Every culture has its own superstitions and Japan is no exception. Many of these superstitions have become ingrained in Japanese culture, not just because of their mythical creativity, but because they represent a number of important ancient teachings which guide contemporary Japanese people with their lives.
A good example is how myths and superstitions can be used to teach children important life lessons. They may find some of them quite scary, which makes them all the more effective. In fact, a great many of these myths can have such a strong impression on a Japanese person in their childhood that they still won’t dismiss them as make-believe in their adult lives, the myths' lessons well and truly learned!
This week we’ll be covering the first 11 good luck superstitions in Japan. Don’t miss next week either as we’ll be covering the unlucky ones then!
八(Hachi - 8) is considered a lucky number because of its shape which, when written out in kanji, spreads out widely until the end. Its shape resembles 末広がり(Suehirogari) which is a symbol of good luck indicating endless prosperity.
When flipped on its side, the numeral is almost identical to the symbol for infinity. For these reasons, the number 8 has become a lucky number representing family prosperity.
Those endowed with plump ear lobes should rejoice as in Japan, this particular part of their anatomy goes by the auspicious name of 福耳(Fukumimi - lucky ears), and vast fortunes are heading their way. Whilst any body part resembling the Buddha is seen as good luck, particular emphasis is given to the likeness of ears.
If you feel you might be part of this lucky group, check out the above picture of 恵比寿(Ebisu ) and 大黒天(Daikokuten) of 七福神(Shichifukujin - Seven Gods of Fortune), and compare your ears to theirs, as they are seen as good examples of 神(Kami - Gods) with Fukumimi.
Next time you pick up your wallet, pack it full of snake skin. That is, if you have any lying around. Snakes have become a good luck omen in Japan as messengers of 弁財天(Benzaiten), another of the Seven Lucky Gods of Shichifukujin. It is also thought that since snakes shed their skin, this can be taken as a symbol of rebirth or regeneration, which is why it’s said that a wallet stuffed with snake skin leads to fortune and riches. Look closely at people’s wallets in Japan and you’ll see that quite a few are made from snake skin or have snake skin patterns.
If you’re reading this article with a cup of green tea in your hand (the kind with loose stalks), take a look down at your cup. Notice any stalks standing upright? Don’t you think they look awfully like the pillars of a house? Well, the Japanese certainly seem to think so, which is why a tea legend dating back to 江戸時代(Edo jidai - the Edo period) dictates that one of those stalks standing up is a sign of good luck, representing firmness and stability like the pillars of a house.
Watching a hearse pass by only fills you with sorrow for the passing of a life and dread for your own, or someone you love’s, mortality. I’m sure you all have felt that before. It is thought that once that sad moment of spotting a hearse passes by, your mood, luck and fortune can only improve from there. When you look at it that way, seeing one isn’t such a bad thing after all!
Shooting stars are thought of as momentary portals to heaven from which kami(gods) take a fleeting inspection of the world. It’s thought that if you can make a wish three times before the flash of light vanishes into darkness, then the kami will have heard, and will grant, your wishes.
Regardless of the time of day, it might be quite difficult to stop yourself from screaming in terror at the sight of this 8-legged creepy-crawly. But if the sun is out at such a moment, then to the Japanese your little friend should be seen as just that, a friend! The thought goes that the surprise visit of a spider is a lot like welcoming in a surprise guest.
The term 初夢(hatsuyume) refers to the first dream someone has in the new year. There is a long held belief in Japan that if the combination of 富士山(Fuji san - Mount Fuji), two hawks, and three aubergines come to you in a dream, then you’re in for a year of good fortune. Mount Fuji is sacred to the Japanese, a holy mountain worshipped devoutly by many.
富士湖(Fujiko) refers to a religious group that worships Mount Fuji. As you can see, Mount Fuji holds a very special place in Japanese hearts. Hawks are considered brave and smart birds, and the word for aubergine in Japanese is pronounced the same way as saying ‘achieve’. They are linked together by the fact that in one of the areas surrounding the base of Mount Fuji, aubergines are something of a delicacy, and in that area there is a mansion whose symbol is a hawk. This is why all three coming to you in a dream at the start of the year is seen as particularly auspicious.
As we mentioned before, snakes are a sacred animal to the Japanese. White snakes are the albino variant of the Japanese snake. Coming across one is rare, so if you do, it’s thought that it will bring you tremendous financial fortune.
Swallows are seen favourably by the Japanese, especially by farmers because they kill off pests in their fields by having them for dinner. It’s therefore thought that should a swallow make its nest under the eaves of a business owner’s house, then his or her business shall thrive.
This superstition stems from the actions of one particular smart and sneaky convicted felon on death-row, who was given a choice as to what his final meal would be before he was condemned to death, which was common practice in the Edo period. This cunning criminal asked to eat foods that were out of season and thus was given a 75 day reprieve, extending his life until the next harvest.
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