Japanese superstitions are rooted in the culture and history of Japan and the Japanese people. Superstitious beliefs are common in Japan; most have roots in Japan's history. A number of Japanese superstitions have their basis in Japanese custom and culture and are meant to teach lessons or serve as practical advice. Some superstitions that are common in Japan have been imported from other cultures. The unluckiness of a black cat crossing one's path is one notable example. The Japanese also share superstitions with other Asian cultures, particularly the Chinese, with whom they share significant historical and cultural ties. The unluckiness of the number four is one such example, as the Japanese word for "four" sounds like the word for "death." A significant portion of Japanese superstition is related to language. Numbers and objects which have names that are homophones for words such as "death" and "suffering" are typically considered unlucky. Other superstitions relate to the literal meanings of words. Another significant part of Japanese superstition has its roots in Japan's ancient Pagan, animist culture and regards certain natural things as having kami.
Superstitions in western countries are usually tongue-in-cheek beliefs with no one really taking them seriously. In Japan, however, many superstitions are taken seriously – if not believed. Japanese superstitions seem to range from the ridiculous to the scary. Here is two which I find absurd:
1. Clipping your finger or toe nails at night will lead to your parents dying and you never being able to contact them again – even from the hereafter.
2. Whistling at night invites a huge snake into your house.
These are only two of many other droll superstitions handed-down from father to son, mother to daughter, which still some Japanese believe.
Some of the more “serious” superstitions seemed to be centered on death. Most Japanese believe the dead are actually “alive”. Now that may sound like an oxymoron, however many belief that when a person dies he or she is still – ‘here’. In the case of a parent or parents that have passed-away, the oldest son in the family, usually installs a small Buddhist shrine (Butsudon) in his own house. Encased in the shrine, is a picture of the deceased, candles, and sometimes a couple of flowers – not lilies. With the smell of incense drifting up their noses, family members daily kneel before the picture, ring a little gong, and say a little prayer. In the summer month of August, the spirit of the departed, “returns” to their home. This particular time of year is called Obon. Food is added to the shrine, next to the gong, because it is believed the spirit may be hungry. For a few days during this swelting month, Japanese people return to their hometowns and gather around the butsudon to pray. On the last day of Obon, small hand-made paper and wood boats with candles glowing are set afloat on rivers and at seasides around the country. These small vessels take the spirit back to the hereafter.