happy New Year! I’ve got some bad news for you: this year is going to suck.
Well, not for all of us, but for those of us at a particular age, 2013′s going to be a really awful year. The best you can really do is just hunker down and hope that it all goes by quickly.
It’s not because of the fiscal cliff or the release of the next Michael Bay movie; it’s because for some of us, it will be a yakudoshi (厄年), a bad luck year.
What is Yakudoshi?
A lot of Japanese superstitions come from numbers. Virtually every number has an alternate reading, which means that their different readings can give them brand-new meanings. That’s why so many Japanese people are scared of the number four.
That’s also the reason yakudoshi exist. A yakudoshi is when you turn a specific age and are supposed to have nothing but bad luck for that entire year. Those specific ages are partially based on the same kind of numerology that drives other Japanese superstitions.
The Bad Luck Years
Men and women each have three ages that are supposed to be just completely disastrous. They are:
19 years old
33 years old
37 years old
25 years old
42 years old
61 years old
The ages may vary depending on your region and how you like to count age. In different parts of Asia, age is sometimes counted differently than how we normally think in the US — instead of the day of your birth being day zero, some people in East Asia would say that you’re one year old on the day that you’re born.
But why are these particular ages bad luck? Some of them have alternate, bad luck meanings. 42 can be read as “death,” and 33 can be read as “terrible.”
Think that’s bad enough? It only gets worse. Certain years are thought to be extra bad luck (大厄), and some people suspect that the years before (前厄) and after (後厄) yakudoshi are also bad luck, which basically means that you have three straight years of bad luck.
Where does it all end?!
How to Deal with Bad Luck
Let’s say that you just had your birthday and 2013 is looking like a bad year for you. What can you do to avoid certain disaster?
Some people in Japan turn to religious and spiritual rituals from Buddhism and Shinto to avoid the bad luck. They:
Pray at shrines to appeal to a higher power.
Donate to temples for some good karma.
Undergo purification rituals to get rid of the bad luck.
Carry a shrine at a festival.
Other people are less otherworldly about their precautions. It’s not unheard of to avoid taking out loans to avoid bad luck during your yakudoshi.
Ultimately though, probably the most dangerous thing about yakudoshi is thinking about yakudoshi. Just thinking about all of the bad luck and superstition associated with yakudoshi is likely much worse than any bad luck that you’ll actually have during that year.
But if you make an extra trip to a shrine, I wouldn’t blame you.