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Japanese and Okinawan Superstitions

Date Posted: 1998-11-06

Salt has long been used to help ward off evil spirits in Okinawa. If someone suspects a ghost or evil spirit may try to invade their home, a small pile of salt, usually accompanied with a couple of cloves of garlic and a knife on the salt, is placed in each room of the house, usually set around the entrances and window openings. This is said to keep the house and its inhabitants safe.

When an Okinawan sees something bad, like a car accident, they will lick salt upon returning home so that the bad luck won't follow them. Many businesses also put a spoonful of salt on each side of their entrances to keep bad customers away.

Numbers are also of some importance, as is the order or placement of certain things.

In Japan and Okinawa, it is often thought unlucky to be the middle person in a photograph. Some believe that that person will soon come to an unfortunate end.

The numbers four, nine and thirteen are considered unlucky; four means death, nine means pain, and thirteen is the result of American superstitions. It's rare to see rooms in a hotel or hospital that incorporate these numbers into the floor plan. The number 43 should never be used in a hospital maternity ward, as it literally means still birth. If you're hoping to plan a trip or start a project, it's best to do it on the fifteenth or 28th day of the month, while the fourth and fourteenth days of the month are unlucky.

Other interesting superstitions: in taxis, girl dolls are often present to keep away female ghosts; small charms with kanji written on them keep away evil spirits; throw salt on the spot where a beggar has just been; be careful if you've broken a comb; wrap paper or wood in cloth and keep it near you to bring yourself good luck; be happy if a bird flies overhead and leaves a present on your head, it's good luck.

There are many more superstitions that Okinawan and Japanese citizens incorporate into daily life. The next time you avoid crossing the path of a black cat, or throw salt over your shoulder, think about these as well.

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