Guide to Japanese Superstitions

There are many aspects of Japanese culture which provide an interesting outlook on the workings of the universe such as an original brand of Superstition.

The Japanese culture is unique with many interesting aspects that may seem odd to those only familiar with western cultures.

An example of a particular aspect is Japanese superstition. Aspects that may be of interest exist such as good and bad omens as well as certain items or practices that can also help people with particular aspects of their life.

Good Omens

There are also several practices which are considered to provide good luck according to Japanese superstitions. Such practices include people sleeping with their heads pointing north or when a tea stalk is found standing on its end at the bottom of a tea cup. The figure of a lucky cat which beckons to people are also a popular addition to shops or restaurants as they are considered to provide luck in money.

A cross-over with western culture includes making wishes on a shooting star, although the Japanese version involves having the need to say the wish three times before the star disappears from sight.

bad omen

Bad Omens

One particular bad omen that may be encountered is the Japanese aversion to the number four. Since the Kanji (Japanese use of Chinese characters) for the number four is too similar to the Kanji for ‘death.’

This aversion is widely spread and taken seriously enough to warrant the skipping or leaving out of the number four when numbering floors in a building or when numbering rooms in apartments and hotels. People usually avoid giving gifts in sets of four; plates, bowls and cups often come in groups of three or five.

Interestingly, the unlucky number four also extends into popular culture. Children’s entertainment shows or anime often have the ‘good guys’ team showcased in groups of three or five while the villain’s team usually has four members or representatives.

It can also be considered bad luck for people to wear new shoes in the evening or when a new button is sewed on just before leaving the house. The appearance of crows flying above one’s house is also believed to be bad luck.

Another important bad omen for those travelling to Japan to remember is that it is considered extremely bad form to stick chopsticks vertically held up in a bowl of rice as this mirrors a part of the ceremony performed for the dead.

Items and Keepsakes associated with Good and Bad Luck

An example of an item or keepsake that can also be associated with warding off bad luck or encouraging good luck to attach to someone is the omamori which is a small charm people can keep in pockets or wallets or hang on the rear-view mirrors in cars. This is an item that is often sold at Japanese shrines.

Different omamori can promote good luck in particular aspects of life, for example students in the middle of harsh study in order to pass difficult entrance exams are usually gifted a study charm from friends, family or close classmates. Omamori pertaining to marriage, good health, happiness and wealth are also popular.

For those interested receiving fortunes, omikuji or small pieces of paper with fortunes written on can also be acquired at shrines. It is customary to tie these pieces of paper on a tree branch after reading in order to gain the reported good fortune or avoid the predicted bad fortune.