If you’re hoping that 2011 will be your best year yet in Japan, think again. I hate to be the one to drop the bomb here, but the Shinto odds are against you. As a matter of fact, 2011 may be your most perilous year yet. Here is why:
In Japan, if you are female and either 19 years old, 33, or 37, you are in your yakudoshi — unlucky years. If you are male, your yakudoshi years are 25, 42 or 60. So if you fall into any of these age groups, you can stop reading now, and just go and sulk. (Disclaimer: These are the yakudoshi ages in my area. Ages can change depending on what part of Japan you live in, so to be extra careful; ask your neighbor). In addition, the year before and after these years are also considered dangerous, but a little less so. You may now whimper.
Most Japanese people acknowledge these years of great danger and do something about it — by going to a shrine and praying really hard that they will be spared.
Yakudoshi seems fair to me, because at least God is cluing you in to possible dangers. You cannot, for example, wake up one day, get hit by a truck and say that you weren’t warned. It’s like Fate coming to you and saying, “Look, this year you may have a horrible car accident, or contract some incurable disease, but I’m telling you now.” Carry your iPhone at all times so if you do have a gory car accident, at least you can upload the video to YouTube.
This Early Warning System shows that we have a benevolent god, or at least one who knows we spend a lot of time on YouTube.
God is probably even on Twitter. Can you imagine God’s tweets? “Just arrived in heaven — several groups of 42-year-old males. Dummies, didn’t bring their passports.” Or, “New arrival — 33-year-old woman who appears to have large glob of mochi stuck in her throat.” Or, “Arrivals so numerous, we can’t keep up with registration. Temporary holding camps on Cloud 9.” God may even have a security camera on St. Peter’s Gate that automatically Tweets updates: “Escapee from hell trying to break in again.”
Some towns have summer festivals where all the men who turn 42 that year carry the mikoshi (portable shrine). So many Japanese men who live in the cities return to their hometowns in the countryside on their yakudoshi year to participate. This activity somehow wards off danger. The fact that many of the men will carry these shrines while wearing loincloths has, apparently, nothing to do with it.
Women may visit a shrine (or temple) for a purification ritual. Both men and women can take part in these rituals which may involve ringing a bell the number of times of their age, reciting safety sutras and making anti-danger donations. But still, I’ve heard that some Japanese people won’t take out loans in a yakudoshi year, because it is bound to bring them misery.
But just because this may not be your yakudoshi year, doesn’t mean you are absolved from misfortune. Oh, no! There seems to be danger in being almost any age at all. Insurance companies listen up and raise your fees!
Oliver Statler, in his book “Japanese Pilgrimage,” informs us that in addition to yakudoshi years, there are a whole slew of other years which he calls years of “Lesser Danger.” This is problematic, because the years of lesser danger are far more numerous: 1, 6, 7, 15, 16, 19, 24, 25, 28, 34, 37, 43, 46, 51, 55, 60, 64, 69, 70, 78, 79, and, just for kicks, 82. That’s 22 additional years of danger for both sexes! After 82, you’re probably dead anyway, in which you are in the safest years ever.
Of course these years of Lesser Danger were chosen before there was a smoking age, drinking age, or driving age. Perhaps those years should be upgraded to years of Great Danger.
So, to sum up, 2011 is likely to be perilous in some major or minor way, and after publication of this column, your insurance premium will likely rise too. A full 31 years of our lives, an average of 30 percent, is going to be spent fearing that some fireball is going to come out of the sky and strike us down.
Luckily, 2011 is the year of the rabbit, a kind and cuddly animal we can turn to for inspiration. We are likely to have a very cute, kawaii year! If you are at an unlucky age right now, and I can be at least 30 percent sure that you are, I suggest you stick to warm and fuzzy activities, such as bunny cuddles and eating lots of fruits and veggies.
And when you do go to the doctor this year to check on the development of any possible illness, don’t forget to ask, “What’s up Doc?”
Amy Chavez is author of “Japan Funny Side Up.”