迷信 ( = meishin) + 縁起 ( = engi) Japanese superstitions

March 3, 2010 in Japanese culture


:maggie-small: 「茶柱が立ってる!あ〜誰かに見せたい!」

(= Chabashira ga tatteru! Ah…dareka ni misetai!)

“I got a stalk floating upright in my tea. I wish I could show it to someone!”

Did you know that if you find a tea stalk floating upright in your tea, it is auspicious?

You are not supposed to show it to anybody or good luck will leave you.  But I will show it to you!


It may be hard to see but you see a little tea stalk floating vertically in the middle? That is called 茶柱 ( = chabashira).

Now I shared my luck with you!

Today’s lesson is about Japanese superstitions, 迷信 ( = meishin) and 縁起 ( = engi).

Do you believe in superstitions?
I guess every country has its own superstitions.

For example, in the U.S. I hear it’s bad luck to open an umbrella in the house, to see a black cat crossing in front of you, etc. Of course, if you ask me ANY color cat crossing in front of you is bad luck

Like it or not, many people believe them to a certain level even if none of them are based on scientific facts.

Let’s see the word 迷信 ( = meishin), superstition, first.

迷信 ( =  meishin) superstition

:rrrr:       (mei/mayou) to get lost, confusion

迷う ( = mayou)  to get lost, to get confused, to wander

(shin/nobu) to believe, trust

信じる( = shinjiru) to believe

信用   ( = shinyou) to trust


( = Shakkuri ga hyakkai deru to shinunante tada no meishin da)

The belief that you will die if you hiccup 100 times in a row is just a superstition.


( = Watashi wa meishin nante zenzen shinjite imasen.)

I don’t believe in superstitions at all.

縁起(=engi) an omen for good luck or bad luck

:rrrr: 縁  (en/fuchi/yukari) en/yukari = bond, tie, to be linked fuchi = hem, edge, verge

起  (ki/gi/okoru/okiru) to happen, to get up, to start

The original meaning of 縁起 ( = engi) came from Buddhism and means that not everything in the world has a specific physical or tangible form. Things are  composed by various intangible “reasons” and “conditions”.

縁起がいい ( = engi ga ii) auspicious, to be a good omen, lucky

Ex. 今日は朝から縁起がいい。( = Kyou wa asa kara engi ga ii).

(When you find some lucky sign in the morning you say) “I got a good sign from the morning (so today is going to be a good day)!”

縁起が悪い ( = engi ga warui) inauspicious, ominous, to be of  bad omen, ill-omened

Ex. 今日は試験なのにお皿を落としてしまったので縁起が悪い。

( = Kyou wa shiken nanoni osara wo otoshite shimatta node engi ga warui.)

I have to take an exam today, but I dropped a plate and broke it. That’s a bad sign.

Note : 落ちる(=ochiru) and すべる(=suberu) are taboo words for 受験生 ( = jukensei), students who have been studying to take their entrance examinations. Because the word 落ちる  ( = ochiru) means to drop and すべる(=suberu) means to slip, they can be taken to imply failing the exam. We actually avoid using these words in front of the “sensitive” students who are about to take an important exam.

縁起でもない(=engi demo nai) for bad luck, ill-omened

Ex. 「あの二人は結婚したばかりだけどなんかすぐに別れる様な気がするの。」

(=Ano futari wa kekkon shita bakari dakedo nanka suguni wakareru you na ki ga suru no.)

“Those two are just got married but I feel like they are going to get divorced soon.”


( = Sonna engi demo nai koto wo iwanai de!)

“Don’t say that. It is a bad luck!”

Other related words : 前兆 ( = zenchou) omen

•良い前兆 ( = yoi zenchou) good omen

•悪い前兆 ( = warui zenchou) bad omen

•縁起(=engi mono) lucky items, auspicious objects, lucky charms, talismans

There are tons of 縁起( = engimono) in Japan.


Ex 1) 招き猫 ( = maneki neko)  “Beckoning Cat”

招く( = Manaku) beckoning , inviting + ( = neko) a cat


Since it is considered to attract luck and fortune, you’ll often find 招き猫(=Maneki neko) at the entrance of the office, stores or restaurants to beckon more customers and, with them, more money.

Ex.2 ) だるま( = daruma)


It is considered to bring good luck, victory or success. When you buy a daruma it usually has 2 blank eyes. (Some of the daruma dolls come with one eye filled in.) When you make a wish, for example to pass a test, win an election, etc., you fill out one of the eyes — giving it a pupil. When your wish comes true, you fill out the other eye.

Also there is a saying 七転び八起き ( = nanakorobi yaoki), Falling down seven times but getting up eight times, “Perseverance is better than defeat”, you can overcome all the difficulties and make it through. (The word on Daruma in the picture is  必勝 ( = hisshou) means “You’ll surely win”, “Victory” )

•縁起をかつぐ(or 担ぐ) ( = engi wo katsugu) to be superstitious

験を担ぐ ( = gen wo katsugu) to be superstitious

Ex. 弟は入学試験の前に縁起をかついでとんかつを食べていた。

( = Otouto wa shiken no mae ni engi wo katsuide tonkatsu wo tabete ita.)

My brother was eating pork cutlets before the entrance examination for good luck.

Ex. 受験シーズンには験を担いだ商品が一杯店頭に並ぶ。

(=Juken siizun niwa gen wo katsuida shouhin ga ippai tentou ni narabu.)

You will see lots of good luck products regarding  success in an examination in the store during the examination period.

Note: とんかつ ( = tonkatsu) is a pork cutlet. Katsu sounds as 勝つ ( = katsu) which means “to win”. So it relates to an idea of passing the exam.
There are lots of  験を担いだ商品  ( = Gen wo katsuida shouhin) lucky products for passing the entrance examination in Japan.
Some products just change their names to target students who are about to take exams.

Ex.カール ( = kaaru) cheese puff  snackウカール ( = Ukaaru) It sounds like 受かる ( = ukaru) to pass

•うかっ茶う ( =Ukacchau) Japanese tea ←from 受かっちゃう (=ukacchau) to be able to pass the exam

(We often use a pun to create a catchy name.)

•ダルマサイダー ( = daruma saidaa) Daruma soda pop

•キットカット ( = Kittto katto) Kitkat is also popular among students because it sounds like きっと勝つ(=Kitto katsu) to win for sure

:kkk: Lucky number and unlucky numbers in Japan:

In Western countries, 13 is a bad luck number. But in Japan, number (=yon/shi) 4 is considered to be unlucky because one of the pronunciations is =shi is the same as the way we pronounce ( = shi) , death.  Some apartment buildings, hotels or hospitals avoid using the number 4 for the floor number or room number.
The combination of the numbers & (four and two) is even worse because == death +=ni→it sounds like ” nin” =死人 ( = shinin) dead person. (Ooooh! Spooky!)

The number 9 is likewise not very popular because we pronounce it “ku”, and it is the same pronunciation of ( = ku) pain.

So what numbers are considered to be a good luck in Japan? Traditionally 8 is a good-luck number because of its kanji, . The bottom part of the kanji spreads out, right? We call it 末広がり ( = sue hirogari), (=sue) the end, 広がり ( = hirogaru) to spread out, meaning things are getting better.

Odd numbers like 七五三 ( = Shichi go san), 7,5,3,  are also considered to be lucky numbers. That is why we celebrate七五三 ( = Shichi go san).

(→When children turn three, five and seven years old, their parents dress them up in kimono, hakama or nice dresses and  take them to the shrine on November 15th.)

:kkk:What dates are good for 冠婚葬祭(=kankon sousai) ceremonial occasions?

(Note : 冠婚葬祭 ( = kankon sousai)  is all the ceremonial events in life.

( = kan) ( = kannmuri=crown) the coming of age

( = kon) refers marriage

( = sou) means funeral

( = sai) means ceremonies for ancestors

We set dates for important ceremonies based on 六曜 ( = rokuyou).
As you can probably guess from the first kanji, there are six different categories of luck for a day.

These “luck levels” are indicated on many Japanese calendars.

:mm: 六曜 ( = rokuyou)

•先勝 ( = senshou,senkachi,sakigachi,sakikachi) Make a quick decision and carry things out quickly. Try to do important things in the morning. Doing things from 2pm to 6pm  will bring you bad luck.

友引( = tomobiki) Bad luck around the noon.  Good luck in the morning and evening. Bad luck in the day time. If you play a game, it will be a tie. We are supposed to avoid having a funeral on that day because  it will pull or draw 引く( = hiku) your friends 友  ( = tomo) to death

先負 ( = senbu,senpu,senmake, sakimake) Bad luck in the morning and good luck from the afternoon.

仏滅 ( = butsumetsu) Bad luck all day long. Avoid having weddings or starting something new on these day.

大安 ( = taian) Good luck all day long. It is an ideal day for 婚礼 ( = konrei) wedding旅行 (  =ryokou) traveling移転 (  =iten) moving, transferring開店  ( = kaiten) starting your business, opening a store, etc.

赤口 ( = shakkou,jyakku,jakkou,sekiguchi) Bad luck except from 11am~1pm.

Note: 吉日 ( = kichijitsu) lucky day

We often say 大安吉日( = taian kichijitsu) which means “a very lucky day” (Or a day that is supposed to be very lucky)

Ex. 今日は吉日だ。

( = Kyou wa kichijitsu da.)

It’s a “good luck day” today.

Ex 思い立ったが吉日

( = Omoitattaga kichijitsu)

Procrastination is the thief of time.

So 験を担ぐ ( = gen wo katsugu) is to be superstitious, to believe certain actions or objects bring you good luck or bad luck.

Ex. 彼は験を担いで、勝った試合の時のユニフォームを洗わなかった。

(= Kare wa gen wo katsui de katta shiai no toki no yunifoumu wo arawanakatta.)

He didn’t wash the winning uniform believing in its good luck.

Note :When you are winning, you don’t want to stop the winning and to keep your つき ( = tsuki) luck or つきを落とさない ( = Tsuki wo otosanai.) not to lose your luck, some people  keep wearing the same thing without washing , not to shave or try to do the same thing as the day they won.

Now we’ll see what kind of objects or events will bring you  good luck and bad luck.

:l: 縁起がいいもの ( = engi ga ii mono) things (animals) that  bring  you happiness or luck

*白蛇 ( = shirohebi) white snakes

*( = tsuru) cranes

*( = kame) tortoises

鶴と亀 ( = tsuru to kame) are both symbols of a long life.

There is a saying,

鶴は千年、亀は万年 ( = tsuru wa sennen, kame wa mannenn )

Cranes live for 1,000 years and tortoises live for 10,000 years.

*松竹梅 ( = shou chiku bai) pine, bamboo, Japanese plum

We use 松竹梅‘s design for happy occasions, such as weddings or New Year’s Day.

Note: A lot of Japanese traditional restaurants use these names for the course names.

*紅白(=kouhaku) red and white (Please go check my color lesson!)

In my New Year’s lesson I mentioned お節料理 ( = osechi ryouri) Special food served for New Year’s Day. All the food in Osechi are supposed to be  縁起がいい  ( = engi ga ii) good luck

*初夢 ( = hatsuyume) the first dream of a year :

It will bring you good luck if you dream about 一富士、二鷹 三茄子( = ichi fuji, ni taka, san nasubii) 1 Mt. Fuji, 2 Falcon, 3 Eggplant

:s: 縁起の悪い贈り物(=okurimono) gifts for bad luck

•櫛  ( = kushi) a comb Since it pronounces kushi, it reminds us of  “苦死”  suffering death, we avoid giving combs to others.

•鏡  ( = kagami) mirror Also you are not supposed to give a mirror as a gift especially to newly wed couples because mirrors break, 割れる ( = wareru) and it is 縁起が悪い(=engi ga warui) bad luck.

Ex. 鏡を割ると縁起が悪い

( = kagami wo waru to engi ga warui)

It is a bad luck to break a mirror.

Note : Not just giving a mirror is a bad luck but also if you break a mirror, we say


( = nana nen fukou ni naru.)

You will be unlucky for seven years.

:i: 結婚式に贈ってはいけないもの

(=kekkon shiki ni okutte wa ikenai mono.)

The things you aren’t supposed to give as a wedding gift

:rrrr: 切れるもの割れるもの ( = Kireru mono+Wareru mono) Something you cut with or breakable things.

*刃物 ( = hamono) cutting knife, edged tool, blade

刃物 ( = hamono) is the thing to “cut” =切る( = kiru) and we don’t want to cut the connection of two people.

縁が切れる( = en ga kireru) to cut the relationship

*( = kagami) a mirror Giving a mirror is bad luck because it is breakable and implies that the relationship will break.

:i: お見舞いに持っていってははいけないもの ( = Omimai ni motte itte wa ikenai mono.)

The things that  you shouldn’t take when you visit someone in a hospital.

:rrrr:  Plants with roots: If you visit someone in the hospital, you shouldn’t take a plant in a flower pot because it has 根  ( = ne)  roots and will 根づく ( = nezuku) take root and that means the plant will last a long time. Which means the sick person will stay in the hospital an even longer time.
Also avoid taking シクラメン ( = shikuramen)cyclamen because it has a sound of (=shi) sounds like 死  ( = shi) death and 苦  ( = ku) pain and 椿 ( = tsubaki) camellia because the way it drops its flower is like the way people’s heads drop when they have been beheaded so it is 不吉 ( = fukitsu) ominous.

:i: Other Taboos!

Some of the actions or behaviors are taboos because they are related to the funeral.


( = hashi wo gohan ni sasanai)

Do not stick chopsticks into a bowl of rice vertically

because that is the way we offer rice to the deceased at funerals.


( = Tabemono wo hashi to hashi de watasanai.)

Do not to pass your food with your chopsticks to someone’s chopsticks directly.

This is taboo because this is the way we take pieces of bone from the ashes of a cremated body and place them into an urn. Two people will pick up a bone with different sets of chopsticks and move it together.

Note : When two people  accidentally  pick the same piece of food with chopsticks at the same time, one of them puts the food back down immediately  saying


( = (o)hashi to (o)hashi dakara…)

“(We shouldn’t do so because) it is from chopsticks to other chopsticks..”

*北枕  ( = kitamakura)  To sleep facing north

( = kita) means North and ( =  makura) means a pillow.

As I mentioned in my  節分(=setsubun) lesson, it is not a taboo but we tend to avoid sleeping facing north because of our Buddhist tradition of putting deceased people’s bodies facing north.

*出針 ( = debari) mending your clothes before you leavebad luck

→出 ( = de)

Ex. 出かける ( = dekakeru) to leave a house + 針 ( = hari) needle

Ex. 朝出る時に出針を使わない

( = Asa deru toki ni debari wo tsukawanai)

It is bad luck to mend your clothes before you leave the house in the morning.


(=Geta no hanao ga kireru.)

Geta (Japanese traditional sandal) thong breaks bad luck

OK, now I will give you common examples of Japanese superstitions.
Guess what is going to happen or what you are supposed to do when/if…


1) 霊柩車(葬式)をみたら

(= Reikyuusha (or Soushiki) wo mitara)  

If you see a hearse (or a funeral)


(=Oyayubi wo kakusu.)

hide your thumb in a fist.

Otherwise   親の死に目に会えない

(=Oya no shinime ni aenai.)

you won’t be able to be with your parents when they die.

2) 夜爪を切ると(=Yoru tsume wo kiruto.) Don’t cut your nails at night.

If you do, 親の死に目に会えない

( = Oni no shinime ni aenai.)

you won’t be able to be with your parents when they die.

3) 靴下をはいてねると

( = Kutsushita wo haite neruto)

If you sleep with your socks on,


( = Oya no shinime ni aenai.)

you won’t be able to be with your parents when they die.

4) 夜口笛を吹くと ( = Yoru kuchibue wo fukuto.) If you whistle at night

蛇が出る ( = Hebi ga deru.) a snake will come out.

5) 雷がなると ( = Kaminari ga naruto) When it thunder,

おへそを隠しなさい ( = Oheso wo kakushinasai) hide your belly button.

Otherwise おへそを取られる ( = Oheso wo torareru.), the thunder will take away your belly button.

6) 食べてすぐに寝ると ( = Tabete sugu ni neru to.) If you sleep right after you eat,

牛になる ( = Ushi ni naru.) you will become a cow.

7) 猫が顔を洗うと ( = Neko ga kao wo arauto.) When a cat washes its face,

雨がふる ( = Ame ga furu.) it’s going to rain.

8) 蛙が鳴くと雨 ( = Kaeru ga naku to ame.) When frogs croak,

雨がふる ( = Ame ga furu.) it’s going to rain

9)くしゃみ ( = Kushami ikkai.) If you sneeze,

誰かが噂をしている( = dareka ga uwasa wo shiteiru) It means someone is talking about you.
When you keep sneezing, every number of sneeze has a different meaning. Such as badmouthing, good rumor, or someone falls in love with you, etc. It varies depending on the area and people.

10) 朝の蜘蛛は縁起がいいが夜の蜘蛛は殺すべし

(=Asa no kumo wa engi ga ii ga yoru no kumo wa korosu beshi) 

The spiders you see in the morning bring you good luck and the spiders you see at night are for bad luck. (Or If you see the night spiders, kill them.)

11) 食べ合わせ ( = tabeawase) Rules for what foods can be eaten together.


( = Unagi to umeboshi wo issho ni taberu to)

If you eat grilled eel and pickled Japanese plum

→ お腹をこわす ( = Onaka wo kowasu.) You will have loose bowels.

Note : There are some other typical examples for the bad combination of food.

天ぷらと氷水 (= tenpura to koorimizu) Tempura and iced water西瓜と鰻 ( = Suika to unagi.) water melon and grilled eel, etc.

12) 秋茄子は嫁に食わすな ( = Akinasu wa yome ni kuwasuna.)

Don’t let your daughter-in-law eat an autumn eggplant.

It has two interpretations for this saying:

1) Eggplants in autumn are very tasty and mother-in-laws didn’t want to share them with their daughter-in-laws.

2) Eggplants in autumn make women’s body’s colder so they are concerned that their daughter-in-law won’t have a baby.

13) 3人で写真を一緒に取ると

( = Sannin de shashin wo issho ni toruto) 

If you take three people in the same picture,

真ん中の人が一番早く死ぬ ( = mannaka bno hito ga ichiban hayaku shinu.) The middle one in the picture dies first.

14) 風邪はうつすと  ( = Kaze wa utsusu to) If you give your cold to others,

早く治る ( = hayaku naoru) you will recover soon.

15) 丙午の嫁は  ( = Hinoeuma no yome wa) Daughter-in-laws who are born in Hinoeuma year. (Hinoeuma is from 干支(=eto) which I mentioned in my 節分(=setsubun) lesson.)

亭主を食い殺す ( = Teishu wo kuikorosu ) They will eat and kill their husband. The women who are born in the year are considered to be very aggressive. Older people used say that but I don’t hear this anymore… Just for your information.

16) 雛人形をしまうのが遅れると ( = Hina ningou wo shimau no ga okureruto)

(March 3rd is Girls’ day in Japan and the family who has little daughters display hina dolls in the house and celebrate the day.)

If you don’t put away the hina dolls right after March 3rd

嫁にいけない (= yome ni ikenai) or 婚期が遅れる ( = konki ga okureru) (Your daughters) won’t be able to get married or will miss their chance to marry while they are of marriageable age.

Please note that every regions might have different versions of these superstitions. Some of them in the list are very old fashioned but we have heard from our parents or grandparents when we were little.

maggie-senseiマギー先生より ( = Maggie sensei yori) From Maggie sensei


(=Minasan no kuni niwa omoshiroi meishin ga arimasuka? Mata donna koto ga engi ga yokakutte donna koto ga engi ga warui desuka?)

Do you have any interesting superstitions in your country? Also what kind of stuff do you think is for good luck or bad luck?