Awww yeah! It’s that time of year again. The time when I post another silly “scarier in Japan” post! I actually really enjoy writing these. It’s tricky coming up with new ones by now but I think I hit the jackpot with superstitions. Japan has some really fun ones!
If you are curious about the previous “Scarier in Japan” posts, you can find them here!
- Even Campfire Stories Are Scarier in Japan
- Even Urban Legends are Scarier in Japan 2!
- Even Monsters are Scarier in Japan
- Even Creepypastas Are Scarier in Japan
- Even Urban Legends are Scarier in Japan
Unlike legends and creepypastas, superstitions don’t always have an explanation. These are just short ideas that some people really believe and live their lives by. I personally find it fascinating to discover the roots of superstitions but a lot of it is just guesswork.
I’m sure some of you are already familiar with some of these but let’s see how many you know!
Beware of the Numbers 4 and 9!
This is a pretty popular one. Just like the superstition about the number 13 in the Western world, in Japan, the numbers 4 and 9 are considered unlucky. And just like here, they do little things like not label the fourth and ninth floor in buildings and avoid it in seating plans.
I feel it has got to be tougher with number 4 though because way more buildings are going to have 4 floors or more, than 13.
Now I don,t know where the superstition about the number 13 came from. I guess I could look it up but that’s not what the scarier in Japan posts are all about! Luckily I do know why 4 and 9 are considered unlucky.
The number 4 is pronounced shi in Japanese which is a homonym for the word death in Japanese. Obviously, anyone would be uncomfortable renting an apartment on death floor! It’s a similar story for 9, which is pronounced ku in Japanese, a homonym for the word pain.
Moreover, in the maternity section of a hospital, the room number 43 is avoided because it can literally mean “stillbirth”. (shizan: – death/to die and – childbirth/produce). In cars and racing, numbers 42 which sounds like shini (– to death) and 49, which sounds like shiku (- a painful death) are avoided. So next time you’re looking to rent an apartment, remember, nothing with 4, 9 OR 13 in the address!
Stay Away from Combs that Aren’t Yours
Apparently, combs were once considered sacred. Here I’m going to assume we’re not just talking about the cheap 99c plastic ones but probably the expensive and beautiful decorative combs that use to be common. In any case, because they were sacred, giving them away, dropping them or picking one up that isn’t yours, we’re all likely to bring you bad luck. You shouldn’t mess with sacred things.
Moreover, we have another homonym situation. The word for comb is “kushi”, you know, like ku: 9 and shi:4 or also like “painful death”. So if you pick one up, you are picking up pain and death! Is it just me or does Japanese have an unusual number of unsettling homonyms?
The Worse Thing You Can Do Is Cut Your Nails At Night
There was a really fun episode of XXXHolics that dealt with superstitions and this was one of them. I hadn’t heard of it before that! Apparently, cutting your nails after the sun has set is just inviting death to take you! So don’t worry about your dismal diet and inexistent exercise, you’ll be fine as long as you keep the nail clipping to daytime hours or at least sunny ones.
When I first heard of this, I thought it was one of the oddest superstitions out there but it turns out it’s once again a word game. It’s a bit more of a stretch to me but this is what I read. The idiomatic expression used to describe cutting your nails at night is “yotsume” which translates to “night nails”. And you guessed it, it’s a homonym for the expression “reaching the end of your life”.
There’s also an alternative explanation for this superstition. Apparently, before electricity was widespread in Japan, people believed that evil spirits would stirr at sunset. This is pretty common everywhere in the world actually. We’re afraid of the dark, nothing new there.
But it was also believed that cutting instruments, like knives, scissors or even fingernail clippers would create a gap in the fabric of reality whenever they cut anything. Fabric of reality is my expression, I’m just not sure how to describe it. Basically, it would be a gap that spirits could use to travel through at night. Obviously, if those gaps are right at your fingernails, you’re about to get very up close and personal with some spirits!
Don’t Hitchhike With Hearses
Ok so the actual superstition is that you should hide your thumbs in your palms when you see a hearse but I just had an image of someone avidly sticking their thumbs out at a hearse and thought it was hilarious. It worked in my head.
The thumbs are an important and meaningful body part in Japanese culture. Sort of a physical core. And as such, they represent your parentage and are a place where spirits can enter your body. Unless you want to be taken away by the ghost of the recently deceased or have something bad happen to your parents (cause thumbs are parent fingers…), better not take any chances and hide those thumbs if spirits are likely to be nearby!
Don’t Hang Your Laundry to Dry At Night
Because if you do, you’ll get sick!
There is a canon explanation for this one but I think it might also have to do with the fact that your clothes will get dry but probably also cold so you’ll catch a cold. If anime has taught me anything, it’s that colds are nothing to sneeze at… I’m sorry.
The actual story behind this one is that in Japanese tradition, kimonos were passed down from one generation to the next. After all, most kimonos were very expensive and quite beautiful. It was really unthinkable to throw one away unless it was completely ruined.
And so, if a person got sick, even fatally sick while wearing their kimono, it would not be discarded. Traditionally, the kimonos worn by sick people would be washed at night, separately from the rest of the clothes. Which is logical.
In time, this good sense tradition got a little lost but the idea remained. As such it’s an ill omen to hang your clothes out to dry at night if you’re not sick. You’re inviting disease with such actions.
Sleeping After a Meal is For Cattle
This one was also in XXXHolics! Basically, if you take a nap after a meal, you’ll turn into a cow. Depending on how you define “cow” this could just be dieting advice.
It’s apparently a farmer saying that just comes from the fact that cows lie down after they eat to digest their food.
God Morning Spiders and Bad Night Spiders!
A lot of people are afraid of spiders but I think Japanese spiders are probably afraid of people…
The superstition goes that if you see a spider in the morning it’s a good sign and you should definitely not harm it, but if you see one at night, it’s bad luck and you should kill it right away… It’s probably the same spider you guys! Imagine the terror of spiders having to live with such fickle folks!
There is a pretty good reason for this superstition believe it or not. Basically, in the mornings, spiders tend to spin their webs when the weather will be good. They won’t bother too much if it’s likely to be a very windy or rainy day as they won’t catch anything under those conditions. So seeing a spider in the morning is a sign of a good weather day to come which was considered a lot luckier during more agricultural times.
By contrast, spiders tend to weave webs or hide in shadows and dark corners at night. Because they’re hunting! And having dark corners also attracted burglars, hence the bad luck. It’s a little illogical in my opinion to solve the problem by killing the spider instead of bringing a light out but what do I know?
Never Whistle at Night
Am I the only one that finds whistling creepy in general? For some reason, no matter what, it always sounds like a horror movie soundtrack to me. Whistle while you work? Terrifying!
This is another pretty self-evident one, if you whistle at night, you’ll attract bad things. Those bad things sort of vary depending on which version of the superstition you hear. The most common one is snakes. Like a big pack of snakes will just come for you if you whistle at night. Canadian city snakes tend to be a few inches at most so it’s not that big a worry. However, you might also end up attracting evil spirits (big worry!) or criminals (biggest worry!)
Apparently, kidnappers and human traffickers (maybe not only human) use to use whistle signals when conducting their…business at night. Naturally, you didn’t want to get mixed up in any of that by unknowingly sending or responding to a signal. So best not whistle at all once night comes down!
Just Leave Red Spider Lilies alone!
You know how a lot of horror and gore-flled anime have red spider lilies? There’s a reason for that. This flower has a lot of superstitions associated with them. For instance, if you pick them, you’ll create zombies! Or if you take them home, your house will burn down. And I was thinking of getting a bouquet of them…
One thing not everyone knows is that red spider lilies are actually poisonous. And because of that, they were often planted around graves in Japan to keep wildlife away. This idea of making the dead rise if you pick them comes from the fact that if you remove them from around gravesites, there was a much higher chance of shallow graves getting dug up by animals, making it look like a zombie burst out.
As for your house burning down, that’s simply a precautionary wives tales. You don’t want to have pretty poisonous things around the house. If small kids or pets decided to put them in their mouths, like small kids and pets tend to do, they could get very sick.
Never Flaunt Your Midriff During A Storm
So Apparently Raijin, the god of thunder has a thing for bellybuttons. For one he just straight up eats the bellybuttons of children. Not sure why but maybe their very tasty. For another, his buddy Raijuu loves to sleep in bellybuttons, so when Raijin wants to hang out with Raijuu he just sends a bolt of lightning his way, which is very unfortunate if he happens to be sleeping in your bellybutton. Some of these legends are pretty odd.
To me, it seems pretty obvious that these are stories made up by parents who were tired of their kids catching colds from running around half-naked during thunderstorms but I love the creativity!
Don’t Write People’s Names in Red Ink
I don’t know if there’s a superstition about it here but I work in a field where I make people sign stuff all the time and we also don’t allow red ink most of the time.
In Japan though, the reason is that family gravemarkers in Japan list out names in black and red ink. The names of the deceased are usually in black while those of the living are in red ink. I figure that black ink gets a pass because it would be very inconvenient if you couldn’t write names in black ink but red ink is considered very taboo and to this day is part of both social and business culture.
We now come to the end of another Scarier in Japan post! I hope you guys had fun with it. I’m already looking forward to writing the next one, hopefully, I can find a good idea in the next 12 months!