Japan can be a perplexing place. On the one hand, it’s pretty relaxed when it comes to religion, without much drama or tension on the subject. People generally blend Buddhist, Shinto and Christian themes for most of their lives, then around the time their parents die, they often take a deeper interest in Buddhism. On the other hand, Japan can be a very extremely superstitious, and it seems I’m always encountering interesting beliefs held by the people around me. Let’s take a look at the top seven Japanese superstitions!
7. Pretty much every Western and Chinese superstition
From breaking mirrors to following astrology, the Japanese have imported a lot of ideas from the West. However, some traditions are often turned around. It’s often considered lucky if a black cat crosses your path, and Friday the 13th is a day for good things to happen. Also, many Japanese follow Chinese feng shui quite closely.
6. Names and Kanji Strokes
Names are very important to the Japanese. When I first arrived in Japan, I stupidly registered my official legal name in kanji, as 飛偉多阿・平院, meaning that I have to write these difficult characters on every insurance form I fill out. But my wife won’t let me change it, because it would change my destiny, she says. When our daughter was born, my wife chose a kanji name for her that had the same number of strokes as her own name, so our daughter would share her strong good luck.
5. Blood type
A superstition about blood type took hold in Japan in the early 20th century and is pretty universally followed. Type A people are super-organized and meticulous, type O are easygoing and make the best leaders, type B are creative but sloppy and “my pace” (living at their own pace), and type AB are talented and composed. Since type B people are often discriminated against, there are guidelines that companies are supposed to follow to keep “blood type harassment” from occurring.
4. Cycling lucky and unlucky days (Rokuyo)
A system of six days that cycles again and again. The luckiest day is Taian (“great peace”), which is when everyone has weddings, while the unlucky day is Butsumetsu (“Buddha’s death”), when you should never get married.
3. Numeric-based superstitions
You may have heard that it’s not good to give gifts in sets of four to Japanese people because “four” in Japanese is shi, which is also the word for death. It’s also true that airline counters omit the numbers four, nine (which can mean “suffering”), and the traditional bad luck number 13.
2. Funeral-related beliefs
A lot of Japanese superstitions come from funerals. You’re not supposed to sleep with your head pointed north (kita-makura), because a dead body is laid out in this direction the night before a funeral. And you never hand food chopstick-to-chopstick, because this is part of the final farewell, when family members use special chopsticks to put the bones of their just-cremated loved one in an urn.
2. Fire Horse Girls.
The Chinese Zodiac is a close part of Japanese life, and people believe the animal of the year you were born in can affect your life a lot. Girls born in the year of hinoeuma (the Fire Horse) are believed to be unlucky, leading to so many Japanese couples to put off having children that year that you can see the spike in a chart of the birth rate. Another Fire Horse year is headed our way in 2026, and hopefully Japanese will be less superstitious this time around.
1. The biggest of them all: Yakudoshi
The dreaded “back luck year” when everything will go wrong, and Japanese always avoid things like building houses, buying cars or starting businesses around these periods, hunkering down and playing it safe instead. The ages are 25, 42, and 61 for men, and 19, 33, and 37 for women. Happily you can go to certain Buddhist temples that specialize in yaku-yoke (the removal of yakudoshi bad luck).
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