Top 10 Japanese Superstitions : Are you superstitious? Do you avoid walking under ladders and take extra care not to break mirrors? These are a few of the superstitions present in western culture. Japan, however, has its own common superstitions that are rooted in their unique culture. Today, we have compiled a list of the top 10 Japanese superstitions. Some of them are quite interesting!

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1. Don’t Stick Your Chopsticks Upright in a Bowl of Rice!

During Japanese mourning, they will perform a ceremony where they offer the spirit of the deceased a bowl of rice with chopsticks sticking upright in the center. Because this tradition is reserved specifically for the death of loved ones, in daily life the Japanese don’t stick their chopsticks in their food and leave them there when not in use. Instead, they set them on the lip of the bowl or on a chopstick stand. To stick them into the bowl and leave them sticking upright is a sign of disrespect to the spirits…and you don’t want to do that!

2. Don’t Whistle at Night!

In days of yore, 夜の笛 (yoru no fue, whistling at night) was a way that burglars (夜盗, yatou) and thieves communicated with each other. Therefore, if you whistle at night in Japan, you may attract burglars (or even snakes!) into the neighborhood because they think you’re communicating with them. 

Psst! Empty home over here!

3. Don’t Cut Your Nails at Night!

In ancient times, there was very little light available to see once the sun set; therefore, cutting your nails at night could end up in a missing finger! 

Also, in the Sengoku period, the word 世詰め (yozume, the end of the world/life) was frequently used because of the state of civil war that lasted for over a hundred years. The pronunciation for 世詰め is identical to 夜爪 (yozume, cutting your nails at night). Therefore, cutting your nails at night means you would see an early death.

It’s also said that you can’t attend your parents’ funeral if you cut your nails at night because of the association with early death.

Looks like I’ll have to start cutting my nails in the morning!

4. Good Spiders and Bad Spiders

It’s said that finding a spider in the morning is a sign of good luck, and to kill it would mean ruing your chances of having a good day. However, if you find a spider at night, you must definitely kill it. It’s a demon in disguise!

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5. Dreaming of a White Snake Brings Good Luck!

White snakes are very rare in Japan. Therefore, some Japanese believe that they possess supernatural powers. It’s said that if you see one of them in a dream—called a 白蛇の夢 (shiro hebi no yume, dream of a white snake)—it means that it’s communicating with you and gifting you with its supernatural ability. This would definitely be the time to go out and buy a lottery ticket!

6. Don’t Sleep Facing North!

At Japanese funeral homes, the corpses are displayed during the wake with their heads pointed north. Therefore, if you sleep at home with your head pointing north it brings bad luck. Or even worse, an early death!

7. If Your Shoelace Breaks It’s Bad Luck! 

During funerals, the Japanese wear a traditional slipper like a wooden flip-flop called a 草履 (zoori). After the funeral, the custom is to cut the thong that wedges between the big toe and second toe. Since the Japanese only rarely wear 草履 in modern times, the superstition has extended to regular shoes and shoelaces. Therefore, 靴のひもが切れる (kutsu no himo ga kireru, breaking your shoelace) is a sign of bad luck—or, as you probably guessed, death!

8. Hide That Bellybutton!

When a storm is heard rumbling over the horizon, parents warn their children to hide their bellybuttons (へそを隠す, heso wo kakusu). This is because Raijin (雷神), the god of storms and lightning, is said to eat the bellybuttons of children—and sometimes even their entire stomachs! As an extension to this belief, there is also a monster named Raijuu (雷獣), who hides from Raijin by crawling inside your bellybutton while you’re asleep. If Raijin finds him, with a lightning bolt he’ll strike him dead—along with you! Therefore, if you hide your bellybutton before a storm and while you sleep, Raijin can’t eat or strike you.

9. The Mt. Fuji-Hawk-Eggplant Dream 

一富士二鷹三茄子 (ichi-fuji, ni-taka, san-nasubi) is in reference to 初夢 (hatsu yume, the first dream of the New Year). During this dream, if you see Mt. Fuji, a hawk, and an eggplant, you will have good luck for the whole year. This is because 富士 has a similar pronunciation to 不死 (fushi), meaning “immortal;” 鷹 shares the same pronunciation as 高 (taka, rich/high); and 茄子 is a vegetable that bears a lot of fruit and, therefore, symbolizes good fortune.

Sounds like one heck of a dream! 

10. Unlucky Numbers and Years

In western countries, the number 13 is seen as unlucky. However, in Japan, their number 13 is the number 4. This is because the Japanese word for 4 is 四 (shi), which has the same pronunciation as the word for death 死 (shi). The number 9 is also seen as unlucky because 九 (ku) has the same pronunciation as 苦 (ku), which is the kanji for pain and suffering.

On top of that, it is said that people have 厄年 (yakudoshi), or unlucky years. These years are the ages of 25, 42, and 61 for men, and 19, 33, and 37 for women. The year before your 厄年 is called 前厄 (maeyaku), and the year after is called 後厄 (atoyaku). These before and after years are also considered bad luck years. Therefore, in order to prevent a three-year string of misfortune, Japanese people go to their local temple or shrine to get purified the year before.

Have you heard of any of these Japanese superstitions? Are any of them completely new to you? Next time you’re conversing with a Japanese person, ask them about these superstitions. Do they believe in them? Are any of their friends or family members superstitious? Try teaching them about the superstitions in your country as well. What a great idea for a cultural exchange! 

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