Gofu

It seems peculiar, but it isn’t. Every time you enter a shrine, or a temple, there they are. Those strips of paper rustling in the wind. Having studied them more closely, you’re still none the wiser. The characters on them make no sense to you after all. White paper and characters, the only constant, so it seems. Sometimes they hang on a pilar. Sometimes all round a doorway. Sometimes in a rack. Maybe it’s just decoration in religious places… Maybe it’s messages left by passers by. All kinds of messages. Randomly. Until a guide finally puts your mind to rest…

Gofu are protective amulets. They are commonly called omamori or ofuda. Usually it are rectangular pieces of paper, but sometimes they are made of wood. They often hold the name of a deity, or those from a Buddhist temple may show a Buddhist image. One can easily find them at Shintō shrines or Buddhist temples. Often one carries them on their person, hangs them on a doorway, or places them in the kamidana (Shintō family altars). They are believed to bring good health, financial success, protection etc. The image of a wolf, who is the familiar of the god, is seen on the gofu offered by the Mitsumine shrine. It is believed to prevent burglaries when hung from a doorway, and to prevent rat damage if hung in rooms where silkworms are cared for.

Further reading:

“gofu” In: Japan: An Illustrated Encyclopedia. Kodansha.