Japanese Superstitions 日本の迷信
A bowl of Japanese rice
Land of Gods and nature spirits, the famous kami, Japan has cultivated a very important set of beliefs and superstitions since ancient times. Here are a few Japanese superstitions you should know to fully enjoy your trip to Japan.
Avoid the number 4!
The number 4 is not good news in Japan. And for good reason: it's pronounced "shi", which can also mean "death" in Japanese!
So don't be surprised if you don't come across some car registration plates with the number 4, or hotels without room number 4! There's no need to tempt death...
Don't stick your chopsticks upright in your rice
This Japanese superstition is directly related to the Buddhist funeral ritual. Indeed, it's customary to place an offering of rice, with some chopsticks stuck upright in the bowl, on the altar of the deceased.
At a restaurant, it's better rest your chopsticks on the side of the bowl rather than planting them directly in rice, at the risk of creating uneasiness in the room!
Don't whistle at nightWhistling at night in Japan is strongly discouraged, otherwise you may very well attract snakes!
This Japanese superstition dates back to the Edo era it seems, and although there is no chance of meeting a snake in the heart of Tokyo, you might be told off for doing so.
Don't kill spiders in the morningSpiders are carriers of luck in Japan, so how dare anyone attempt to trample one so early in the morning! This discourteous act promises a day full of misfortune.
Hide your thumbs when passing a hearseAnother strange superstition, highly recommended for children, is to hide their thumbs at the sight of a hearse, if not they will not be present on the day of their parent's funeral.
This superstition also has an etymological origin, since the thumb is designated the "parent finger" in Japanese. It is therefore better to hide it in the presence of a hearse, if we wish a long life for our parents!
The "Teru teru bouzu"
Lighter and engaging, the superstition of "teru teru bouzu" is a classic that Japanese parents share with their children.
A handmade doll with a cloth, the teru teru bouzu serves as a rain deterrent. It's attached to a window the night before a family excursion to ward off bad weather and encourage the return of the sun.
Whatever your feelings for these Japanese customs and superstitions, don't take them lightly, otherwise you may offend the Japanese you meet during a trip to Japan!