Japanese unlucky numbers influence many aspects of this great country’s culture. In fact, many Asian countries share these unlucky numbers. However, some are unique to the sometimes introverted Japanese culture. As a result, studying and understanding unlucky numbers in Japan is a fascinating and endlessly informative activity.
That’s why we’ve compiled an in-depth look at the unluckiest numbers in Japan and how they continue to influence Japanese culture around the world. Belief in these figures has spread far from the main island and continue to serve as an entertaining and insightful guide through Japanese superstitions and beliefs.
Four is the Big One
Like most Asian cultures, Japan has a very pronounced fear of the number four. This fear is caused by the fact that four is pronounced in a way that makes it similar to their word for death. It is interesting that so many cultures in Asia share this fear, particularly cultures isolated from or even enemies with each other.
While the fear of four makes it one of the most common unlucky numbers in Japan, it isn’t always universally believed. Like the Western world’s fear of 13, it is understood to be a superstition. However, it is surprising just how many people of Japanese descent still fear or avoid this number as much as possible.
This Fear is Known as Tetraphobia
The prevalence of the fear of the number four in Asian cultures has led psychologists to coin the term tetraphobia. This fear goes beyond Japanese bad luck numbers and showcases a phobia that’s hard for many to understand. One of the most basic examples of this concern is avoiding using four to indicate rooms or floors.
This practice is particularly common in hospitals and doctors offices, as it is believed it will cause death to people in the affected areas. When combined with other numbers, it is even scarier. For example, 43 is considered to cause baby deaths in pregnant mothers, as it means stillbirth. As a result, many hospitals don’t have a room 43.
Gift giving is also typically done in multiples of three or five, rather than four. So people who move into a new apartment may get five plates instead of four. Other examples include the avoidance of numbers like 42 and 49 in sports, as these figures typically spell defeat. As a result, you will rarely see athletes wearing these Japanese bad luck numbers on their jerseys.
Tetraphobia Can Be Even More Serious
The more extreme example of tetraphobia may surprise many readers. For example, Nokia avoided releasing phones with the number four, as they knew that this could affect their sales in the Asian market. As a result, phones would jump from the third to the fifth generation with no fourth in between.
In another example, the Telecommunications Commission in Canada once wanted to create a new area code, 474, when 306 was getting too saturated. However, the Asian company SaskTel requested they change it to 639 to avoid alienating Asian residents. This change successfully passed.
What is even more surprising is that deaths from heart-related problems typically peak on the fourth day in a month. While many people of Japanese descent argue that this proves it is an unlucky number, doctors believe the stress of the superstition creates higher levels of anxiety that trigger heart attacks.
Nine is Also Considered Unlucky
Nine is pronounced in such a way that it sounds similar to the Japanese word for torture and agony. As a result, there is a widespread fear of using this number in any way. What is interesting is that the word for hair combs is often pronounced in such a way that it sounds phonetically similar to nine.
So in many areas of Japan, the word for comb has been slightly changed to make it sound less analogous to the number nine. While nine is considered an unlucky number by Japanese culture, it is nowhere near as feared as four.
Some Japanese Fear 13
The fear of the number 13 is a relatively new addition to Japanese culture. In fact, most believe that this is an imported belief that occurred because of Western influence on the nation. In ancient Japanese beliefs, 13 was no luckier or unluckier than any other number. As a result, it has a limited influence on most of the culture.
That said, it is worth mentioning because many people of Japanese descent will still try to avoid using this number whenever possible. Like in many Western cultures, it is sometimes avoided in architectural design. That said, it doesn’t have the same influence as four or even nine.
Learning More About These Numbers
As you can see, Japanese unlucky numbers offer you a fascinating variety of topics to research. If you are interested in learning more about the way numbers affect Japanese culture, check out our lucky numbers section. You should also research the other Japanese superstitions and beliefs we have compiled here.