Superstitions across an Ocean
When I was in the Philippines, I happened to visit a famous cathedral with two Filipino friends. One of us had a camera. The place was a famous tourist attraction, so we decided to take a photo together to commemorate our visiting. We asked another tourist nearby to take a photo. Then, we stood in front of the camera.
Suddenly, a friend who was standing in the middle said that we needed one more person for our group. He said that we needed four people because there was a belief that a person in the middle would die soon if three people had their photo taken together. He admitted that this was, of course, a superstition but that it was hard for him to ignore.
So, one tourist nearby was kind enough to join our group. We thanked him very much. Right now I am looking at that photo of two close friends, myself and a stranger!
After I came back to Japan, I gave a lecture on cross-cultural communication before several dozens of people in a seminar room. I related this episode, and a member of the audience said that there was a similar superstition in her hometown. After she said that, another person raised his hand and told me that the same belief existed in his region too.
A huge ocean lies between the Philippines and Japan, but it is apparent that there has been some interaction between the two countries. I like to speculate that some Filipino ancestors migrated to Japan with their superstitions many years ago. Or, perhaps, a Japanese brought this superstition to the Philippines.
I will introduce two more superstitions prevailing in the Philippines. The first one is as follows: If someone passes away, his or her coffin should be exactly the same size as his or her body. If there is a space in the coffin, the ghost of the dead person is said to demand that somebody fill in the space. Then, the ghost will take that person to the new world by means of his or her supernatural power.
Another interesting superstition is that a woman should not try on her wedding dress before the wedding. Filipinos say, “If she puts on the dress, the wedding will not happen. A wedding dress is supposed to be worn only once.” So, at the wedding, some women may find their dress is too tight or too loose, but they must somehow manage to put it on.
These two superstitions have no counterparts in Japan. Although some of the superstitions in the Philippines are similar to those in Japan, the majority of them are quite different. But the significance and meaning of such superstitions to human beings are similar whether across an ocean or, maybe, across the world.
The majority of these Philippine superstitions are related to birth, courting, marriage, disease, and death. These are the crucial moments of one’s life or when one’s life is threatened, so it is inevitable that a lot of superstitions were needed to invoke supernatural powers and to avoid unknown dangers.
By following these superstitions, people tried to protect themselves and their family members. In Japan, we also find that a lot of superstitions are related to crucial moments. In this sense, the basic structures of the two country’s beliefs are similar.