Every country and culture have their own superstitions that they learn from birth or from growing up and are part of their identity. For example, in the UK, our superstitions include not stepping on the cracks and not walking under ladders or you’ll get bad luck. Japan has their own superstitions and beliefs, some of which may seem quite peculiar to those of us who were not raised in the country. Knowing these superstitions can really help you understand the culture of Japan. For the superstitious out there, here are 9 spooky Japanese superstitions.
Japanese superstitions say that if you cut your nails at night time, you will die. Some say this superstition originated from the idea that people from old times did not have nail clippers and used the knife instead, so if they do it during night time, it is dangerous and could sometimes lead to death.
This superstition comes from the actions of the villains of older times. To communicate in the dead of night, thieves and other criminals would whistle. The superstition grew that if you were to whistle at night, you will attract these villains, or perhaps even a snake! Some variations of this superstition also say that whistling at night could attract a ghost!
Now, this superstition seems a little confusing on the surface. The line is that if you were to lie down immediately after eating a meal, you would transform into a cow. It is said that the purpose of this superstition was to discourage people from being lazy and to stop people from having a post-meal nap. (I would probably choose to stay awake and standing if I could risk turning into a cow.)
Now this superstition kind of makes sense when you think about how disruptive hiccuping can be. The idea is that if you were to hiccup one hundred times in a row, you would die.
Spiders are part of everyday life for almost everyone in the world, where ever you live. Spiders in Japan are a bit scarier looking (in my opinion) than spiders in the UK, but some can bring good luck. If you see a spider during the day, or especially in the morning, you will get good luck so you must let it live. On the other hand, if you see a spider at night, it will give you bad luck, so it is best to get rid of the spider. I think this superstition makes sense to a lot of people. Who wants a spider in your room before you sleep?!
Raijin (雷神) is a god of lightning, thunder, and storms in Japan. You can see a statue of him at many shrines in Japan, the most famous being at Asakusa Senso-ji (浅草浅草寺) in Asakusa (浅草), Tokyo (東京). When people try to hide their belly buttons, they will stand lower and this could protect themselves from thunders. And obviously, getting struck by lightning could lead to death… hence, hide your belly button or you will die.
This is a much more modern superstition as electrical fans are a much more modern invention. The superstition goes that if you leave a fan on overnight in your room, you will die. Actually, the feared agent of death is through hypothermia or your breathing stopping. People believe that leaving the fan on all night will cause your body temperature to go too low so you will die. Or that the circulating air while sleeping will mean that you won’t be able to breathe properly. This superstition isn’t just set in Japan, this belief is also common across Korea.
Now as for me, I wouldn’t have a clue which way is north most of the time, but in Japan, the points on a compass play a greater role. At a funeral, the body of the deceased is positioned so that their head is facing north. Next to the body, there is a bowl of rice with chopsticks stuck in it. Now, when setting up your bedroom in Japan, the Japanese pay great attention to what way the bed faces. If you sleep with your head facing north, you will encourage bad luck, or an even greater penalty – death. Equally due to the arrangement of a funeral, never put your chopsticks vertically into a bowl of rice as it is taboo!
Tatami mats are ubiquitous with traditional Japan. Tatami mats are made of rushes covering a straw inner layer and were used to cover the floors in traditional Japan. Today, many places still use tatami mats such as ryokan (旅館) and restaurants. Traditionally, the edges of a tatami mat were covered in a more decorative material and were often marked with the family emblem. Therefore, treading or stepping on the edge of the mat was to be stepping on the head of your parents. By doing this, you would be inviting bad luck onto yourself and possibly disrespecting your elders. So just stick to the center of the mat while walking across a tatami floor.
Even if you do not believe in superstitions, following these rules in Japan can help you assimilate to the culture. Some of these beliefs, such as putting chopsticks vertically into your bowl, are actually taboo aside from bringing bad luck. Do your best and try not to incite bad luck (or a ghost)!