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Superstitions. Mention has been made in previous Articles of the popular Japanese belief in divination, in demoniacal posses possession, and in the efficacy of charms against fire, shipwreck, and disease. There exist also various superstitious notions about numbers. For instance, 7 and all numbers into which 7 enters, as 17, 27, etc., are unlucky. Certain numerical proportions must be observed between the ages of man and woman in wedlock. By the rule known as yo-me tō-me, you should not marry a girl whose age differs by 4 years or by 10 years from your own. (But as Far-Eastern reckoning is always inclusive,—see page 12,—the real numbers are 3 and 9; thus a man of 21 must not marry a girl of 18, nor a man of 26 a girl of 17). Ages also exercise an influence on certain occupations. Thus, trees must be grafted only by young men, because of the special need of vital energy in the graft. The notion that certain days are lucky, others unlucky, is still so firmly rooted that some news papers which cater for the lower classes publish lists of them. For example, what are known as tomo-biki no hi are days exercising such irresistible influence on the future that if a funeral takes place on one of them, there will certainly soon be another funeral in the same family. The general idea that "misfortunes never come singly," is expressed by the adage Ni-do ant koto wa, san-do aru, "What happens twice will happen thrice."

Questions of place must be attended to no less carefully than proper times and seasons, if ill-luck is to be avoided. Thus, no Japanese would sleep with his head to the North (that is, facing South),—for that is the direction in which corpses are laid out. The East is the luckiest side, the next best being the South. There is always danger to be feared from the North-East, which quarter has received the name of the "demon's gate:"—no openings are left in a house on that side, and no well is ever dug there, but Buddhist temples are often built on the North-East of a city as a means of protection. Sometimes, in shifting house from one locality to another, it may be prudent not to go straight to the objective, but to make a circuit via some other point of the compass, and stop a night—maybe a longer period, according as the soothsayer shall indicate—on the way. Certain mountains and lakes must not be approached; for the inevitable result is a typhoon, especially if the intruder should disturb or carry off any of the water.

There are various superstitions connected with fire, that arch-enemy of a people whose cities are built of wood. Do not throw any nail-parings into the fire:—if you do, the fire will take vengeance by burning either you or your house. Do not throw persimmon-stones into the fire, or you will become a leper. Do not bring in any of those delicately beautiful Lent lilies (higan-bana, lit. equinox flowers,) that bloom in scarlet profusion on the margins of the rice-fields at the time of the spring and autumn equinox. Your house may be burnt down. Perhaps this idea was suggested by the colour and shape of the flower resembling tongues of flame, besides which the word "equinox" is connected with the idea of death, it being at that festival that the departed spirits cross over the Buddhist Styx. In former days it was supposed that any one gazing on the Mikado would be struck blind, and accordingly that sacred personage's "dragon face" was always veiled by a fine bamboo mat from those to whom an audience was granted. Photography, when first introduced, was also considered dangerous, because likely to absorb some portion of the life or spirit of the person photographed.[1] Belonging to a different set of ideas, and not without a touch of quiet humour, is a charm in the shape of a short inscription which, at this very moment of writing (1904), is to be found pasted in every room of one of the best-known hotels in Japan. It keeps out ants, by informing them that "For every hundred cubic inches of ants, a charge of sixteen cash will be levied." The ant, being a thrifty creature, refuses to enter even on such moderate terms.

The above are samples merely, culled at haphazard. Of other superstitions concerning names, concerning clothes, concerning the weather, concerning sneezing, concerning words to be avoided, etc., etc., etc., the tale is endless. A very fat volume could be filled, were a complete account of all Japanese superstitions, past and present, urban and rustic, to be brought together; for each province would contribute its quota. At the same time all, or almost all, aie now confined to the lower classes; or if they find any credence in the upper class, it is chiefly among the women-folk. The generation now at school is—both for good and for evil—distinctly Voltairian.

Book recommended. Brinkley's Japan and China, Vol. V. Chap. VI.

  1. Photography is now dangerous in sober earnest to the photographer, if he falls into the clutches of the police for following his amusement in any of the "forbidden zones" that surround forts and other places under military ban.