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The Japanese lucky items (engimono) | by Esther

New Year is one of the most important celebrations in Japan. The start of the year is full of lucky items to help people achieve their goals and give them prosperity.

This sticker sheet collects some of the most traditional lucky items in Japan. Some are typical for New Year and others are used the whole year long.

Let me introduce them, so you can know their meaning and enjoy even more these gorgeous washi paper stickers.


Engimono sticker sheet from January Kit


First sunrise of the year. The sticker is the Mount Fuji, the most sacred mountain in Japan, with a red sun on the back. It represents the first sunrise of the year. They say that if you watch the first sunrise of the year your body will be filled with positive energy. If you are on a spot where you can see the Mount Fuji at the same time, it will even give you more power. 


Celebration. This red sea bream is a fish that represents celebration, as it is expensive and eaten on special occasions, like New Year, weddings, births... Because sea bream in Japanese is “tai”, and congratulate is “omedeto”, they made a pun with the two words. 


Crane. This elegant bird represents longevity in Japan. Figuratively, they say cranes lives a thousand years. They are also a good auspicious symbol for weddings, wishing to the couple a long marriage that lasts a thousand years.


Turtle. Turtles also represents longevity in Japan. There is a saying like this: “Tsuru wa sen nen, kame wa man nen”. It means “Cranes live a thousand years, turtles live ten thousand years”.


This is the representation of a buddhist monk called Bodhidharma, the founder of Zen. There is a legend that tells that he was seating facing a wall in a cave, meditating for 9 years without moving. So, he lost his arms and legs because of lack of movement. The daruma dolls represents determination. They are made of papier-mâché and with a roly-poly toy system and they never fall. There is a saying like this: “Nana korobi ya oki”, that means “Fall down 7 times and get up 8 times”. It means to never give up pursuing your goals. They are used to ask for a wish, but working to achieve it at the same time. Usually they are acquired at New Year, but they are available the whole year. They have no pupils in their eyes, so, you ask your wish to the daruma by painting his left eye. Then, place the daruma doll on a visible place of your home or office. That way, every time you see him he will remind you to work hard to achieve your goal. If at the end of the year you got your wish granted, you paint his other eye. If not, you bring the daruma to burn on a shrine ceremony called “dondoyaki” that is held every January. 


The wishes hammer. One of the Japanese 7 Gods of Fortune is called Daikokuten. He is the god of the happiness and wealth and represents the realization of great ambitions. He carries a magic hammer called “uchidenokozuchi” that grants any wish you have.  


Beckoning cat. They bring fortune and good luck to their owners. They are often displayed at many restaurants and drinking places to attract customers. They hold an old Japanese coin called “koban” and it is said that if the manekineko is raising his left paw, it is attracting money, but if it is raising his right paw it is attracting people (customers, love, friends…). But it seems this believe depends on the area and there is not a clear rule. 


Japanese raccoon dog. It attracts fortune to the drinking places and restaurants. It carries a “tokkuri”, an old type of ceramic bottle with sake, Japanese rice wine. On its other hand it carries a “kanjokaki”, a notebook with the customers tab. That means the tanuki will keep regular customers and also collect their debt, bringing fortune to the business. 


Shrine gate. They are used at shrines to mark the entrance to a sacred space. In New Year in Japan we pay a visit to a shrine (or a temple) to pray for help achieving our goals. We call that “hatsumode”, the first visit to the year to a shrine or temple. 


Mask that brings lots of good luck. It represents the face of the goddess “Amenouzumenomikoto”. She is pretty and smiling, to make people happy. 


Mask of the fire boy. It is a comical mask of a boy whose job is to blow to rekindle the fire on the old type cooking stoves. It also represents the god that protects the fire. Hyottoko and Otafuku masks are used at popular dances to make people laugh and remove the negativity through their laughter. 


Representation of Kanoefukusuke, god of honour and wealth. Fukusuke dolls were so popular during the Edo period, especially on tea houses and brothels, because it was believed it brings perennial youth. 


Mizaru, Kikazaru, Iwazaru

Three wise monkeys. They represent the proverbial principle “See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil”. So, they represent wisdom by only seeing, listening and speaking good things. They are originally from Japan and you can see its statue at the Toshogu shrine, in Nikko. 


Owl. It represents Chinokami, the god of wisdom. Owls bring good luck by giving you wisdom to make good decisions. 


Abundance bird. This bird’s name means a thousand birds, so it means abundance and victory. It is an auspicious symbol for weddings, representing two of them flying over the waves of the sea, a symbol of a couple that together overcomes the difficulties in life.  

Hariko no tora

Papier-mâché tiger. This is a traditional papier-mâché bubble head toy. In the old times Japanese people believed tigers were the strongest beasts. The tiger represents Bishamonten, one of the Buddhism gods. This toy was meant to mean power and strength for growing up. Nowadays it has also another meaning: somebody that looks strong and scary but actually is weak on the inside, as the papier-mâché figures are empty and easy to smash. 

Chaguchagu umako

Wood little horse. It is a traditional wood toy typical on the Tohoku area of Japan. During the old times, horses were great help in the agriculture tasks, and they were considered a vey strong animal. People felt huge gratitude to horses. So, it represents strength and help. 

Inu hariko

Papier-mâché dog. It is a figure often gifted to pregnant women because they are a lucky charm for an easy delivery. Dogs were a very common and loved animal in Japan. Dogs usually have many puppies and deliver them easily. The “inu hariko” charms also attract health and easiness to the babies and their mothers. 


Rolling ball. It was a traditional toy for baby girls. Usually was handmade with lots of colorful threats making beautiful patterns. Because it is a ball, it represents that good luck comes easily. 


Bottle gourd. This strong vegetable was easy to cultivate and abundant when harvest. It becomes very hard when dried, so it was used in the old times to carry water or other drinks. It represents abundance and strength, and often we find health charms with 6 “hyotan”, called “mubio”, that means no sickness. 


Fan. It represents success and improvement, as its shapes gets wider and wider. That shape is called “hisago” and represents growth. 


Pine. Pine decorations are used on celebrations. Pines are an evergreen tree, so they represent no end. 


Bamboo. Bamboo decorations also are used on celebrations. In New Year we place a decoration made of bamboo and pine, called “kadomatsu”, to welcome the gods. 


Plum blossoms. Plums are the first trees blooming in spring and very appreciated in Japan. They mean celebration and happiness, so, usually are a decoration in happy occasions and New Year. “Sho Chiku Bai” is a combination of the three celebration plants (“medetai shokubutsu”) and it is common to find them together, especially in New Year. 


I hope you enjoyed the explanation of these lucky items. Japanese culture is full of interesting traditions that are still present nowadays. So, if you come to Japan or watch anime I am very sure you will find many of those symbols. Now you deeply know what they mean! 


- Esther Molina
Check out her Instagram, YouTube and blog.

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