Beneath the Veil: Unraveling 9 of Japan’s Eerie Superstitions and Their Origins

Japan, a country rich in tradition and folklore, is steeped in superstitions that guide daily life and customs, creating a unique cultural tapestry interwoven with the unknown and the supernatural. In this exploration, we delve into some of Japan’s most chilling superstitions and their origins.

1. Beware of the Number Four

In Japan, the number four is associated with misfortune and death due to its pronunciation, “shi,” which is similar to the word for death. Hospitals and hotels often skip the fourth floor, and products are rarely sold in sets of four. This superstition originates from Chinese culture and is a common belief in many East Asian countries.

2. Hiding Your Thumb When a Hearse Passes

It’s believed in Japan that if a hearse passes, you must hide your thumb inside your fist. The thumb represents your parents in the traditional Japanese system of palmistry, and hiding it is believed to protect them from death. This belief emphasizes the deep respect and love the Japanese have for their parents.

3. Never Sleep Facing North

In Japan, sleeping with your head facing north is a taboo as it’s the way corpses are positioned during funeral rites. This superstition originates from Buddhism and its funeral customs. To avoid an early demise, people make sure to sleep in any direction other than north.

4. Do Not Whistle at Night

Whistling at night is frowned upon as it’s believed to attract snakes, thieves, or worse, yokai (supernatural creatures from Japanese folklore). This belief is thought to have originated in the Edo period to prevent fires, which could easily spread in traditional Japanese houses made of wood and paper.

5. The Curse of the Tsurube-otoshi

The tsurube-otoshi is a fearsome creature from Japanese mythology, said to dwell in the treetops and drop onto unsuspecting victims. This has led to the superstition of avoiding walking under trees at night, a belief that could have practical origins, as falling branches and wildlife can pose nighttime hazards.

6. Do Not Cut Your Nails at Night

Kagayakeru yoru ni tsume wo kitte wa ikenai (Do not cut your nails at night) is a common Japanese superstition. It’s believed that if you cut your nails at night, you’ll not be able to be present at your parents’ deathbed. This superstition could have practical origins, as cutting nails without proper light might lead to injuries.

7. Never Stick Chopsticks Upright in Rice

Sticking chopsticks upright in a bowl of rice is considered bad luck because it resembles the incense sticks burnt at funerals. This is seen as a symbol of death and is one of the significant food-related superstitions in Japan, underscoring the deeply ingrained etiquette rules surrounding mealtime in Japanese culture.

8. Beware the Kuchisake-Onna

The tale of the Kuchisake-Onna, or “Slit-Mouthed Woman,” is a widely known superstition. It tells of a woman, mutilated by her husband, who returns as a malicious spirit, asking victims if they think she’s beautiful. If they answer incorrectly, they meet a gruesome end. This story serves as a chilling cautionary tale for children, emphasizing the importance of choosing words carefully.

9. Don’t Write a Person’s Name in Red

Writing someone’s name in red ink is considered a portent of death or severe illness. This belief originates from the custom of writing the names of the deceased in red in family registers. In modern times, black ink is used instead of red, but the superstition persists.

These superstitions, rich with cultural and historical significance, reveal a fascinating aspect of Japan’s societal norms and beliefs. They provide insight into the Japanese mindset, where even the most mundane aspects of life can intertwine with elements of the supernatural. Though these beliefs may seem chilling, they’re an integral part of what makes Japanese culture so uniquely captivating and complex. It’s not just about fear; it’s about respect for the unseen, the unknown, and the unspoken, a testament to Japan’s enduring cultural heritage.

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