Black cats, the number 13, walking underneath a ladder – these are all superstitions that you are probably familiar with. But did you know that Japan has its very own unique superstitions?
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that a country with a culture as vibrant as Japan’s has lots of ancient believes. We are not simply talking about religion or rituals; lots of folk tales and sayings shape the everyday lives of the Japanese. Today we want to introduce you to some of the most popular and widely acknowledged superstitions of Japan. Whether you actually believe in them is up to you, but we hope you can at least get a better insight into Japanese culture. Enjoy!
We have already mentioned it in our short guide to Japanese manners, but Japanese people never stick their chopsticks straight up into a bowl of rice. Why, you ask? Because it reminds them of incense sticks burning in front of Japanese graves or shrines for the deceased. Also, while sharing food is encouraged in Japanese culture, make sure to not hand over food to someone chopstick-to-chopstick. This is only done in a traditional ceremony where relatives gather around the remnants of a loved one after cremation and pick up single bones with long chopsticks. That’s definitely nothing you want to be reminded of at dinner table.
Japanese language is rich in homophones, meaning that a lot of different words and phrases share the same pronunciation. Of course, this can lead to negative connotations. The number four is a great example: one of its readings is shi which also means death. That is why four is considered an unlucky number and avoided whenever possible, like in hospitals or some apartments where the fourth floor or room number four are skipped.
Unlucky Years Yakudoshi
Japan’s fascination with numbers doesn’t stop at the number four. On the contrary, there are even certain years in everyone’s life, called yakudoshi, that are considered as extremely unlucky years. For men, that would be ages 25, 42 and 61 while for women it’s 19, 33 and 37. The years before and after these are considered slightly unlucky years. So what can you do to avoid misfortune coming your way? It’s easy, as you are entering your yakudoshi, stop by your local temple to pray for good fortune and any bad luck should fall right off you.
You might have already noticed, but most of Japanese superstitions revolve around death and how to avoid it. For example, try not to sleep with your head facing north (even if it means you have to carry a compass with you), since this is the direction in which people are put into their graves in Japan. Also, when you see a funeral vehicle driving past you, hide your thumbs inside your fists. This superstition might need a little more explanation: thumbs are called oyayubi or “parent-fingers” in Japanese. So if you want to protect your parents from early death, you better make sure you hide them from any bad omens.
Japanese superstitions are quite different from Western ones, aren’t they? They are definitely vital parts of Japanese culture and have been passed on from generation to generation. What makes superstitions so popular is not the fact that they are actually all true, but they give people something to believe in as well as the feeling that you can take your fate into your own hands. So take today’s article with a pinch of salt and impress your friends with your knowledge of Japanese culture.
Which Japanese superstition is your favorite? Let us know in the comment section down below!