Every culture has its own set of legends, myths, and superstitions, and Japan is no exception. Japanese culture dates all the way back to 35,000 BC., and so do some Japanese urban legends.
From good luck omens to supernatural animals, here are 16 bizarre Japanese superstitions.
Inanimate Objects Have Spirits
Japanese Buddhists believe that inanimate objects, like dolls, have spirits.
There are a number of Japanese stories about dolls or other inanimate objects coming to life. Japan even holds an annual ceremony called Ningyo kuyo, where owners pray for dolls before they are discarded.
Don’t Say “Shio” at Night
In Japanese, shio means salt, but it sounds very similar to shi, the Japanese word for death.
Try to avoid saying these words at night.
Breaking a Comb is Bad Luck
This is similar to the belief that breaking a mirror brings bad luck.
So, in Japan, be careful with your comb!
Lucky and Unlucky Numbers
In Japan, the numbers four (shi, also the word for death) and nine (ku, rhymes with kutsuu which means “pain”) are considered unlucky.
As a result, some buildings in Japan don’t have fourth or ninth floors.
On the other hand, the number seven is considered lucky in Japan. Japanese Buddhists celebrate a baby’s seventh day of life, the Shichifukujin are the Seven Gods of Luck, and Japanese people celebrate Tanabata, (the Evening of the Seventh) each summer on July 7th.
Don’t Take Pictures of Three People (Side by Side)
Be careful how you stand when you take pictures with friends or family members.
According to Japanese superstitions, the person in the middle will die before the other two people.
Bird (and other animal) Droppings Are Lucky
One of the quirkier Japanese superstitions, this icky occurrence is actually lucky.
Un (運) is the Japanese word for “luck,” and it’s pronounced the same as the word for excrement.
Don’t Cut Your Finger Nails at Night
According to Japanese urban legends, cutting your nails at night can lead to an early death.
This belief is based on a play on words. The Japanese kanji that represents cutting your nails at night, 「夜に爪を, can also read “quick death.”
Some Japanese superstitions recommend eating a pickled plum to prevent accidents.
The umeboshi (pickled plum) should be eaten every morning for protection.
Predict the Weather With Your Shoe
Who needs fancy meteorology equipment when you can use your shoe to predict the weather?
Throw your shoe in the air. If it lands on the sole, the weather will be nice. If it lands on its side, it will be a cloudy day.
Finally, if your shoe lands upside down, it will rain.
Don’t Say Kaeru or Modoru at a Wedding
Japanese wedding superstitions claim that it’s bad luck to say kaeru (to go home) or modoru (to return) at a Japanese wedding.
Doing so will supposedly jinx the marriage, and cause the bride to leave her husband and return home to her parents.
Japanese Prayer Amulets Can Bring Good Luck
Omamoris are amulets that contain prayers. According to Japanese superstitions, you can have an omamori for safe driving and good health.
Omamoris can also help you perform well in school or help you in other situations where you need some divine intervention.
Don’t Step on a Tatami Mat
Tatami mats are common in traditional Japanese homes. Many tatami mats contain family emblems, so stepping on the border of a tatami mat is considered bad luck in Japan.
Animals Have Supernatural Powers
Kitsune is the Japanese word for “fox,” and in Japanese folklore, foxes are believed to posses supernatural abilities.
There are good kitsune (zenko or myobu) that bring good luck and ward off evil spirits.
Yako and nogitsune are malicious kitsune, and they play pranks and tricks on humans.
You may already be familiar with this Japanese superstition, since you can find these lucky cat figurines in most Asian markets and restaurants.
The maneki neko (beckoning cat) is usually perched in the front of Japanese-owned establishments to bring the owners good fortune.
A raised left paw attracts customers, and a raised right paw brings fortune. You may even be able to find a maneki neko with both paws in the air.
Don’t Stick Your Chopsticks Up Right in Your Food
Sticking your chopsticks in your rice symbolizes a funeral ritual.
Practice proper etiquette; place your chopsticks on the chopstick rest or lay them across your bowl when they’re not in use.
A Monster Can Make You Get Lost at Night
A nurikaba is a wall-shaped Japanese monster (yokai). According to Japanese urban legends, the nurikabe appears at night and can impede s a traveler’s path, causing him or her to get lost for days.
Now you know some of the most common Japanese superstitions and Japanese urban legends. If you’re superstitious, maybe you can use these beliefs to bring good luck and fortune in your personal and professional life.
Have you heard any other Japanese superstitions? Share them with us in the comments below!