How To Be Lucky in Japan

by Julia on February 23, 2016

Every country has its own unique set of superstitions, a perception of what brings good luck and a firm idea of what is sure to usher a black cloud of impending doom into your life. Whilst spiders in Russia are hiding to warn of bad weather, over in New Orleans these bad morning omens are being crushed city-wide on a daily basis. Cross over to Japan and there’s no shortage of age old superstitions, and to go with it there’s a whole host of ways to create your own luck- here are five of the quirkiest.


Created over 1500 years ago, these quaint Japanese dolls can still be found welcoming good luck and fortune into homes all over Japan today. Their symbolic appearance is said to represent the silhouette of Bodhidharma in deep meditation, sat in the customary zazen position. For those not in the know, Bodhidharma was said to have created zen Buddhism in Japan. A peaceful, spirited man, he is held in high acclaim. These handmade beauties are traditionally referred to as wishing dolls, but have more recently picked up the nametag of ‘goal dolls’. Your goal doll’s sole task is stand with you, side by side, as you work towards achieving one specific goal. If you are lucky enough to receive a doll, it’s customary to signify your commitment by drawing one eye upon its face, whilst declaring your goal. The doll’s single eye is then said to watch over you until you meet your goal. Once you’ve achieved everything you set out to, you should gift the doll with a second eye as a thanks of sorts. Different colours represent different goals, however it’s red that welcomes luck and fortune.

Maneki Neko (waving cat/beckoning cat)

These iconic ornaments can be seen waving in businesses and homes all around the world. The beckoning gesture is traditionally known as a goodbye in Japanese culture, but over the years its meaning has changed.  A bequest that began back in the 17th century, these feline suppliers of good fortune aren’t about to stop waving any time soon, as the legacy continues to live on in modern day Japanese culture. Their origin is unclear, however, Japanese legend holds several somewhat farfetched explanations for the mystery at hand.  Whilst one story deals in decapitated cats, blood-thirsty snakes and extremely sad women, the more commonly shared story behind the Maneki Neko begins with a poor priest who owned a cat. As the rain hammered down, a wealthy lord was sheltering underneath a tree that stood next to a temple. The cat beckoned the lord into the temple, and moments later the tree was struck by lightning – the cat had brought him life-saving luck. The three of them became good friends, with the lord becoming a benefactor of the temple. Eventually, when the lucky cat died, they built the first statue in his honour, and Maneki Neko was born. The left paw of the cat is said to attract customers and if the right paw is raised, this is said to invite good fortune and money. If you’re shopping in one of the many bustling districts of Tokyo, these are a fantastic, incredibly traditional gift to take home for friends and family.

Seeing a spider

For some of us, even the tiniest glimpse of an eight-legged creepy-crawly is enough to make us scramble for the hoover or the nearest shoe, but for others, the site of a crawling critter is a welcomed one. If you are lucky enough to cast your eyes upon one before noon, you should never kill it, no matter how much it might make you squirm. In Japan, seeing a spider in the morning is said to be good luck. Although, that being said, Japan is home to some incredibly venomous and speedy spiders, so killing them is in fact a taxing task that requires some luck in itself. If you happen to see a spider in the evening however, reaching for the shoe is fair game as spiders at night are considered bad luck. From 1.2 metre long spiders, to babies full of baby spiders ready to burst, there are lots of myths surrounding spiders in Japan and many are said to have mystical powers. It is said that if a spider lives to 400 it possesses all kinds of supernatural powers, so make sure you steer clear of any spiders that look to be aging quickly.

Eat a kit-kat

With over 400 flavours, ranging from wasabi to lemon cheesecake, Kit-Kats are one of the most popular chocolate bars in Japan. A lunchbox snack in the west, with little to no meaning at all, in Japan, these chocolaty snacks have taken on a whole new significance. They are commonly given as gifts to students prior to exams, as they are said to bring good luck. The name Kit-Kat sounds and translates roughly into ‘kitto katsu’, which means ‘sure win’ in Japanese. Not only this, but red is an auspicious colour in Japan- it was meant to be. Kit-kats are Japan’s most common good luck charm.

Ehomaki (Lucky direction sushi roll)

This slightly kooky tradition started out as a yearly custom in the city of Osaka, but over the years it has snowballed in popularity and found its way to the streets of Tokyo and beyond. The goal of Ehomaki is to eat an entire thick uncut, sushi roll in one go. A task that’s easier said than done, people have been known to choke whilst attempting this greedy feat. As you shovel this traditional Japanese cuisine into your mouth, you should stand facing the designated lucky direction that changes every year. This quirky tradition represents the coming of spring (Setsubun) and is said to bring plenty of luck. As you gradually devour this mammoth meal, you’ll have plenty of time to make a wish.

Tour of luck, Tokyo

Have you ever fancied a tour on luck? Then look no further. Palace Hotel Tokyo, a five-star hotel in Marunouchi has some great special offers available on their website. A current offer, ‘Quintessentially Tokyo’ explores the best of the arts, gastronomy and natural wonders, as well as Japan’s fascinating customs and traditions. What better way to learn about the culture of luck in Japan than to have a private four-hour session with a cultural expert. This is the ideal way to immerse yourself in Japan’s established, and sometimes complex beliefs and rituals.

The one-of-a-kind experience offered allows you to capture the essence of Tokyo, while staying in The Palace Hotel Tokyo’s finest suite. Highlights, other than the private cultural tour, include a full day art excursion, a one-on-one foodie tour and the gift of a single akoya pearl to take home with you. Enjoy five nights for two in the Palace Suite, three days of private tours, two spa treatments at the in-house evian SPA and a choice of lunch or dinner for two at Wadakura.


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