japanese superstitions

Japan is home to a multitude of myths, stories, and urban legends. It holds a special place in the hearts of millions who love the supernatural. Albeit their popularity on that corner, Japan also has superstitions that terrify both locals and tourists. It is these superstitions that contribute to how terrifying the Japanese stories and horror movies are.

If you are planning on travelling to Japan or if you know someone will, you better learn the following Japanese superstitions so you would know what you should and shouldn’t do when you get to Japan. Plus, it helps you learn stuff about the culture and history of the country.

Here are some of the most popular Japanese superstitions that are so terrifying, you would not even be brave enough to defy it.

  • Writing a name in red
  • Hiding your belly button
  • Tatami mats
  • Whistling at night
  • Hiding your thumb from funeral cars

Writing a name in red

Red is no doubt a pretty colour. It’s vibrant, cool looking and most importantly, the ink used to signify that a person is dead.

Japanese tombstones are different compared to the ones we are accustomed to.

Instead of the more common single name in a single tombstone, the Japanese would have all the names of all the family members in a single tombstone. Each name either marked black if the person is still alive or red if the person is deceased. Just like that, writing the name of another person or even writing with red ink is considered taboo in the country.

When you write the name of a living person in red, you are cursing the name bearer to death.

So when travelling to Japan, it is best to ditch every kind of red pen you have. Just to be sure you do not cause such misfortune to another.

Hiding your belly button

Probably not the most terrifying Japanese superstition on the list, however, if you are under ten years of age, having a god of thunder cast lightning upon you would be devastating. Raijin, the Japanese god of storms, is rumoured to despise belly buttons since it is one of his companion’s preferred resting place.

During a storm, when a child or even an adult would present his belly button, Raijin’s companion Raijuu would nest himself inside the human belly, Raijin does not like that.

So to wake up his companion, he would call on the storms and lightning to do it for him. And that would not end well for the unfortunate person whose belly button has been slept on.

Tatami mats

While tatami mats are very common in every Japanese household, there are a few terrifying superstitions about them that would make it a landmine for those who do not know.

Tatami mats are soft and comfortable beds. However, something that you should never get acquainted with is the edges or more specifically the borders of such mats. This is because stepping, laying on it would invite bad luck. There are no stories or reason as to why this Japanese superstition came to be, but historians believe that the origin for this is how old tatami borders would have family emblems on them.

Stepping on the family emblems is like stepping on your whole family’s honour. So it was seen as disrespectful. Now, people believe that the Japanese superstition compels passed ancestors to curse you with misfortune once you step on that part of the tatami mat regardless if you are a visitor or even a part of the family.

Whistling at night

While some other countries see this action as irritating and disrespectful other countries like Japan also consider this far more than that. That is because whistling at night invites misfortune, not only to the person who does the whistling but to the people who hear it as well.

The origin of this popular Japanese superstition dates back to when thieves use this as a way of communicating as to not alarm the people who are sleeping while they steal.

Because of this, people have associated whistling at night with losing something. If you hear the whistles, then you are sure to lose something important to you. And if you are the one that whistles, you will turn into a snake.

Hiding your thumb from funeral cars

Encountering a funeral car in your travels is a very rare occasion. In the off chance that you do, you will be slammed with a culture shock since people around the world would often have a superstition towards it. Some countries would close their eyes, do a sign of the cross, or even throw money to the road where the car is. As a tourist, you might just stay there in shock and awe to what just happened and feel out of place since you did not do it.

In Japan, there is only one thing that you should do when you encounter a funeral car. That is to simply hide your thumbs.

This is because that thumb is considered as the ‘parent thumb’ and hiding it protects you and your family from encountering such unfortunate fate. Some believe that evil spirits sit outside and atop the car. They would look around for people who show their thumbs. This action invites the evil spirits to possess you. On the other hand, other parts of Japan believe that this protects your parents from dying.

Showing your thumbs to the evil spirit would prompt such vengeful beings to put a curse on your parents who are soon to follow. There is a famous line that is often said to children when they encounter a funeral car. It is ‘your parents will die young if you don’t hide your thumbs!’.

Would you show your thumbs to a moving funeral car? Why take the risk?

Superstitions are but a belief or practice but each one has its own origin and basis so why should you risk yourself and not follow them? If it’s not too much, why not follow along? It will help you gain a deeper understanding of the culture of Japan.

Which among the Japanese superstitions is the spookiest? Which of the Japanese superstitions do you think is true?