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Superstitions have a way of creeping into every culture. We all like to believe in certain 'scary' or half-imaginary things. The Japanese are no exception and, in many different areas, have a compulsion against doing things because it 'brings bad luck'!

Numbers
One of the most common issues with luck is that of numbers. In Japanese, the number 4 is pronounced 'shi' which is also the pronunciation for the word 'death'. For this reason, many Japanese avoid giving presents in groups of four (dinner sets have 5 pieces!), and also avoid room numbers in hotels on the fourth floor or which are numbered 4.

Similarly, the number 9 is 'ku' which is the same as 'pain' in Japanese. Both 4 and 9 are avoided in hospitals and '42' (shini - to die), '43' (shizan - still birth) and '24' (nishi - double death) are all considered extremely unlucky and never appear.

Chopsticks
Another superstition associated with death is that of the incorrect use of chopsticks. Sticking your chopsticks into a bowl is considered unlucky because a bowl of rice with chopsticks sticking out of it is placed on the altar at funerals. Also at funerals, after the body has been cremated, family members pass the bones from chopstick to chopstick into the urn. This is not something you should do when eating.

Chopsticks made from certain woods are lucky in different ways. For a general luck charm, go for pine chopsticks. For something more concerned with finances, choose chestnut wood chopsticks. And for hope - cypress.

Animals
Instead of fearing black cats, badgers are considered evil. Cats are actually supposed to be the temporary resting place of spiritually aware people while badgers wear a mask (across their eyes) to hide themselves and play mischievous tricks on people.

Days
The Japanese calendar is broken into good and bad luck days which are still popular and commonly checked today, especially for important events such as weddings and funerals. The days are calculated according to a 6-day cycle based on the lunar calendar. The cycle is "sakigachi, tomobiki, sakimake, butsumetsu, taian, shakku". Lucky days are called ' taian' (peace days) while unlucky ones are 'butsumetsu' (everything bad) although, ironically, unlucky days are good for funerals! The best day for weddings is 'tomobiki' (friend-pulling) and these are usually also the most expensive days to book priests and reception centres.

Of course there are many other superstitions for both good and bad luck in almost every area of Japanese life which even the 20th century can't erase.