Four is not a particularly lucky number in Japanese. Having one reading in common with the word for “death,” it tends to be avoided in everyday situations from annual company health checks (no locker No. 4 when you change clothes, as this might forebode a bad test result) to wedding ceremonies (never give ¥40,000 if you want the marriage to last).

Yet there is one phenomenon where four doesn’t seem to have any negative implications at all: yoji jukugo (四字熟語). These are “four-character idioms,” as the term literally translates, with a distinctive, often proverbial or aphoristic, meaning. While many of these constructions are somewhat quaint and reserved for special situations, they also occur in large quantities in everyday language.

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