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YumeTwins Kawaii Culture BlogSeven Japanese Superstitions You Should Know About!

Seven Japanese Superstitions You Should Know About!

By Anna Ayvazyan
October 13, 2022
A cute print of kokeshi dolls dressed in red. According to Japanese superstiitons, kokeshi dolls are considered to be good luck.

Now that we’re in Halloween season, it’s time to look at some Japanese superstitions! Some of them range from funny, to downright scary. But which ones should you beware during spooky season? Without further ado, here are seven Japanese superstiitons you should know about!

Overview

Many of the superstitions today are connected to how things occurred in the past, such as whistling at night or breaking a comb. Some superstitions are related to health such as black cats and hiding your belly button. 

Others were carried over from Chinese Taoist and Feng Shui principles that are followed today such as sleeping with your head facing north! You can gain greater insight into superstitions by reading about our seven chosen superstitions below!

1. Black cats are good luck, actually.

While in the West black cats are commonly associated with bad luck, in Japan they are associated with good luck! This is because in general cats represent good fortune and prosperity. Black cats in particular are seen as a talisman against bad luck and danger.

A face portrait of Luna, the black cat from "Sailor Moon".
Black cats aren’t only good luck, they’re also adorable! Image via Shutterstock

In the Edo period, there was also a superstition that if you had a black cat you could recover from tuberculosis or a broken heart. Black cats are popular pets in novels and movies such as Wagahai wa Neko de Aru (I Am a Cat) and Majo no Takkyūbinn (Kiki’s Delivery Service)

2. Hide your belly button!

Older people usually tell this superstition to their grandchildren. It is said that if your belly button is exposed (in other words not covered by clothes) then the Kaminari-sama (Thunder God) would take it away whenever it is raining or thundering.  

A pale shifty figure in a dark room. According to Japanese superstitions, they'll enter your body if you don't keep your belly button covered.
This spirit entering your belly button doesn’t sound like a good time! Image via Shutterstock

This superstition originates from Taoist medical beliefs. They say it’s important to keep the stomach warm to reduce the chance of you getting a stomach cold. It is common to see even children wearing haramaki  (tummy girdle-warmers) to cover the belly buttons.

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3. Always sleep with your head facing north!

Kitamakura or North Pillow is a superstition that you should not sleep with your head facing the north direction. This is because in funerals the deceased body faces north. Buddha also passed away with his head facing north.

A boy cuddling with his plushie, in a soft and detailed illustration.
Don’t sleep north, even with your cute plushie! Image via Shutterstock

However, there are some superstitions that say it is good luck. One particular superstition is that you will receive more money if you sleep with your head facing north. Feng Shui it is also considers it good luck to sleep in that direction. So you will probably get a different answer depending on who you ask in Japan!

4. Don’t cut your nails at night!

Cutting your nails at night might bring you misfortune. The superstition holds that if you cut your nails at night, you are giving evil spirits a way to enter your body through the fresh cut of your fingernails. There’s even a pronunciation game where the phrase yotsume (night nails) which sounds the same as the phrase for “reaching the end of one’s life”!

Another superstition is that if you cut your nails at night you won’t be able to attend your parents’ deathbeds.  So it’s much better to cut your nails in the morning or afternoon if you want to escape bad luck. 

5. Don’t whistle at night!

Whistling at night might cause snakes to come out and bite you. Some other superstitions also say that you that tengu might also abduct you. Tengu are mischievous, supernatural beings with red faces and long noses. Even a robber might come and cause you great harm!

An illustration of a puzzled tengu mask against a sky blue background. The idea that tengu attack people who whistle at night, is one of seven Japanese superstitions.
Do you want this tengu to snatch you up for whistling at night? Of course not! Image via Shutterstock

These superstitions go back to feudal times when troublemakers and criminals used to whistle to each other as a way to communicate. Nowadays it’s a faux pas because you are drawing attention to yourself while everyone else wants to sleep. 

6. Don’t break your comb! 

This superstition is similar to the Western superstition of breaking a mirror. If you break a comb or a strap of your geta (wooden sandals) you may bring about misfortune or bad luck. This is probably due to the fact the combs and geta were very expensive and treasured items so it would truly be unfortunate to break one and have to buy a new one. 

A red broken comb against a white background.
Broken combs are a big no-no! Image via Shutterstock

Another reason is because that the Japanese word for comb ,kushi, sounds the same as the phrase for “a painful death”. So if you want to avoid a painful death, it is best to take care of your combs!

7. Avoid the number four at all costs!

According to tradition, the number four is unlucky. This is because the pronunciation of four, shi, is the same as the word for death. Other countries such as China, Korea, and Vietnam also believe this superstitions as well.

A neon blue/purple/pink numeral four against a black background. Japanese superstitions state that the number four is bad luck.
This number four may look pretty, but don’t be fooled! Image via Shutterstock

Due to this in some buildings – such as hotels, there is no fourth floor or “Room #4”. In addition, it is never a good idea to give a gift that consists of four pieces or parts. This superstition is similar to the Western superstition of 13 being an unlucky number. 

Do you believe these superstitions? What other ones have you heard of? Let us know in the comments below!

 

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