The Ties That Bind: Fate and Love in Japanese

On March 1, 2018

Photo by Becca Takano

During this romantic time of year that stretches from Valentine’s Day in mid-February to White Day on March 14, as you are lying next to that special someone — do you ever get the feeling that everything in your life has worked out almost too perfectly? Almost as if planned by some outside force?

Well, the Japanese might agree with you. Their language is full of words and idioms that describe our lives as being predestined (usually as a result of one’s karma), making all of us unwilling actors strutting invisible stages and reading scripts that we can never discern more than a couple of words of.

Although this may sound terrifying, the idea that everything is mapped out for us doesn’t have to be entirely negative according to Japanese legends. One of the most popular stories about the effects of fate is an ancient story about the 運命うんめいあかいと (the red string of destiny) that binds people. According to this myth, people are often connected to others by an invisible red thread that predestines them to become lovers even if, as happened in the original myth, one of you used to bully your fated spouse!

Appropriately for White Day, part of this legend involves the fates deciding when and where you meet and the person you will marry. Though the 運命の赤い糸 may lead you to your future husband or wife, the wise man knows not to tempt the fates — especially on his wedding day. To maximize the chances that his marriage will be happy, the smart Japanese groom will plan his wedding to fall on specific dates which are believed to be fortuitous.

These are known as 大安日たいあんび (auspicious days) and contrast with 仏滅ぶつめつ (literally translated as “the day Buddha died”) and are the days that it’s considered potentially unlucky to marry. To further complicate things, there are even days when only 赤口しゃっく (noon), 先勝せんしょう (morning) or 先負せんぷ (afternoon) are lucky.

[Japanese] is full of words and idioms that describe our lives as being predestined (usually as a result of one’s karma)…

This whole process is all very complicated and Japanese wedding planners make a lot of money by helping guide the lucky couple through choosing the best times and dates to be wed. Of course, this complicated ritual can be a blessing for international marriages since knowing that the Japanese tend to avoid these dates allows the foreign couple to negotiate a discount at even the most luxurious chapels.

Check these references for more information of when these dates are in 2018.

Related to the大安日 are days that spell out a message in Japan’s beloved number code. For those not familiar with this code, each number in Japanese can be converted into a letter and used to spell out words. Using this key, the number one becomes い, two becomes ふ and so on.

Obviously, most soon-to-be-wed women aspire to be an いい夫婦ふうふ (good couple). Using the number code, いい can be translated into the number 11 and the ふふ (minus the う) part of 夫婦 can be converted into the number 22. As a result of this interesting cipher, Nov.22 is considered a particularly agreeable day to be wed. As this date is 赤口 in Japan, wealthy couples will likely pay a premium to be married around noon to get a double whammy of good fortune.

While this may sound like a quaint belief left over from ancient times, it should not be underestimated. In Japan, old traditions die hard and there are still plenty of people that still believe these types of stories hold some inherent truths about our existence. Even in the biggest cities you still often hear people discuss at great length whether something is 運命うんめい (fate) or 偶然ぐうぜん (coincidence).

According to people that believe in it, every minor thing that happens in your life is fated.

To these people, even the smallest rock that you stumble over on the path is つまずいしえんはし (part of fate’s design), waiting to help you tumble into the arms of your destined lover — or possibly away from them if you make the mistake of marrying on a 仏滅日!


Grooving to Japan's rhythm.

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