10 spooky Japanese Superstitions

  • Though most of the people do not admit that they believe in ghosts, superstitions are flourishing all around the world. The beliefs, that something supernatural is controlling happenings, or that there is some unwritten law for the natural process of linking events, are somehow accepted by us, even though they have often been maintained for centuries.
    Japanese are no different. There are tons of superstitions that are still believed to be true, and people act accordingly, just-in-case. Here are the top 5!

    1. Hearse / Ambulance

    When a hearse (霊柩車 reikyusha) or an ambulance passes by, and you either see or hear it, in the latter case people tend to tuck in the thumbs into their fists. This action is believed to “protect” their parents, since the word for thumb, “oyayubi” (親指) literally means “parent-thumb”.

    2. Cutting your nails at night

    According to this superstition, cutting your nails at night will bring bad luck and you will not be able to be there when your parents pass away. Surely this belief started when electricity was a rare thing, and was meant to avoid cutting yourself due to poor lighting.

    3. Whistle at night and you attract burglars

    In old times, whistling was commonly used by burglars and criminals to communicate with each other. Now it is clear why you should not whistle or play a flute – you would invite all the bad into your house.

    4. Chopsticks stuck vertically into the rice bowl

    This is not only a really bad manner, it is believed to be extremely unlucky to do so. The reason is simple: this is only done during a funeral, when the food is “offered” to the deceased.

    5. Breaking a comb

    If you happen to break a comb, this is a sign of misfortune. Years ago, a comb was an expensive acquisition, so this belief is not that crazy: you would have to spend a lot of money to buy another one!

    6. Do not step on a tatami border

    This also applies to a slide door’s border: it is believed to bring bad luck if stepping on a Japanese tatami mat’s border. If examined more detailed, you will see, that Japanese tatami mats have a silk border, where some families have their family emblem engraved on it. That is why it is considered rude and bad luck to step on them with your feet!

    7. Hide your bellybutton

    Where it seems that with this superstition worrying parents try to tame their wild teenage daughter, who is wearing crazy belly-tops, this has a different origin: according to Japanese mythology, Raijin (雷神/らいじん), the god of thunder, lightning, and storms, would eat the bellybuttons (or entire abdomen) of children. Also, his companion god, Raijuu (雷獣/らいじゅう) is believed to sleep in belly buttons, and waken up by Raijin by striking a lightning.

    8. Never sleep facing north

    The body of deceased on a funeral are placed north. To avoid receiving bad luck or even ending up dead, people avoid sleeping in the north direction.

    9. Do not write a name with red ink

    It is very rude and believed to bring bad luck to write a name in red ink. That is due to the fact, that Japanese tombstones are having the family members written in black and red ink.

    10. Number 4

    “Ichi, ni, san, chi”, that is “one, two, three, four” in Japanese. The number four, “shi” (四) has another meaning as well: “shi” (死) means “death”. Therefore, anything in relation to four is being avoided. Room Number 4, gifts are chosen either 3 or 5 pieces, and products, in general are usually not sold in sets of four.

    The more Japanese superstitions you know, the better you get used to the culture and mutual understanding can improve. Additionally: you understand why people behave differently and can integrate more smoothly once you learn the beliefs, that have dominated Japanese culture for centuries.

    *Featured Image: jp.fotolia.com/