Yakudoshi: Japanese Unlucky Ages

I don’t really consider myself superstitious. But it’s funny that I have favorite numbers when I occasionally try my luck at the lottery. I am careful if it happens to be Friday the 13th (okay, admittedly I am extra careful to lock doors on this particular night in case “Jason” decides to pay me a visit). And when I turn a certain age, unless it’s one of those significant birthdays such as turning 40, 50, 90 and so on, I don’t make such a big fuss about it.  The Japanese have a unique tradition known as yakudoshi, a belief that turning a certain age is unlucky or, to be blunt, you’re jinxed for the whole year. You should refrain from any big steps like marriage, taking out a loan, or starting a business.


Yakudoshi chart. | Jennifer Murawski

Yakudoshi (厄年) is a set of numbers thought to be unlucky ages in Japanese belief. It is not a scientific fact and its validity is debatable but it still is a custom resolutely observed in Japan. History indicates that the belief originated from onmyōdō (Japanese cosmology), based on the Chinese belief in ‘The Way of Yin and Yang’. According to source materials, the set of unlucky numbers changes over the years -Yakudoshi years during the Heian period were 13, 25, 37, 49, 61, 73, 85, 97, in the Kamakura period these were 13, 25, 37, 49, 61, 73, 99, in the 16th century they were 13, 25, 37, 49, 61, 85, 99, and Buddhist teachings state that 7, 13, 33, 37, 42, 49, 52, 61, 73, 85, 97, 105 are considered unlucky ages. The most important idea to this belief is the Yin and Yang theory of the existence of an opposite in everything.

Men and women have different unlucky years.  Examples of yakudoshi ages for men are 25, 42, and 61 with 42 being the unluckiest. For women they are 19, 33 and 37, 33 being the unluckiest. Great misfortune is said to befall men and women in the year they turn the unlucky ages, so it is important to make necessary preparations. In addition, there is an unlucky period from midnight until noon of the New Year in an unlucky year, the day before the birthday, and the year before and after a yakudoshi birthday are also said to be unlucky. The year prior to yakudoshi is called “Maeyaku”, a year that shall bring an omen.

Ways to avoid misfortune brought about by yakudoshi include praying in shrines, donating to temples, and buying temple charms and then setting them on fire to keep bad luck away.