Did you ever hopscotch around sidewalk cracks because you heard, “step on a crack, break your mother’s back”? Who thinks this stuff up? There’s no mistake about it: our superstitions are ridiculous.
But don’t laugh too soon. Japan, known for its fascination with the supernatural and the occult, takes superstitions to a new level. You’ll hear superstitions similar to ours in Japan, such as “your parents will die young if you don’t hide your thumbs!”
It all appears ridiculous until you learn that violating many Japanese traditions results in a horrible curse or a terrifying, long-haired ghost swooping upon you and stealing your soul. The best way to become fluent in the Japanese language is to enrol for the best Japanese language classes.
You know better than to tangle with angry Japanese ghosts if you’ve been watching Japanese films or anime shows to enhance your Japanese.
Continue reading to learn about the dangers of exposed thumbs and other topics!
Why Should You Be Aware of Japanese Superstitions?
We’re told stories about ill luck on the playground or at the dinner table from a young age. Some of them have become so established in our culture that hotels and hospitals frequently avoid the unlucky number thirteen by calling the thirteenth floors “12-A” or avoiding the digits entirely when designating rooms. Everyone has heard about superstitions, and they touch many.
Like any other nation, Japan has its own distinct and borderline odd superstitions, ranging from unfortunate sleeping positions to ceremonies that curse those you loathe.
Learning about Japanese superstitions can teach you many exciting oddities that make Japan distinct. Sly allusions to well-known superstitions may be found in Japanese horror films. You may show off your Japanese knowledge by bringing up superstitions in conversation. You could even recognize foolish, apparently trivial behaviors (such as an American holding their breath or crossing their fingers as they walk past a graveyard) that you previously overlooked. You’ll most likely pick up some new words that you haven’t heard before.
Most importantly, you can avoid having your house inhabited by evil entities by understanding these beliefs. This is very likely the most introductory post we’ve ever published.
10 Strange Japanese Superstitions That Will Completely Terrify You
Do you want to arm yourself against evil spirits finally? Here are some of the most bizarre superstitions from the Land of the Rising Sun:
1. Avoid cutting your nails at night.
tsume wo kitte wa ikenai yoru ni tsume ni tsume ni tsume ni tsume ni
There was no power to illuminate the streets or your house at night in the past. People thought that evil spirits, akuryou (/), would appear when dusk neared.
Cutting instruments (such as fingernail clippers) were thought to have spiritual power, known as reiryoku (/) in Japanese, that might avert evil. Simultaneously, cutting devices produced a space in whatever they sliced, allowing evil spirits to enter via the gap if used at night. Although this isn’t a famous saying nowadays, it might be good to keep the light on the next time you cut your nails.
2. Keep Your Thumbs Away from Funeral Cars
oyayubi wo kakusu reikyuusha kara oyayubi wo kakusu reikyuusha kara oyayubi wo
The Japanese term for “thumb” is oyayubi (/), which means “parent finger.” You could hear something like, “your parents will die young if you don’t hide your thumbs!” It is thought that the ghosts of the deceased, whether spiteful or not, follow the funeral car carrying their casket. If you don’t cover your thumbs while a funeral car drives by, the ghost will enter your body from beneath your thumbnail! Some people will even cover their fingers when passing by a cemetery or a funeral.
3. It Is Not Proper to Whistle at Night.
nai yoru no fue subeki de nai yoru no fue subeki de nai yor
Whistling was formerly a symbol used by thieves and other criminals to communicate with one another. In Japanese, a “night burglar” is referred to by you (/).
The first kanji character (pronounced “ya”) signifies “night,” while the second kanji character (pronounced “t”) means “steal” or “rob.” Whistling became synonymous with invaders, robbers, and other crooks. Whistling at night was thought to bring these crooks — or a snake — into your house.
4. Go to a Shrine to Cast a Curse
ushi no kokumairi
Some Japanese horror film and anime enthusiasts may be familiar with this curse. The ceremony is known as ushi no koku mairi (/), and it involves individuals visiting a shrine at the “hour of the ox” (1:00 – 3:00 AM).
They carry a straw doll known as a waranigyou (/) that depicts the person who will be cursed and use a long nail known as a gosunkugi (/) to fasten the doll to the shrine’s sacred tree. Wherever the nail strikes the doll, it is said to cause agony in the cursed person’s body.
The hate that someone has felt will leave from their body seven days after the nailing, but if the person making the curse is seen while committing the curse, the curse will reverse itself, and bad luck will fall upon the curser instead.
5. Make a Wish at a Shrine
If you’re going to make a big wish, consider doing it in a shrine/jinja (/) or temple/otera (/). This event is known as ohyakudo Mairi (/), “the one hundred times pilgrimage.” To achieve this, walk one hundred times from a shrine’s gate to its altar (or from a temple’s gate to its main hall) while praying for your desire to come true. Walk barefoot to improve the chances of your wish coming true. Alternatively, you can go to the shrine and pray for your desire to come true once a day for a hundred days.
People follow this practice when a prayer or a unique desire has to be granted. The wisher will repay the shrine or temple with money or regular visits to express their gratitude if the desire is granted.
Dates and numbers that are unlucky
Imagine if every Friday the 13th was Friday the 13th… for a year! People are said to have their unluckiest years when they reach a particular age. The unfortunate years, known as yakudoshi (/), differ between men and women. Today, the most unfortunate years, known as honyaku (/), are the ages of 25, 42, and 61 for males, and 19, 33, and 37 for women.
The years preceding (maeyaku /) and following (at otaku /) the unfortunate prior years are also considered unlucky. Those entering their bad years will be cleaned at a temple or shrine to avoid three years of misery.
In addition to unfortunate years, there are also unlucky numbers in Japan. The number four is considered harmful because the word for four, shi (/), is similar to that of death, shi (/). Similarly, the word for nine Ku (/) sounds like the word for pain and suffering Ku (/). This is why presents should never be given in groups of four, but rather in groups of three or five.
7. Do not step on a Tatami Mat’s border.
tatami no heri funde wa ikenai tatami no heri funde wa ikenai tatami no heri
Tatami mats are the most common type of flooring seen in traditional Japanese households. Tatami mats may be used in various rooms of modern residences as well. One thing you should never do is tread on the border of a tatami mat known as tatami no heri (/) since this brings bad luck.
Some tatami borders have a family logo etched on them, so walking on the boundary is considered stepping on your parent’s head.’ Still, there’s another reason why stepping on the borders is frowned upon: it’s claimed that these borders became a no-no since they weren’t part of a specific location.
8. Keep Your Bellybutton Covered
he no kakusu
Raijin, the deity of thunder, lightning, and storms, is said to consume children’s bellybuttons (or entire abdomens). Children are still told to cover their tummies during a storm even today because the origins of this tale are unknown.
Raijin, the deity, is frequently seen with his consort Raijuu (/). Raju is supposed to sleep by nesting inside human belly buttons. Raijin hits Raijuu with lightning to wake up his partner! Covering your belly prevents Raijuu from sleeping on your stomach (and potentially being struck by lightning).
Parents tell their children these stories to protect them from exposing their tummies, which puts them in danger of developing a cold.
9. Avoid sleeping with your back to the north.
nete wa ikenai kita muki ni nete ni nete ni nete ni nete ni nete
At funerals, bodies are arranged such that their heads face north. When arranging mattresses, Japanese people pay close attention to the direction in which their heads will point. Sleeping with your head turned north is Kita makura (/). Whoever sleeps with their head facing north will suffer bad luck, or worse, death would greet whoever sleeps with their head facing north.
A cup of manuka mesh (/) rice is also left alongside the body, with two chopsticks standing upright in the rice. The rice is intended for the departed and should not be consumed by the living. This is why it’s considered impolite to place your chopsticks to stand upright during your meal.
10. Never write someone’s name in red ink.
akaji de kaite wa ikenai hito no namae
Japanese tombstones, known as bodhi (/), are inscribed with the names of family members in black and red ink. Those still alive are listed in red, whereas those who have passed away are written in black. Fujitsu na, writing someone’s name in red is unlucky. Writing someone’s name in red is unlucky, Fujitsu na. Today, this also applies to business and social etiquette; therefore, while travelling inside Japan, make sure to exchange your red pens for another colour.