Fear of Four, and Other Japanese Superstitions

December 10, 2007 at 2:58 pm

In hotels and office buildings across the U.S., you’ll be hard pressed to find floor number 13 or room number 13. (Sometimes they cheat and call it 12A.) Friday the 13th is the unluckiest day of the year. Fear of 13 is called triskaidekaphobia.

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In Japan, number four is considered unlucky. This is partially because the word for four, shi, is pronounced the same way as the word for death. For this reason, you’ll rarely see room number four in hospitals. Number nine (ku) doesn’t fare much better: ku also means pain or even torture.

If you’ve ever gone to a Japanese restaurant and stuck your chopsticks upright into a bowl of rice, now would be the time to stop; it’s considered bad luck (and unspeakably rude) because in funeral ceremonies, chopsticks placed vertically in a rice bowl are an offering to the deceased.

Here are some other interesting Japanese superstitions:

  • If you’re photographed in the middle of a group of three, suffering is sure to follow.
  • Whistling at night may cause a thief or a snake to appear.
  • To prevent injury to your parents, you must tuck your thumb (the “parent-finger”) in your fist when a hearse drives by. Also, you should never clip your nails in the evening, or you won’t see your parents when they’re on their deathbeds!

Now for some good news: in Japan, the color red is known for expelling demons or disease, so as long as you’re wearing red when you see a black cat cross your path, maybe you’ll cancel out kitty’s bad luck.

Sarah S.

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Entry filed under: Japanese Culture.

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