Friday, December 08, 2006

Japanese superstitions (日本の迷信)

I came across some interesting information yesterday and I thought I would share it with you. It is concerning some superstitions that are common here is Japan. I had heard some of these before, but others were new to me so I thought I would pass it along.

Bad luck superstitions:
1. The one thing that is considered to be very bad luck in Japan is to see a hearse (霊柩車)driving down the street. If you see this, you are supposed to make a fist around your thumb and protect it. Why? Well, in Japanese, the thumb is literally translated as the "parent finger", so by wrapping it in your fist as a hearse drives by, you are protecting your parents from death or injury.
2. Another superstition that I found interesting is about bad luck numbers. In the west, we always say that 13 is an unklucky number. In Japan, it isn`t 13 that is bad luck, but rather the numbers 4 (四)and 9 (九). The reason they are unlucky is that 4 is sometimes pronounced "shi", which means "death". Similarily, 9 is sometimes pronounced "ku", which means "suffering". Therefore, various measures are taken to avoid these numbers. For example, I live on the 4th floor of my building, but there is no apartment 404. Many buildings and hospitals often don`t have a 4th floor. Also, if you are giving prensents such as plates, cups, etc you would never give them in sets of four. Most of the time they are sold in sets of 3 or 5 just to avoid such a coincidence.
3. Yet another superstition is observed after returning from a funeral. It is believed that you should throw salt on yourself (or on the other person, if with someone) to purify yourself before entering your house after a funeral.

There is also a good luck superstition that I have heard about. For us in the West, keeping a rabbit`s foot on us is considered good luck. In Japan, businesses, companies, or any organization that is hoping to make a profit have a certain ornament that is placed in the store. It is a small cat with one paw raised. In the hopes of attracting positive financial gains, this cat is used.

As I sat with Natsumi discussing these superstitions, she informed me of another interesting one. In Japan, if you go to visit a sick friend in the hospital, you should never bring a potted plant or flowers as a gift. Bringing a bouquet of flowers is fine, but if you bring something that is potted it is considered back luck. The superstition is that because the plant/flowers have roots that are entrenched in the soil of the pot, it signifies that your friend will "grow roots" of their own in the hospital and not be able to leave. Intersting huh?

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