Friday the 13th! A superstitious day for those of us with a Western upbringing, but a day as any other to the Japanese. I wanted to discuss this superstition with my kids during lessons, so I did a bit of research on it’s history beforehand.
According to (un)reliable sources (read: Wikipedia), 13 is considered an unlucky number for various reasons, primarily because it is irregular. It is one more than twelve, and twelve is considered the number of completeness. There are 12 months in a year, 12 hours on a clock, 12 Olympic gods, 12 Apostles of Jesus, etc etc. A myth surrounds the number 13 based on the Last Supper, in which Jesus dined with his 12 Apostles before his death. This myth states that if 13 people are seated at a table, one will meet an untimely death.
Friday is also considered to be the unluckiest of days. Again, our Christian heritage plays a role: Jesus was crucified on Friday. Friday also brings to mind events such as Black Friday – the stock market crash.
But, this isn’t a blog on Western society (- although living outside of it really does force me to organize my thoughts/views/opinions/etc on our own ways as well as research/understand/explain our lifestyle to others, which ultimately leads to a better, more complete understanding, I think. A post for another time?). So without further ado, here are some superstitions found in Japanese culture.
Although 13 is not considered an unlucky number in Japan, the numbers 4 and 9 are. Four, pronounced shi in Japanese, is a sound found in the word for death. The number nine, ku, rhymes with the Japanese word for pain, and is therefore also unlucky. The number 24 is also unlucky because number two, ni, and four together mean double death (ni shi). It is rare to see these numbers on a Japanese sport jersey. These numbers are also absent from many hospitals.
We are all familiar with “step on a crack and you’ll break your mother’s back”, a rhyme sung while skipping down the sidewalks in our youth. Similarly, it is unlucky in Japan to step on the boarders of tatami floor mats. It is also (randomly) considered unlucky to eat fried eel and melon at the same time (I know what you’re thinking … I guess you will have to think of something else to eat for dinner tonight).
Until next time