Hatsuyume: The First Dream of the Year in Japan
By Matthew Coslett
On January 1, 2017
While in the West, most of our “dreams” in the New Year period consist of our swiftly broken resolutions, the Japanese take dreaming a lot more seriously. The subject of hatsuyume (初夢), or the first dream of the new year, is traditionally considered an omen of how the coming year will welcome you. Seeing certain images or themes in your dreams in the two or three days after New Year’s Day is a sign that good luck will be coming your way in the future.
So what dreams are especially lucky? Bizarrely, one of the most fortuitous hatsuyume is the aubergine (eggplant to American readers). At first thought, this may seem a bit strange. Who honestly remembers or gets excited about dreams of this purple fruit?
This oddity is explained by the Japanese love of homophones. After all, this is a country where children gobble up katsukare (curry pork cutlet) and Kit Kats at exam time simply because they sound like the Japanese word for winning (勝つ- katsu). This love of similar-sounding words also explains the mystery of aubergine dreams being lucky. The Japanese word for aubergine is nasu (ナス) which is similar to the words “to accomplish” or “to fulfill” (成す-also nasu).
The never-ending love of homophones by the Japanese also explains one of the weirder lucky dreams. While most children would consider a dream about a bald medicine man to be a little scary, it is considered an exceptionally lucky dream. One of the theories about why this dream is considered so lucky is that the words for “no hair” (ke ga nai 毛がない) sound identical to kega-nai (怪我ない) meaning “to be injury-free.”
Of course, being Japan, the legendary Mt. Fuji is an auspicious dream, too. As the highest mountain in the land, it has often been a source of inspiration for poets and artists. The imagery of geographical height and artistic inspiration means that a dream of this mountain is always welcome. If you can’t summon up an image of Fuji-san’s lofty peaks, a dream of tobacco has similar effects as smoke rises to a great height, similar to those to which great men (and women) want to rise.
Another high-flying fortunate dream is one containing a hawk. The hawk is a common image in Japanese art, most notably ukiyo-e paintings by Hokusai, as it is considered a powerful bird. In addition, it was a favorite of the legendary leader Ieyasu Tokugawa. Anyone who wants to increase their status should feel blessed to see a hawk flying high in their dreams.Photo by Mathieu Bertrand Struck
The ancient lords of Japan also explain why fans in dreams are considered lucky. In other countries, these are just used for cooling, but in Japan fans were often used by the wealthy landowners as a nonverbal way of indicating that a claimant’s request would be granted.
This connection between wishes being granted and fans extends even further to the lucky god Hotei, who is often pictured with his magical wish-giving fan. Much like a blessing from a powerful person or god, images of fans in hatsuyume are always welcome.
With so much resting on the hatsuyume, it makes sense for Japanese families to balance the odds in their favor. This is where the 7 Lucky Gods of Japan lend a helping hand. Placing an image of these lucky deities under your pillow will help to shift the hand of fate and increase the chances of a lucky dream occurring.
So, this New Year’s Eve get your lucky god images ready, settle down and have some pleasant dreams. Watch out for these lucky visions and you never know — this could be your year.