Japanese Superstitions

Japanese Superstitions, Part 1 - Death and the Number 4

Omens and Floor Plans

There are many things that are considered to bring good or bad luck. The large sea bream is known in Japanese as "tai", which is part of the word "medetai" (good luck). So this fish is often served on auspicious occasions, such as when a sumo wrestler wins a tournament. Ebisu, one of the seven gods of good fortune, is often depicted riding on top of one of these fish.

Maneki Neko, Lucky Cat The "maneki neko" or beckoning cat, often seen at the entrance of a restaurant or home, is believed to bring good fortune in every sense but especially financial. If you have a cold and pass it on to someone else, it's said that your own will clear up. Sounds like a good way to get well to me, but the social responsibility of many Japanese people means that they put up with the discomfort of wearing a face mask rather than give their cold to anyone.

One bad omen connected with funerals is that it is unlucky to be overtaken on the street by a hearse. You also shouldn't point at a hearse, ambulance or graveyard. If the first person you meet in the morning is a Buddhist priest, you're in for a bad day. If it's a woman, they say you'll have better luck. And things get progressively sillier from there, such as the saying that if you sneeze it means someone's gossiping about you or that it's bad luck to kill a spider in the morning (or evening). So I guess the Green Goblin should have gone for the kill around lunchtime!

The Chinese art of feng shui is quite popular in Japan, where it is called "fuu-sui" (the characters for wind and water). The breaking of land for a new home is also accompanied by Shinto rituals and home design by the concepts of "kaso" (house divination). In either case, the layout of a home and the positioning of objects within it are believed to influence the flow of energy as well as the inhabitants' health and fortune. For example, an entrance on the north-east corner is called "kimon" or "demon gate" and will bring ill fortune. The matter is taken seriously enough by housemakers that they'll have sections of their official websites dedicated to either dispelling or promoting the subject.

Other stuff you basically just shouldn't do:

  • If you cut your nails at night, your parents will die before you see them again. This was shown in one survey to be the superstition most people believed in.
  • Whistling at night is said to attract snakes and, though you won't find too many reptiles in urban areas, you won't hear many people whistling in Japan either. Incidentally, finding a white snake is a good omen. And as the snake is a symbol of money and wealth, you should put a piece of snake skin into your wallet.
  • Don't lie down after you eat or you'll turn into a cow. Well, that kind of makes sense in a way!
  • Similar to the western taboo about breaking a mirror, in Japan it's unlucky to break a comb or the strap of your geta sandal.

Japanese Superstitions, Part 1 - Death and the Number 4

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