Japanese Superstitions that You Should Know

Photo: Pieterjan Vandaele on Flickr

Japanese Superstitions that You Should Know

Sanny Soedjatmiko Hartanto

Japan is well-known for the superstitions that are believed by its people. The superstitions are related to the Japanese culture and tradition. Many superstitions are based on animism, where a non-human living thing, such as animals and plants, are believed to have spirits. Some animals or animal depictions are included in Japanese superstitions which may bring good or bad luck. Japanese superstitions were based in historic events of the past and have become and intrinsic part the culture today. Superstitions in Japan are meant to give lessons or advice. Several popular superstitions in Japan are listed below.

1. Sleeping facing the North

Japanese believe that if you sleep with your head facing the north, you will have to die or have a short life. This is because the deceased are laid at their funeral facing the north.


Photo: Danny Baza Blas on Flickr

2. Cutting Nails at Night

Cutting nails at night will bring bad luck. It may also be a sign that you will not accompany your parents when they pass away.


Photo: Tamaki Sono on Flickr

3. Sticking Chopsticks Upright into the Rice

Sticking chopsticks upright into the rice is categorized as rude and bad manners. It is also believed to be extremely unlucky. This is reserved for funeral ceremony where chopsticks are stuck upright into the food and placed at the deceased’s altar. Hashihoki or chopstick holders are usually used to rest the chopstick.

4. Number 4 and 9

Number four (4) and nine (9) are considered unlucky numbers in Japan because 4 is pronounced as the word of death (shi) and 9 is pronounced as pain and suffering (ku). Number 4 and 9 are avoided in Japan, such as building floors, hospitals and hotels which do not have rooms number 4 and 9.

5. Spider in the Morning and at Night

Seeing a spider can mean good luck or bad luck. If you see a spider in the morning, it means good luck and you are suggested not to kill it. If you see a spider at night, it means bad luck for you and you may kill it.

6. Beckoning Cat

Beckoning cat (Maneki Neko in Japanese) is a common Japanese figurine which usually seen at business places, such as shops and restaurants. People believe that a beckoning cat may bring good luck to the owner.


Photo: Andy Smith on Flickr

7. Black Cat

Japanese are commonly aware of black cats because if you see a black cat crossing your path, it will surely bring a misfortune. Other societies also categorise a black cat as superstitious.

8. Red Ink for Writing

If you write a person’s name in a red ink, it may be categorized as rude and inauspicious. Red ink suggests that person will die soon. It is because the red ink used in tombstone.

9. Whistle at Night

Whistling at night was used by criminals to communicate with their teammates. If you whistle or play a flute at night, the belief says that the sound might bring bad luck or attract criminals.

At Last

Understanding Japanese superstitions are essential for travelers or people who have close ties with the Japanese people. Foreigners can benefit from the knowledge of the Japanese cultural oddities, taboos, and fears.