I collected this from a friend who happened to be studying this for another part of a Japanese cultural festival. He learned them from his parents, who had learned it from their parents as well. To him, they originally sounded very foolish and nonsensical. However, after looking into the context of what they were based on, he said that he understood why the people acted that way. To him, words have a lot of power, especially in the Japanese language. By not being careful with what you say, then it could have truly harmful effects on other people. It is very traditional and a part of his culture, so he was glad to share it. It was collected prior to the cultural festival, but it was at nighttime. The lights were on in the room we were in, but they were dim and the air was stale because the windows were closed.
You are not supposed to clip your toenails at night. By doing so, you will be cursed by spirits so that you will not be with your parents when they die. A variant of this is that you are not supposed to clip your fingernails at night. It will have the same effect of cursing you so that you will not be able to be with your parents in the event that they die. This is because it sounds like “yo o tsumeru,” and that sounds awfully like “to cut short a life.”
You are not supposed to do anything related to the number 4, which sounds like the word for “death.” One application of this is that you are supposed to avoid sleeping in a room that has 4 somewhere in the room number. Another is that when giving gifts, you don’t want it to have 4 parts to it, or else it will bring bad luck.
You are not supposed to sleep facing north. Dead bodies are placed so that their head orients to the north. By sleeping in the same way, it invites you to die because you are now in a similar position to the dead bodies. Malicious spirits might attempt to take advantage of that.
When a funeral car passes by, you must hide your thumb. In Japan, the thumb is called the “Oya yubi,” which means “parent finger.” By not hiding your thumb, it means that your parents will be taken away by a funeral car very soon.
You are not supposed to step on the cloth border of tatami mats, because that will bring misfortune to you.
You do not stick chopsticks upright in a bowl of rice. That is symbolically done when you are offering food to the spirits of your ancestors. In particular, this tends to happen more at funerals. However, by doing that elsewhere, it is disrespectful and you are inviting ghosts into your home, which may have a catastrophic effect on your life.
You are not supposed to give potted plants to ill people at the hospital. That will curse them, because it means that they will be rooted to the hospital, extending their illness. As a result, they can be given cut flowers, but not potted plants.
After attending a funeral, you must be sprinkled with salt so as to purify the spirit of the dead that may have followed you home.
Mirrors must be covered in a home, and must not be placed in front of a window. At night, it is possible that a ghostly woman will come out of the mirror to steal your soul or to eat away at your life. By placing mirrors in front of a window, the good energy that is coming in from the sun will be reflected back out, leaving you with no good energy at all.
You are not supposed to be able to see stairs that go up to the second floor when you look through the front door. It means that good luck will fall down the stairs and will continue to stumble right out the door, leaving you behind with absolutely no good luck
By going to a shrine, it is possible to acquire charms that are blessed in specific ways, such as “getting into a good university” or “always having good friends.” They are blessed by the priests, and usually have a lasting power of 1 year before they must be renewed again.
A branch of a peach tree is known to have purification effects. Keeping one with you is said to help ward away evil spirits so that they cannot get close enough to you to harm you.
There is a game called shiritori which requires two people. The last syllable of the word the first person says has to become the first syllable of the word the second person says. The cycle continues as each person takes the previous last syllable and makes that their first. That is supposed to actually be a charm to keep away evil spirits in the night if you are walking with a friend and there is no one else there.
Sea salt is actually a very strong purifying item. Throwing it at evil spirits will make them flee from you or be exorcised.
Some of these traditions are shared with the other Asian countries, so they felt very familiar and understandable to me. They are also part of my own culture as well, which is why they have significance to me. I understand that people act this way, and I understand why. These superstitions do sound silly at times, but they also have good intent. They are warnings to ensure that a positive future can be acquired. Either that or they are ways of gaining good fortune and keeping away evil spirits.