising the framework at the time of a Jotoshiki (the roof-laying ceremony). It is square timber inscribed with the words such as celebration for roof-laying, decorated with old style origami in red and white, a paper fan, gold and silver leaves or their substitute (gold or silver paper), and is used to pray for various forms of happiness and protection against evils, in connection with the house and the family.

Yuino (exchange of engagement gifts)
Refer to the article of Yuino for details.

Katsuobushi (dried bonito)
It is written as 勝男武士 (literally, "a winning man, samurai").

Surume (dried squid)
It is written as 寿留女 (literally, "a woman with continuous happy events").

Awabi (abalone)
The same as naganoshi (stretched dried abalone used as a betrothal gift) or 'noshi awabi' (a long, thin strip of dried abalone wrapped in folded red and white paper). In order to pray for long life, abalones, which have been traditionally thought to live for 100 years, are dried, cut into unbroken strings and further stretched long.

Konbu (kelp)
It is written as 子生婦 (literally, "a woman who gives birth to a child") and symbolizes fertility.

Hemp yarn (in the Kanto region), Takasago ningyo (dolls of old man and woman) (in the Kansai region)
As they are associated with white hair, they symbolize a long-lasting harmonious marriage.

Ring, catalog
In the Kansai region, a catalog is not counted as an item and a ring is included instead.

Sakadaru (wine cask or barrel)
It is also called yanagidaru, and written as 家内喜多留 (literally, "A lot of pleasures stay within the house").

It means being increasingly successful.

Mt. Fuji
Traditionally Mt. Fuji was regarded as a sacred mountain in Shinto, and everybody visited the mountain in the hope of capitalizing its 'remarkably miraculous efficacy' in the Edo period. For the sake of those who could not visit Mt. Fuji for various reasons, a mound of dirt called Fujizuka, a miniature of Mt. Fuji, was made in shrines, and so on, and torii and hokora (a small shrine) were built on top of the Fujizuka Mound, just as on the actual mountain. Furthermore, these beliefs about Mt. Fuji have left a place-name Fujimi in various places in Japan where you command a fine view of Mt. Fuji.

Sekku (seasonal festival) and sekki (24 divisions of the solar year)

New Year's Holidays
Yorishiro and kekkai (barrier)
Shime-nawa (a thick rope used as a ceremonial implement of shrines which indicates the boundary between the holy area and the everyday area)
Kadomatsu (New Year's pine decoration)
Okazari (decorations)
Sakaki (species of evergreen sacred to Shinto)
Special dishes prepared for the New Year
Kagami-mochi (a round rice-cake and a bitter orange offered to a deity)
Activities for bringing good luck
Otoshidama (New Year's gift)
Fukubukuro (lucky-dip bag, grab bag, mystery package with a variety of articles possibly worth more than the purchase price)
Fukuwarai (game like "pin the tail on the donkey")
Hanetsuki (battledore)
Spinning top
Kite flying
The seven herbs (January 7)
Nanakusa-gayu (rice porridge with the seven herbs of spring)
Kagamibiraki (the custom of cutting and eating a large, round rice cake, which had been offered to the gods at New Year's, on January 4 or 20)
oshiruko (sweet red-bean soup), zenzai (baked mochi and an) and kinakomochi (mochi rice cake sprinkled with soy flour)
Setsubun (February 3):
Kekkai to keep out evils and tools to chase them off
Hiiragi (holly)
Ehomaki (literally, sushi roll of the blessing direction):
A long, large sushi roll customarily eaten in the Kansai region. The intent and body movements in connection with ehomaki have become popular these days.

Puppet festival (March 3)
Hina doll (a doll displayed at the Girls' Festival)
Peach branch
Red, white, and green lozenge-shaped rice cakes
Kanbutsue (April 8):
It is Buddha's birthday and called Kanbutsue.

Amacha (leaf of plants resembling hydrangeas)
Tango no Sekku (Boys' Day on May 5)
Koinobori (carp streamer)
Busho ningyo and kabuto (helmet)
Chimaki (a rice dumpling wrapped in bamboo leaves):
It is not a snack but Japanese sweets.
Kashiwamochi (a rice cake which contains bean jam and is wrapped in an oak leaf)
Shobuyu (bathwater with iris petals)
It is said to be taken to pray for a victory in a game, for Shobu means 'a game' as well as 'iris.'


Tanabata festival (July 7)
Dwarf bamboo and bamboo
Urabon festival (August 13 to 16):
It is pronounced as Urabon.
Buddhist rite

Lotus flower
Lotus leaf
Lotus seed
Obon festival (August 13 to 16):
A Japanese ancient festival of ancestor worship
Makomouma (a horse decoration made of Manchurian wild rice or straw)
Festive red rice (akagome [red-kernelled rice] plus glutinous rice, azuki beans and black-eyed peas)
Nochi no Higan (Autumn Higan) (September 20 to 26)
botamochi, ohagi (rice ball coated with sweetened red beans, soybean flour or sesame)
Tsukimi (Moon watching, September 25)
Japanese pampas grass
Edamame (green soybeans)
Tsukimi dango (moon-viewing dumplings)
Festival in honor of Ebisu (October 19 and 20):
A festival to pray for huge harvest (of cereals) and good catch of fish
Root crops such as daikon (Japanese radish) and burdock root
Fish (because Ebisu is a God of fishery as well)
Shichi-go-san (a day of prayer for the healthy growth of young children) (November 15)
Chitoseame (a long stick of red and white candy sold at children's festivals)
susuharai (December 13):
It is pronounced as susuharai. It means thorough cleaning.

Kujira-jiru (whale or blubber soup)
Winter solstice (December 22)
A hot citron bath
Kabocha gayu (thin rice porridge with pumpkin)
New Year's Eve (December 31)
Toshikoshi-soba (buckwheat noodles eaten on New Year's Eve)

Public entertainment

Minyo (a traditional folk song):
It is sung in haretoke (honored occasion, honored day), including festivals and other happy events.

Kiyari-uta (song for carrying heavy logs)
Kokiriko bushi (folk song)
Ohayashi (Japanese orchestra):
It is sung in haretoke (honored occasion, honored day), including festivals and other happy events.

Wadaiko drum
Maiodori, kagura (sacred music and dancing performed at shrines)
Shishimai (lion dance)
Ebisu mai (The Dance of Ebisu)
Daikoku mai (The dance of Daikoku)
Matoi dance:
It is pronounced as matoiburi or matoimai.

Acrobatics, Daikagura (Street performances of a lion dance and jugglery)
Hashigo-nori (ladder-top stunts)
Kyokugoma (top spinning tricks)


Omiki (sacred wine or sake)
Amazake (sweet mild sake)
Otoso (New Year's spiced sake)
Sushi can be expressed in a pair of kanji, which literally mean "governing happy events."

Chirashi zushi (vinegared rice with thin strips of egg, pieces of raw fish, vegetables and crab meat arranged on top):
It is said that ingredients in four colors symbolize the four gods or seasons, and that ingredients in five colors symbolize the universe.

Bekkoame (tortoiseshell candy)
Candies in general:
It is said that some candies, such as 'Fukuame,' will protect you from a cold if eaten at the specified time of year.

Dried persimmons on a skewer
Aomono (vegetables, edible greens, any fish with a bluish back, such as the Japanese sardine) and grain
Rice and komedawara (bag of rice)
Beans in general:
mameni ikiru' (living in good health) and 'mamemameshiku hataraku' (working diligently)
Azuki beans
Kachiguri (dried chestnut):
It is a dried chestnut whose husk and astringent skin have been removed by pounding. It is a lucky charm for samurai families, for 'kachi' also means a victory.

Renkon (lotus root):
People thought that they could see the future through the breathing tubes of renkon.

Chorogi (Chinese artichoke):
It is root of Labiatae plant. Another combination of kanji for Chorogi literally means "the joy of longevity," and Chorogi is said to bring the longevity.

Marine product
Tai (sea bream):
It is associated with 'medetai' (auspicious).

Whale meat
In ancient times, people from imperial families ate whale meat in the Imperial Court, expecting medical effects, but later in the Sengoku Period (Period of Warring States) (Japan) whale meat was loved by busho (Japanese military commander) and highly valued by samurai families, for geidon (a swallow by a whale) means 'annexation of another country,' toki no koe (toki can be expressed by a pair of kanji meaning, a whale's wave, and toki (鯨波) sometimes written as 鬨 in Chinese character) is associated with a victory, and geiko (a whale's outcry) means 'booming out.'
In the Edo period, with flourishing of whale hunt, whale meat became a popular lucky charm for ordinary people and was eaten at sekki.

Ise-ebi (lobster):
It symbolized longevity because it has a stoop just like elderly people.

Shrimp and prawns in general
Morijio (placing salt by the entrance to one's establishment, such piles of salt)


Fire and spark:
Okuribi (ceremonial bonfire) and mukaebi (welcoming fire). Flint. Firework. Gomadaki (the Buddhist rite of burning wood sticks).

From the expressions 'hatsuwarai' (first laugh of the year) and 'Warau kado ni wa Fuku Kitaru' (good fortune and happiness will come to the home of those who smile).

Chabashira (auspicious sign, a tea stalk floating erect in one's cup):
It means a tea leaf or stalk floating erect when you pour tea into a cup.

First, Mt. Fuji; second, hawks; third, eggplants:
It is pronounced as 'ichi Fuji, ni taka, san nasubi.'
It is a good omen if your Hatsuyume (the first dream in the New Year) is a dream about those objects.

Kanreki (the celebration of a person's 60th birthday), Kiju (77th birthday), Sanju (80th birthday), Hanju (81st birthday), Beiju (88th birthday), Sotsuju (90th birthday), Hakuju (99th birthday), Hyakuju (100th birthday), Chaju (108th birthday), Dai Kanreki (120th birthday) and Tenju (250th birthday).
Meteorological phenomenon
Dawn and goraiko (sunrise)
The sunrise belief (sun belief), represented by an act of watching hatsu hinode (first sunrise of New year) or watching a sunrise from the top of Mt. Fuji, is said to be peculiar to Japan, while there are a lot of practices of admiring the setting sun all over the world. This sunrise belief is expressed in the facts that expressions such as 'Hi Izuru Kuni' (Land of the Rising Sun) and 'Hinomoto' (place where the sun rises) are praises, and that 'Appare' (splendid) and 'early rising' are something to be respected.

Omiwatari (cracks that form in the ice on Lake Suwa)
Kitsune no yomeiri (fox's wedding):
It means rain shower while the sun shines, sun shower.
Inazuma (thunderbolt; a bolt of lightning):
It is associated with abundant rice crop.
Shinkiro (mirage)

Human, animal and plant

Baby and child:
There are expressions such as Kodakara (the treasure that is children) and doji (child), embodiment of fertility, family prosperity and part of Rinne Tensho (all things being in flux through the endless circle of birth, death, and rebirth, the circle of transmigration); for example, 'red chanchanko' (red padded sleeveless kimono jacket, red Japanese vest) worn at the celebration of Kanreki. Gaki (preta) has the opposite meaning.

Elderly people:
Judging from expressions such as Okina, the realization of longevity and ancientry is highly valued in folk beliefs.

Okame (plain-looking woman)
Hyottoko (clownish mask)
Hitogata (man-shaped paper)
Fukusuke (large-headed dwarf statue, bringer of good luck)
Billiken (the god of good luck)
Sarubobo (a local amulet, red human-shaped dolls with no face)
Okiagari-koboshi (self-righting doll):
Nanakorobi-yaoki (the vicissitudes of life, ups and downs in life, always rising after a fall or repeated failures)
Real creature
Crane and turtle
Tamamushi (jewel beetle)
Koganemushi (scarabaeid beetle)
White snake, snake's cast-off skin (which is said to enable accumulation of wealth when it is put in a wallet)
Kaeru (frog)
It is associated with the expression 'Buji Kaeru' (coming safely back home), and an ornament of a frog is thought to be more effective than a live frog.

Eto (Chinese astrological calendar)
Legendary creature
Shishi (Lion)
Tatsu (Dragon)
Shachihoko (often seen atop the tiled ridgepoles of castles, placed as ornamentation and fire prevention)
Komainu (shrine guardian dog statues)
Shisa (Okinawan lion statues, used as talisman against evil)
Akabeko (traditional toy of red cow)
Seiryu (blue divine dragon of east), Hoo (red divine bird of south), Byakko (white divine tiger of west) and Genbu (a Chinese mythological divine beast of north, representing black):
Blue, red, white and black ingredients of chirashi zushi are said to represent these gods of directions or four seasons. On top of those, a yellow ingredient representing Oryu is sometimes added to chirashi zushi and the five colors represent the universe.

Shochikubai (pine, bamboo and plum trees)
Obaitori (cherry, plum, peach, and apricot trees)
Nanten no mi (fruits of heavenly bamboo) and Fukujuso-flowers

Jewelry goods and tools

Mineral and semiprecious stone
Gold and silver
Hisui (jade)
Kokuyoseki (obsidian)
Semiprecious stone
Tortoise shell
Kujira bekko:
Baleen called Kujira Bekko Zaiku, which is made into accessories such as 'Hanaosa.'

Sango (coral)
Whale bone:
Whales' bones and teeth called Kujira Zaiku, which are made into accessories such as 'netsuke' (miniature carving attached to the end of a cord hanging from a pouch) and 'koto' (a long Japanese zither with thirteen strings)

Uchide no Kozuchi (Mallet of Luck)
Oban (a large-sized old Japanese gold coin) and Koban (a small-sized coin)
Japanese paper with colored figures
Fishing rod and fishhook
In Japan, a fishing rod and a fishhook (and a bow and an arrow as well) were traditionally called 'Sachi' (chase) based on their usage in hunting, because 'sa,' an old name for an arrow, meant an arrow or a fishhook and 'chi' meant a charisma. Fishing rods, hooks, bows and arrows were hunting equipments with psychic powers. In addition, they are known as hunting equipments carried by Ebisu (god of fishing and commerce).

Bow and arrow:
Yamasachihiko is the god of hunting who used a bow and arrows, who are well-known in folk stories. He and Umisachihiko are the central characters of the story which showed that 'Sachi' meant 'fishing rods, hooks, bows and arrows,' and which resulted in expressions such as 'Yama no Sachi' and 'Umi no Sachi' meaning the prey of hunting or fishing respectively.

Matsuriya (festival arrow) and matsuri yumi (festival bow):
A Shinto ritual and festival conducted in the hope of obtaining huge harvest (of cereals), which remains in various regions of Japan.

Matoya (target practice):
It originates from matsuriya and matsuriyumi, for in the Edo period common people enjoyed, as superstition, aiming at targets with a bow and arrows and were given prizes and prize money according to the position and type of targets on an approach to the temple where a fair or festival was held and at stands and yomise (night stall) in temple grounds and Monzen-machi.

Ashinoya (reed arrow) and momonoyumi (peach bow)
They were used to purify evils at tsuina no shiki (ceremony of driving out evil spirits) conducted in the Imperial Court on New Year's Eve, and made from reed stalk and peach tree.

Hamaya and hamayumi:
They originate from a bow and an arrow used for fortune-telling of the year conducted on New Year's Day. Later they became shinsaigu (equipment used in rituals) which were dedicated in koyagumi (roof truss or framework) at the time of Jotoshiki (the roof-laying ceremony) as an amulet against Devils, just like heigoshi used to pray for safety of the family, and these days, along with hamaya and hamayumi, they are known as lucky charm against evils offered in shrines.

Mugwort arrow and mulberry bow:
When a baby boy was born, mugwort arrows were shot in four directions of the house with a mulberry bow in order to purify evils in future. A mulberry bow is made from mulberry tree, and a mugwort arrow is made of feather pared with the use of mugwort leaves.

To string a bow:
It is called meigen (resounding bowstrings), an act of stringing a bow for purifying evil spirit, devil and disgrace. It is also referred to as yuminarashi or genuchi.

To draw a bow:
It is an idiom meaning disobedience, rebellion and defiance, but originally it meant meigen, an act of stringing a bow for purifying evil spirit, devil and disgrace.

Lucky charms in China

Shozai riichi (招財利市, wishing for luck and business thriving)
Geishun Setsufuku (迎春接福, welcoming spring and bringing in good fortune)
Nennen yugyo (wishing for happiness the next years)
Soki (meaning of double happiness, lucky omen, happy, auspicious)
Hachisen Tokaizu (picture of Chinese eight hermits crossing the sea by a boat)

Lucky charms in Southeast Asia

Pok-Pong (doll warding off evil in Thailand)

Lucky charms in Europe and America

Rabbit's foot
Chimney sweep
Valentine card
Pink pig
Holy spring at Lourdes

Native Americans' lucky charms

Ekeko (ceramic doll of the god of good fortune in Bolivia and Andes area)
Kokopelli (spirit of native American)

[Original Japanese]