Engimono (Lucky charms) in Japan, cute and heart-warming

What are Engimono in Japan?

Engimono are lucky charms that carry a variety of prayers such as wishes for good harvest, wishes for good business and wishes for the health of the family. Engimono are often given at New Year events in shrines and temples.

Goods with the motif of the Seven Deities of Good Fortune
Goods with the motif of the Seven Deities of Good Fortune

Along with talismans and charms, ornaments with the “Eto”(Chinese zodiac animal) of the year and “Shichifukujin” (the seven Japanese deities that are said to bring good fortune) are sold at shrines and many people buy them for the New Year.

Another Engimono is “Mt. Fuji”, which was registered as a World Heritage Site in 2013. In Japan, there is a saying, “Ichi-Fuji, Ni-Taka, San-Nasubi” meaning “First, Mt. Fuji; second, hawks; third, eggplants.” It is said that if you see Mt. Fuji in your first dream of the year (called Hatsuyume), you will have very good luck. This is an example of the way that Mt. Fuji has long been the heart and soul of the Japanese people. It is not only the highest mountain in Japan, but a sacred symbol and where Gods are considered to exist.

Daruma doll (left) and Maneki-neko, a welcoming cat figure
Daruma doll (left) and Maneki-neko, a welcoming cat figure

Other famous Engimono include the “Maneki-neko”, a beckoning cat figure which often decorages shops and restaurants and is said to bring good business. Maneki-neko can be made of many materials including pottery. Another widely known Engimono is the “Daruma” doll, designed to represent the founder of Zen Buddhism. People love this stern-looking ornament made of red papier-mâché. Daruma are manufactured mainly in the areas between Tohoku and Kanto regions including Takasaki City in Gumma Prefecture.

Each area of Japan has their own unique Engimono that have been passed down for generations and were originally made by traditional methods such as papier-mâché, wood carving and pottery. These days, Engimono come in a variety of forms from ornaments made with traditional methods to key chains, mobile phone straps and stationery goods, which are all sold at souvenir shops. These souvenirs will not only bring you luck but they will be a perfect reminder of your trip to Japan.

Make a wish on a simple doll

There are other kinds of Engimono besides the classic ones. From the many regional ones that have been passed down in different areas of Japan, we will introduce a few simple and charming ones that will make you want to carry one with you. These Engimono can be purchased all over Japan at shops that sell local products and souvenirs or at local government showrooms. Why not buy one as a souvenir of your trip to Japan or as a gift for your friends and family?

Shinobi-goma (Iwate Prefecture)

Shinobi-goma (Iwate Prefecture)

This is made to wish for a good harvest. Goma means horse and this Engimono comes from Iwate Prefecture, where people have always cared for horses working on their farms.

Akabeko (Fukushima Prefecture)

Akabeko (Fukushima Prefecture)

Beko means cow. This is a red papier-mâché cow whose head sways. Cows are said to be powerful and hard working and red is considered to be the color which prevents bad luck, therefore this Engimono is said to wish for good health and to keep diseases away.

Aka-Fukurou (Tokyo)

Aka-Fukurou (Tokyo)

This is an Engimono to wish for good health. Fukurou means owl in Japanese and owls are said to bring good luck. Also, the color red has long been believed to keep evil spirits away.

Shigaraki-yaki No Tanuki (Shiga Prefecture)

Shigaraki-yaki No Tanuki (Shiga Prefecture)

Tanuki means raccoon and this Engimono is considered to bring blessings of good business and economic fortune. The most famous one is Shigaraki-yaki or Shigaraki ware, originating from Shiga Prefecture.

Hariko No Tora (Shimane Prefecture)

Hariko No Tora (Shimane Prefecture)

Hariko means papier-mâché and Tora means tiger in Japanese. Boy’s Day is an annual celebration held on May 5th, and a baby boy’s first Boy’s Day is called Hatsuzekku. Hariko no Tora are prominent in a boy’s Hatsuzekku to wish for his healthy growth, and they are often used as gifts to celebrate the birth of a boy.

Kiuso (Fukuoka Prefecture)

Kiuso (Fukuoka Prefecture)
(C)Dazaifu Kiuso Hozonkai

This Engimono is shaped like the wild Eurasian bullfinch, called “Uso” in Japanese. It is used in an event at Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine in Fukuoka Prefecture, and is also sold as a folk craft. “Uso” also means a lie in Japanese and therefore Kiuso is a pun meaning that this Engimono will turn all the bad luck from the past year into a lie and switch it with good luck for this year.

Kiji-uma (Kumamoto Prefecture)

Kiji-uma (Kumamoto Prefecture)

This is a wooden toy with more than 800 years of history in the Kyushu region including Kumamoto Prefecture. Kiji means pheasant. Pheasants are said to bring good luck and this Engimono is used to wish for the healthy growth of a child. It is also called Kiji-guruma.

Shisa (Okinawa Prefecture)

Shisa (Okinawa Prefecture)

Shisa are lion-like statues of mythological animals that keeps evil spirits away. They have been passed down through countless generations in Okinawa Prefecture and decorate the gate or rooftop of houses to keep away any evil spirits. Cute figurines and trinkets have turned the ferocious-looking figure into a likable character, and made it a popular item.