Magog: Unguarded
Magog: Unguarded
Swarming Around... cats living with dogs... total chaos.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Grim Reaper-san

I was somewhat struck by the way the Japanese seem to focus on mortality.

I brought small gifts for my colleagues in Tokyo, and knew that presentation is extremely important there -- to the extent that the presentation of the gift is more important than the gift itself. What became tricky was finding an acceptable gift wrap. This little endeavor revealed a bit of a hang-up...

  • Gifts should not contain anything numbering four, or even multiples of four, if possible. The Japanese character for the number four looks like a coffin, and the word for four sounds like the word for death.
  • I read one article that suggested avoiding even numbers altogether.
  • Also avoid the number nine. It too, is supposedly somehow symbolic of death.
    Gifts should not be wrapped in white paper. It symbolizes death.
  • Gifts should not be wrapped in blue paper. It also symbolizes death.
  • Thinking of red wrapping paper? Think again... it might symolize death. As a side note, any bright colors might be considered too flashy, and should also be avoided.
  • At this point, you might consider black. Don't try it, or you'll be giving a symbol of death.
  • If you ever do manage to wrap your gift, you might relax with a hot shower and then don a yukata, or robe. That's fine, as long as you wear the robe wrapped left-over-right. To do otherwise symbolizes (you guessed it) death, and could cause upset.
  • Hungry? Rice is of course a popular dish, or at least a part of every meal. The word for rice is in fact the same as the word for meal: gohan. Enjoy it, but don't stick your chopsticks upright in the rice bowl. You can guess what that represents.

I never got an explanation as to why death plays such a prominent role in the culture, but during a day trip to Mt. Fuji, the tour guide mentioned a few things that might shed some light.

Tokyo is hit by a major earthquake about every 75-80 years. The last one was about 85 years ago, so they're "due." Similarly, though I can't remember all of the numbers, Japan is expecting Mt. Fuji to erupt very soon, they're overdue for a major tsunami, and people are anxiously awaiting the next major typhoon, also expected soon. As we rode past the forest where people evidently go to commit suicide, the tour guide spoke of these disaster cycles as if all four calamities were expected that afternoon, though we managed to finish the trip more or less unscathed.

Maybe the ubiquitous sense of impending doom has something to do with the rather extensive superstition surrounding death?

posted by Max Power | 12:50 PM
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