Japan, like many countries, has some unique customs attributable to its specific history of superstitions and belief systems. Japanese customs, however, often tend to be of a rather extreme variety of unique, relative to many other countries. One category of such customs is in the form of its talismans of good fortune. Talismans of this type are visible throughout Japan and one can likely not walk too far in the city of Tokyo without such a charm being located somewhere close by.
Let’s take a quick look at a couple of the more popular (and possibly somewhat humorous) symbols considered to bring good fortune in the cultural wonderland of Japan.
The Golden Unchi
In Japanese culture there has long been a popular habit of making puns with various words in order to convey a witty hidden meaning to symbolic objects. One such word in Japanese is the word for luck, which is “un”（pronounced “oon”). It just happens to be the beginning of the word “unchi” (pronounced “oon-chee”), which is the Japanese word for feces. This wordplay has apparently led to a popular talisman in the shape of golden feces that is supposedly considered, by some people, to bring good fortune. However shockingly absurd it may sound to the uninitiated, it is not uncommon to find gold plated porcelain statues of golden unchi in traditional gift shops around Japan. It is reportedly also related to a kind of Japanese animistic tradition in which animals, trees, waterfalls, and other aspects of nature are revered for their importance through symbols. While the golden unchi is specifically considered more of a charm of monetary happiness, it is also likely that its potential ability to help with bodily functions is also revered in a society where a person’s center is considered to be their stomach, rather than their chest. A healthy stomach is of utmost importance in Japanese culture, as it is viewed as the core of a healthy person.
Another fun Japanese talisman, which is also apparently considered to bring good fortune for a variety of reasons, is an animal called “tanuki”(pronounced “tah-noo-kee”). It is a Japanese “raccoon dog”, which is a species that is reportedly somewhat rare elsewhere in the world. Relatively comical statues of the animal are often displayed on doorsteps and/or near doorways around Japan as traditional talismans to invite good fortune into the home or establishment. The actual tanuki animals are historically rather notorious in Japanese culture for the rather large testicles of the tanuki male, in relation to the size of the rest of its body. There are even popular children’s songs which sing of its amazing girth. The statues often reflect this and it may be rather surprising, during a first visit to Japan, to see an odd statue of a large bellied tanuki wearing a traditional hat and standing on the doorstep of a restaurant with an exaggeratedly large reproductive section that may be resting on the ground far below its hips. The fact that such a statue will almost definitely be carrying a flask of Japanese rice alcohol, known as “Sake”, only adds to the possible shock. Especially considering that the Sake is considered to be a symbol of virtue.
Hopefully now you are a little more prepared for some of the cultural uniqueness you may encounter during a stay in Japan.