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Some superstitions that are common in Japan have been imported from other cultures. The Japanese share superstitions with other Asian cultures, particularly the Chinese, with whom they share significant historical and cultural ties. The unluckiness of the number four is one such example, as the Japanese word for "four" sounds like the word for "death". However, unlike most other countries, in Japan, a black cat crossing your path is considered to bring good luck.
A significant portion of Japanese superstition is related to language. Numbers and objects that have names that are homophones for words such as "death" and "suffering" are typically considered unlucky. Other superstitions relate to the literal meanings of words. Another significant part of Japanese superstition has its roots in Japan's ancient pagan, animist culture and regards certain natural things as having kami. Thus, many Japanese superstitions involve beliefs about animals and depictions of animals bringing about good or bad fortune.
- If you play with fire, you will wet your bed. (This is said to make children aware of the danger of fire.)
- If you rest just after eating, you will become a cow/pig/elephant. (This discourages laziness.)
- If you whistle or play a flute at night, snakes will come to you. (This means not to bother your neighbors.) In this context, "snake" means a "thief".
- A cold midsection will cause diarrhea.
- The first dream of a Japanese New Year will come true.
- Breaking a comb or the cloth strap of a geta wooden sandal is an omen of misfortune.
- Stepping on the cloth border of a tatami mat brings bad luck.
If a funeral hearse drives past, you must hide your thumb in a fist. The Japanese word for "thumb" literally translates as "parent-finger.". Hiding it is considered protection for your parents. If this is not done, one's parents will die.
There are several unlucky numbers in Japanese. Traditionally, 4 is unlucky because it is sometimes pronounced shi, which is the word for death. Sometimes levels or rooms with 4 don't exist in hospitals or hotels. Particularly in the maternity section of a hospital, the room number 43 is avoided because it can literally mean "still birth". When giving gifts such as plates, they are normally in sets of three or five, never four.
Number 9 is pronounced ku — with the same pronunciation as agony or torture. Combs (kushi) are rarely given as presents as the name is pronounced the same as 9 4.
The number 13 is occasionally thought of as unlucky, although this is imported from Western culture.
Death and the supernatural
- If you go to a Japanese funeral, you should throw salt over yourself before re-entering your home. This is believed to be cleansing.
- You should never sleep with your head to the north or you will have a short life. (This is the way a body is laid out at funeral.)
- Chopsticks should not be stuck upright into food, especially rice. Chopsticks are only stuck upright into rice in the bowl on the altar at a funeral.
- Food should never be passed chopstick-to-chopstick, as this is done only in a ceremony where bone fragments from cremated remains are placed in an urn. This is called hotokebashi.
- Cutting your fingernails or toenails at night is bad luck. If you do so, it is believed that you will not be with your parents at their deathbed.
- You should never write a person's name in red ink. (This is due to names on grave markers being red.) Dark brown is not unlucky.
- Use of the Maneki Neko or "lucky cat". Many businesses such as shops or restaurants have figures of such beckoning cats, which are considered to be lucky and to bring in money and fortune.
- If you see a spider in the morning, it means good luck so you shouldn't kill it. If you see one at night, it means bad luck so you can kill it.
- If you catch a crow's glance, something bad will happen.
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