Superstitions of Japan you may not know about

We share some hair-raising folklore and superstition

A lot of us have a superstition or two, even if we will never admit it. Some of us may have a ring, or sock or a little trinket we wear for luck, others may knock on wood three times to ward of an ill-fated sentence spoken out loud. Japan has it fair share of superstitions and since Halloween is almost upon us. We take a serious and not so serious look at superstition in Japan.

If you whistle in the night you will be visited by a snake or ghost…

Traditionally whistling was a way for burglars and criminals to communicate, thus the superstition started that if you whistle you might attract someone villainous, a ghost or a snake to your home. And whistling at night may bother people trying to get their beauty sleep and you might just meet an ugly side to the people you are keeping up with the noise. Also does that mean watching Kill Bill at night is dangerous because of the whistling song?

Don’t cut or file your nails at night…

First, if you file your nails at night, you will not be able to see your parents before they die, or alternatively, you will die early.

Secondly, in the old times there were no electricity to light the streets or homes at night, and evil spirits called akuryou loved to visit homes at night. These ghostly fiends loved entering gaps at night. What does that have to do with the price of nail clippers, you may ask?

Well there is an old belief that cutting tools (like fingernail clippers) had spiritual power, reiryoku in Japanese, which could ‘reroute’ evil. Now picture this, you are cutting that pesky toenail in the dark that has been irritating you. In the process of cutting it an akuryou enters your body thanks to the gap between your toenail on your toe and the half-clipped nail… Maybe, to prevent becoming like that poor girl in the Exorcist movie all thanks to your toe nail, it might be a good idea to keep the light on next time you cut your nails.

Actually on a serious note, the superstition was meant to scare kids from injuring themselves while cutting their nails at night, back in the days when electricity was not invented yet. Cutting nails in the dark can cause wounds. Also isn’t it annoying when someone is cutting his or her nails and you are trying to sleep?

When you see a funeral car, hide your thumb or a family member will die soon.

The Japanese word for “thumb” (oyayubi) translates into “parent finger”. The superstition dictates, “Your parents will die young if you don’t hide your thumbs!” Popular believe is that spirits of the dead, vengeful or not, hang around the funeral car with their casket. If you don’t hide your thumbs while a funeral car passes, the deceased’s spirit will enter your body from underneath your thumbnail! Some people will even hide their fingers as they pass a graveyard or a funeral as well.

So far, according from what we learn from superstition, toenails and thumbnails are very scary things to have. Ghosts seem to love them. Beware!

You should never write a living person’s name in red ink.

Using red ink suggests the person’s life will be cut short soon. The origin of this doom and gloom superstition stems from Japanese gravestones (Bohi). Bohi are marked with the names of family members, with names written in black and red ink. When the gravestone is made, both spouses’ names are engraved even if one is still alive. It is actually a sufficient way to save costs. The deceased members have their names marked in black, while those who are still living will have their names written in red, once they are deceased of course, the red paint is removed.

Writing someone’s name in red is thus in very bad taste in Japan. Take note that this ties into business and social etiquette too, so rather skip red pens when traveling within Japan, as an inner token of respect.

Beware the numbers 4 and 9

There are numbers that are considered unlucky in Japan. The number 4 is considered to be unlucky because the word for 4 is ‘shi’ and closely resembles the word for death ‘shi’. Variations of the number 4 are also considered “bad”. 24 can be read as nishi, which translates to double death. 42 or shini also translates to death. 43, or shisan sounds similar to shizan or stillbirth. And, 420, or shinirei sounds similar to shinrei or dead spirit.

The superstition around number 9 – The word for 9 ‘ku’ sounds similar to the word for pain and suffering ‘ku’.

Like in some Western hotels that do not have a 13th floor or hotel room numbers, building floors or rooms with number 4 simply don’t exist in Japan, same with hospitals, floors and rooms with number 4 do not exist there either. Numbers can be very superstitious omens in the eye of the beholder.

Some more Superstitions

Here are a few more superstitions to look into. Some of them you might recognize from seeing hints about them in anime.

When you urinate on a worm, your “parts” will become swollen.

See a spider in the morning, it will bring good luck. See a spider at night and bad luck will come.

If returning from a funeral, you should throw salt over yourself before entering your home. This is believed to be cleansing.

If you hear thunder hide your belly button, otherwise the god of thunder will eat it.

Don’t sleep with your head pointing north; this is the way the deceased are laid to rest at a funeral.

You’ll get bad luck if you talk back to someone talking in his or her sleep.

If your nose itches, someone who you know will have a baby.

If you sneeze once, you’re being spoken of well. If you sneeze twice, the opposite is true. Three times and someone love you, and four times, you have a cold.

If your ear itches, you’ll hear good news.

If you are the middle person in a picture with two others in it, you will soon die or suffer a hard tragedy.


There are many deep and dark superstitions in Japan. AnimeFanatika found you a video filled with spookiness and Yokai myths, to see, please follow this link:

An anime that we can recommend that deals with superstition is xxxHolic where the dimensional witch Yuuki has to cure quite a few people either because they did not listen to superstition or because they listened to superstition.

Also some of you that watch the anime Naruto might remember Tsunade’s superstition. She usually loses when she gamble and when she suddenly starts to win a lot, she knows something is wrong somewhere. lol