Apr 13, 2008

number 4 means death

This is a room-number plate in a traditional hotel where I stayed with my parents last month.It does not include number 504, and 514. Why?

It is a kind of "triskaidekaphobia". (I have learned this word through the VOA.)

Number 4 is pronounced "shi(or yon)"(四)in Japanese, so people in ancient days had a tendency to link 4 to death that is also pronounced "shi"(死) in Japanese. In other words, 4 means "death" to them. So, still now, some traditional hotels and old hospitals in japan do not have rooms numbers end in number 4.

Of course, modern people do not mind it at all.


ジョン said...

I was hoping to see some of this in Japan, but I think I recall only seeing it once. Isn't nine also sometimes avoided?

Also ... "triskaidekaphobia"って? That sent me straight to my dictionary. It's generally used only for fear of the number 13 only, right? (Thirteen is traditionally an unlucky here in the U.S., as I'm sure you know.) According to a quick search, both "arithmophobia" and "numerophobia" are used for a general fear of numbers. Man, I'd hate to have a disorder like that.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this interesting blog. I'd heard about the number four issue, but now I understand it better.

bikenglish said...

Jonathan san

Thank you for comment. I will correct that expression to following.
"It is a kind of superstition that some Westernes believe, like "triskaidekaphobia"". Let me know about your opinion.


Yes, some people in Japan have a tendency to avoid number 9, but it is smaller for number 4. For example, my parents did not make "餅" for "正月" on December 29 because the day's number ends in 9. As you know, people link 9(ku) to "苦"(struggle).

onoffoff san

I am very glad that my blog helps your understanding Japan.

bikenglish said...

I will correct it again.

"It is a kind of supersition like "triskaidekaphobia" that some Westerners believe."

ジョン said...

Hmm. This is an interesting question. Thinking about it, I'm not sure that the comparison of the Japanese culture's superstition regarding the number four to triskaidekaphobia is appropriate.

The reason why is that, while Japan's avoidance of four is a superstition (迷信), triskaidekaphobia is a phobia (恐怖症), an irrational fear of the number of 13. Basically, it's a mental condition (illness) that individuals don't choose to have. So, in that case, it's different from just having or believing in a superstition.

This is a bit difficult to explain, so if you don't understand, just let me know.

bikenglish said...

Jonathan san

Thank you for good explanation for my quesion.


ジョン said...


Thirteen is generally considered to be bad luck and seven is considered good luck. I don't think too many people actually believe this these days, but maybe I'd be surprised at the amount who do.