Japanese Superstitions: The Basics

  • Every country has it’s own superstitions ingrained in its culture. These beliefs whether real or not often times define and shape our culture.

    Japan has its own set of superstitions. Knowing some of these basic superstitions can help you in better assimilating or avoiding an embarrassing moment in your travels and life in Japan. If anything else it makes for interesting conversational topics.

    Unlucky numbers:

    4: The number 4 is unlucky as it sounds the same as the word for death (shi-nu) in Japanese.

    9: The number 9 is unlucky as it sounds the same as the word for suffering (ku-rushi)

    So, when traveling in Japan avoid giving gifts in groups of 4’s or 9’s. Definitely avoid the number 49 as it resembles the phrase “pain until death.”

    Even numbers:

    When it comes to giving gifts at a wedding most give money in odd denominations. Giving even denominations that is easily divisible by 2 is considered bad luck as this might lead to the couple splitting up.

    Never write a person’s name in red ink:

    It is believed that by writing a person’s name in red ink it will shorten their life. This belief stems from the practice of writing the name of living family members on the family gravestones. So if leave the red pen at home when traveling to Japan.

    Never pass food from one chopstick to another:

    When eating out with friends remember to never pass food from one chopstick to another chopstick. You might think that you are being helpful or nice by helping your friend who can’t reach the far plate. Unfortunately this practice is reserved only for the passing of bones from cremated remains. Next time you’re faced with this situation simply pass the place to your friend you’ll save yourself the shocked and stern looks at the dinner.


    The next time you are out and about in Japan keep these superstitions in mind; either to avoid bad luck, to gather good luck or simply for an interesting conversation over dinner or drinks.