2021/10/22 (Fri) Japanese Tips

Curious Japanese superstitions, part II

In our Sakura Tips we like to show complementary aspects of the Japanese culture that may not be easily perceived while living in the large city of Tokyo or the traditional ambiance of Kyoto. We’ve seen previously some superstitions that may help understand several aspects of the Japanese culture and history. As we mentioned then, there are several more superstitions that have lasted through time. We hope that the second part of this superstition series give all foreign students, workers, interns and travelers coming to Tokyo or Kyoto, a closer look into the wide range of aspects that make life in Japan.

Sleeping with socks on is a bad omen
Specially now that it is autumn and weather becomes cooler and colder, it is most pleasing to sleep with some nice warm socks. However, this old superstition relates it to mimicking the dead, since it used to be common to dress them with white socks on the time of their burial.

“Unagi” and “umeboshi”, a terrible combination
If you have ever been to Japan, one delicacy that must be tried is the “unagi” or eel. This superstition mentions the bad future awaiting for those who combine it with “umeboshi”, pickled dried plum, one of the Japanese cuisine most healthiest options.
The reason seems to be that the digestive aid properties of the umeboshi may allow to consume even more unagi, and since this is quite an expensive dish, eating too much can easily leave one spending more money than expected.

Don’t drink tea that has been left overnight
One drink that is consumed daily in Japan is tea, and with several kinds of the, it is quite normal to by a different kind daily to try or simply to stay healthy. However, a very old saying warns not to drink overnight tea. Coming from a time where refrigeration was not a common option yet, it is rational to see that leaving tea outside overnight may cause it to decay and therefore produce cases of food poisoning to who drinks it again in the morning. Nowadays, thanks to the wonders of having a fridge at home, this is very much resolved.

Nameplates with no nails
A common sight when walking around the streets of Tokyo or narrow historical streets of Kyoto, is that of seeing the family household name on house entrances. This is closely related to the ideas of Feng Shui for promotion of health, wealth and success in life, so it is most detrimental to have a nail sticking through it. This, in contrast, is a sign for the impossibility of attracting good health and not achieving success in life, so it is most impossible to find these nameplate with nails on them.

Those in the middle of a group photograph are closest to a premature death
As mentioned on our previous superstition post about photographs, it used to take a long time of standing still in order to get a clear picture, a tiering process that was believed to take away the souls of those photographed. In this group superstition, those on the edges of the picture ended up slightly blurry with the best focus in the middle. Therefore, those in the middle of a group picture (who are seen the most clear) are believed to have their spirits taken the most, causing a premature death.

The bad luck of seeing a black cat passing by
In the very old days of Japan, black cats were a sign of good luck as they where believed to ward against evils. As time passed, it was established that seeing a black cat pass in front of oneself was a sign that good luck has passed by and could not be captured. Subsequently, in the west, black cats were closely related to witchery and the mysterious, attributing it to bad luck as well.

A standing tea stem signing good luck ahead
In a culture that consumes tea daily, it is common to have more than one superstition for it. On this one it is believed that after finishing a cup of tea, if a tea stem appears standing vertically at the bottom of the cup, then it is considered a sign of good fortune coming ones way. This is simply because it is a very rare thing to find a standing tea stem after drinking tea.

White snakes and good luck
Being enshrined in several shrines around Japan, white snakes have been a sign of good omen for centuries, to the point of even including them as divine messengers. One reason to consider them of good luck is that, in a country that strongly relied on its crops, snakes provided help against rats, known as the devastators of crops. Also, seeing a white snake is something very rare, which makes it even more of a lucky event.

 

Whether one believes them or not, superstitions certainly are fun to read and understand how life used to be in the old days. We hope that anyone looking to experience the adventures of life in Japan has found this tip interesting. If you are planning your stay in Tokyo for an internship or in Kyoto for a study program, or maybe a relaxing stay in the costs of Izu, don’t hesitate to contact our staff to help you find your home away from home during your monthly, weekly or daily stay in Japan.

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