Everything You Want to Know About the Yakudoshi and the Yakubarai

The culture of Japan is known for being a quirky one. This unusualness is certainly a good thing because it is what makes their culture such a diverse one. Diversity is an essential attribute to have when it comes to culture because it is what will draw people in and it is also what will propel people into being diverse in their lives as well. Of all the interesting things that contribute to Japan’s culture being the way it is, it is undeniable that their beliefs in spiritual things are a big part of this. You’re probably already thinking about the gods and spirit beasts and entities that they acknowledge in their history and literature but, moreover these popular spiritual characters, there is a thing in the Japanese culture known as Yakudoshi and you will surely want to know about it because it is something truly unique to the Japanese culture.

By mrvacbob (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

All about the Yakudoshi

You’ll be glad to know that the Yakudoshi is incredibly simple to understand because it is similar to the popular philosophy that originated in China which talks about the balance in all things. You might know it even better through the symbolism that it makes use of which is the symbol known as “Yin and Yang”. This concept paints the world black and white because it recognizes the constant presence of two contrasting things like good versus evil or heaven versus hell. Yakudoshi is very similar to this because it is an idea that recognizes the presence of luck in the world as well as the absences of it as a consequence of balance. To put it simply, Yakudoshi is a belief that predicts the exact ages of a person’s life wherein they are sure to experience the worst of bad luck.

By Evelyn-rose [CC0], from Wikimedia Commons

Records of history sometimes get jumbled up. Some details from these records might have also gotten lost in translation and some might have even been literally lost. Considering that the yakudoshi has been passed on from generation to generation for about 1200 years now, you shouldn’t be surprised to find different documents that state different unlucky years. For example, the Irohaijirushou which is the document that dates back to the Heian period that states that the unlucky years are 13, 25, 37, 49, 61, 73, 85, and 97, is different from the Shuugaishouo of the Kamakura period which states that the unlucky years are 13, 25, 37, 49, 61, 73, and 99. These two won’t be the only documents about this because, in the 16th century, the Kanei stated that the yakudoshi years were supposedly 13, 25, 37, 49, 61, 85, and 99. Soon after this, the teachings from Buddhism would also contribute a document which states that the unlucky years were 7, 13, 33, 37, 42, 49, 52, 61, 73, 85, 97, and 105.

The thing would become a little more complex because the yakudoshi for men and for women differ during certain years. The earlier documents state that the ages of 25, 42, and 61 are unlucky for men while the ages of 19, 33, and 37 are the unlucky years for the women. These years also carry different degrees of bad luck and this can be seen with how the concept of yakudoshi sees the age of 42 for men to be the most unlucky of all yakudoshi while the age of 33 for women is their unluckiest year of all their yakudoshi. For those who do not know, the term "yaku" in Japanese means hardship due to illness and unluckiness. With this being said, you won’t just be worried about the bad luck causing you to lose a bet with a friend because you will also have to look out for freak accidents that may cause your physical and mental health to suffer.

The Life-saving Yakubarai Ceremony and Festa

By mrvacbob (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

While reading more about the yakudoshi, it would be important to note that there are certain terms that they use. Some examples of such terms are the honyaku, maeyaku, and the atoyaku. You should remember these terms because they refer to the years before, during, and after your supposed “bad luck year”. Maeyaku is the term that refers to the period or year prior to the yakudoshi while Honyaku is the term that refers to the inauspicious year itself. As for Atoyaku, it refers to the period after the yakudoshi. These three consecutive years were recognized because the bad luck a person can experience tends to before more frequent throughout these three years with its height happening during the yakudoshi or the Honyaku period.

Some people might be scared to find out that there might actually be years wherein you are destined for bad luck. If you are one of those people, you need to calm down and study up a little more because it is only then that you can learn that there exists a proper precaution which the Japanese usually took to counter the heavy bad luck coming their way. Since this is a belief that can easily be categorized as spiritual, it wouldn’t be shocking to find out that the counter to it is something spiritual as well. These precautions are called the Yakuyoke or the Yakubarai.

The Yakuyoke and the Yakubarai may be spelled differently but, in essence, these two are practically one and the same thing. They are rituals or traditions done in sacred places to clean or absolve you from the bad luck that you have been accumulating throughout the years. You can think of these rituals as an exorcism of bad luck from the host.  Both are considered to be a religious service called Shinji but the determining factor on whether it is to be considered a yakuyoke or a yakubarai is solely dependent on where the ritual is to be done. If you are to cleanse yourself in a temple, it is called yakuyoke. On the other hand, if you are to cleanse yourself in a shrine, it is called yakubarai.

Nothing in this world is free and the same rules apply to partaking in these said rituals. When you are cleansed through either the yakuyoke or the yakubarai, the shrine or temple that you decided to do it at will require you to pay a fee called kitouryou. These fees different from temple to temple and from shrine to shrine but as long as you have at least 5000 yen for the occasion, money should not be a problem. There are festivals happening at the start of the new year that offer both yakuyoke and yakubarai services. This is the usual time of the year that people get cleanse because they are able to start the new year with a clean slate as well so it would generally be easier to be better and do better knowing that you are kinda pure once again. A perfect example of such a festival is the one held at the Hachiman shrines during the 18th and 19th of January. Within those two days, the priests of the shrines recite a prayer over those partaking in the ritual while they wave a haraegushi above those who wish to be cleansed. These acts are what drives the unlucky spirits away from the host. There are also some yakubarai ceremonies that make use of something called the shimenawa which is a straw rope that is decorated with strips of paper and it supposedly breaks the jinx or helps cleanse the bad luck.

You don’t need to wait for your unlucky year to dawn upon you before you unload some accumulated bad luck you may already have. If you’re already feeling unlucky despite the fact that you aren’t in any yakudoshi, you can opt to receive a service called kito wherein you pay a fee for divine protection given by Shinto deities or Buddhas to you to keep you safe. You may also opt to try to gain blessings from the lucky charms in Japan called Omamori which are believed to grant a wish within the year that you got it. Once the wish comes true, you are to burn the charm to acknowledge that the spirits have granted your wish and that you thank them.

The Other Meaning of Yakubarai That You Might Discover Online

By Masashi Kishimoto / Pierrot (vectorization by User:Scaler) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In the English language, there are terms that look and sound the same but actually pertain to a completely different thing. This too happens in the Japanese language and, coincidentally,”Yakubarai” is actually one of the terms that have more than one meaning. Discussed above is its meaning as a ritual or tradition but if you are a fan of anime, this name or term may ring a bell for you in another way. This is because the term “Yakubarai” is also the name of the ancient and cursed heirloom of the Mikasa family from the anime known as Naruto.

This heirloom is also referred to as the “Exorcism” and it has made appearances in the manga, video games, and movies as well. The story behind this sword holds so much development because it wasn’t always a cursed sword. In the anime, due to the legendary respect that the samurai warriors had for the dead, evil spirits and demons called Oni were also brought back into the world. Evil does evil and this is exactly what happened when these spirits and entities were released into the world. No one had the means to fight these powerful creatures until a man named Eden Mikasa dared to create a weapon that can do just that. Eden used his own chakra to forge a blade from a broken hilt. This transfer of power gave this sword the ability to seal the souls it cuts through which was perfect for fighting these evil souls.

Eden was making a difference as he defeated demon after demon until he clashed with a demon that had just gained more power because it was able to consume an astounding amount of human sacrifices. His battle with this monster was said to last for over 3 months. Luckily, he pulled out the victory but not without a loss. The evil in the monster was apparently too much for the sword to seal so, in turn, the pure sword was corrupted. It was from this moment on that it became the Mikasa clan’s purpose to keep the cursed sword away from the wrong hands as well as for the rest of the world.

Considering both meanings of the term Yakubarai and all else discussed above like luck and the yakudoshi, you are sure to have picked up a thing or two about these less popular and very interesting beliefs found in the Japanese culture. Some people might see it as a myth nowadays but it is undeniable that it once molded the lifestyle of people in the past. It is also undeniable that some people still practice these beliefs and rituals and it can be seen alive in several areas in Tokyo, Osaka, and many other places in Japan.