2021/10/14 (Thu) Japanese Tips

Curious Japanese superstitions

While staying with SAKURA HOUSE at any of our share house units with private rooms, guest house style shared rooms, a private apartment unit or in one of our convenient vacation rentals, enjoying your stay in Tokyo or a stay in Kyoto shall bring you closer to the cultural aspects of Japan right away.
However, there are other aspects that are not visually perceived or commonly known about by foreign travelers. On this Sakura Tip we look into one of these aspects, one that every culture has, and Japan is no exception. We refer to Japanese superstitions.

Superstitions can be quite rational or complete ludicrous, however they may appear they all share an interesting story and show another aspect of each culture. So lets take a look at a few of these superstitions.

4 and 9 as unlucky numbers
The pronunciation of 4 in Japanese is “shi” (四), which sounds the same as death (死), therefore it is regularly omitted on several occasions. It is possible to see buildings not displaying the 4th floor or parking lots without a number 4 car space.
Consequently, number 9 shares a similar reason as one of its possible pronunciations in Japanese is “ku” (九), which is the same as pain, suffering or anguish (苦).

Cutting ones nails at night
It is believed that cutting ones fingernails at night brings death closer. The reason for this lays once again in a pronunciation game where “yotsume” (夜爪, literally “night nails”) is pronounced the same as “reaching the end of ones life” (世詰め).

Hiding the thumbs when seeing a hearse
Thumbs in Japanese are “oyayubi” (親指, literally “parents finger”). It is believed that by hiding the thumbs in the palm of the hand making a fist with the other fingers, prevents the soul of the diseased to enter ones body and also ones own and ones parents early death.

A picture may take your spirit away
In an era of taking pictures of everything this can be quite controversial, but the belief is a very old one. In a time when taking a picture demanded to remain still for a long period of time, one would end up tired after the picture being taken. Therefore, believing that the spirit of the poser has been taken away.

Hanging the laundry at night
In the old days, kimonos used to be passed down by the parents to their children (as they were actually quite expensive). This lead to the belief of the soul of the diseased living in their old kimono. Because of this, it was customary to hang out the kimono of the diseased at night.
Time passed and such custom turned into this superstition that believes that hanging laundry at night may call the soul of the diseased who shall also bring the bad luck related to death.

Rest after a meal and you may turn into a cow, pig or elephant
This superstition appears to have its origins simply in preventing laziness.

Big earlobes brin good fortune
This superstition has its origins in the Seven Gods of Fortune, or “Shichi fuku jin” in Japanese, particularly in Daikokuten, the god of wealth. Interestingly this god seems to have very large earlobes hanging from his ears, which directly gave birth to this superstition.

See a shooting star and make your wish 3 times
It is believed that the gods open the heavens to see how the we are doing on earth. When doing so, the heavenly light espaces. At this moment, if one says their wish, it may reach the gods easier and thus be fulfilled.
The belief of making the wish 3 times is not clear, but appears that it has simply been handed down through generations in that way.

A dream of Mount Fuji, a hawk and an eggplant
On the beginning of the new year, it is believed that if the first dream one has (“hatsuyume”) includes an image of Mount Fuji, a hawk and an eggplant, then great luck is heading ones way.
The origin of this belief appear to take place in the Edo period, and although the specifics are discussed until today, one theory explains it as, once again, a wordplay of the pronunciation of all 3 objects.
Fuji in Japanese sounds similar tu “buji” (無事, safe or without incidents) or “fushi” (不死, immortal or eternal life).
The hawk, “taka” in Japanese, sounds the same as tall or high (高), meaning that great achievements shall be possible.
The eggplant shares the same pronunciation than the verb “to accomplish or become” (成す).

Good spiders in the morning
Seeing a spider in the morning is seen as a good omen. This is because from ancient times, the Japanese have believed the spider to be a connector between this world and the world beyond, bringing well being. This may have been associated due to the fact that spiders appear to make their webs when the is good weather.

Bad spiders at night
In contrast with the morning spiders, seeing a spider at night is said to be of bad luck and a sign of attracting thieves into ones house. This appears to be because night spiders cast their web in the darkness in order to catch their pray. To prevent attracting burglars, it is believed to be fine to kill the spider before such event takes place.


There are many more superstitions that have survived the passage of time and some that have evolved as well. We hope these few give another glimpse into the interesting aspects of the Japanese culture. If you are looking forward to beginning your experience of living in Japan, don’t hesitate to contact our dedicated team of experts to find your home in Japan.

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