Japanese Superstition

One day at the dinner table, my husband said to me, hYou served only one scoop of rice in the bowl instead of two which some people might consider ominous because it is the way the rice is served to the dead.h He is not superstitious and he just intended to tell me that it might offend some people.

Although superstitions were much more widely believed in the past, many still exist today. But superstitions have no logic, no reason, no scientific basis, so we should not be influenced by them. Superstitions are no more than the ideas of people in former times.

First of all, many superstitions are associated with death. Although death is inevitable, it frightens us. Therefore, a lot of superstitions put a taboo on actions that remind us of death, such as the one I mentioned at the beginning. By the same token, we should not stick our chopsticks straight up and down in our rice bowls because also the way it is served to the dead. Another example is, we should not sleep with our heads pointing north as this is the position of a dead body at a funeral. But these days many of us donft have enough space to change the direction of our beds.

Some superstitions had scientific reasoning in the past. For example, we should cover our bellybuttons when the thunder rolls in the sky. It can be inferred that when there is a storm, the temperature drops, therefore it is better not to take a nap with our torsos uncovered. That made sense in a time without indoor heating but not any more.

One more widespread superstition in Japan is Rokuyo, which is the six-day cycle of good and bad fortune. The effect of the cycle is far-reaching and widespread even today. For example, Taian is considered the most auspicious of the six days and ideal for conducting business and holding special events. Further, holding funerals is avoided on Tomobiki, because it means gpulling friendsh. In other words, some of the attendees of the funeral would die shortly after. Doesnft it seem impractical that some people will go to great lengths to wait until Taian to get out of hospital? It only demonstrates that people are susceptible to the idea of good and bad luck.

Most superstitions are considered ridiculous and funny, but those who believe them, take them very seriously. It is necessary not to offend those who believe, but at the same time, we donft need to be bound by mere superstitions, as they limit our choices. Many of them have superficial roots and no profound reason. For example, though Rokuyo originated from the Chinese lunar calendar, now it is very different from the original one. It came to life only as a reaction against the Meiji governmentfs ban on most superstitions of luck. Weddings on Butsumetu days, which are considered the least auspicious days in Rokuyo, are a real bargain if you donft mind.