Seven appears to be a universally lucky or holy number. There are many terms that include the number seven: seven wonders of the world, seven deadly sins, seven virtues, the seven seas, seven days of the week, seven colors of the spectrum, the seven dwarfs, and so on. "Seven Samurai (Shichi-nin no Samurai)" is a classic Japanese movie directed by Akira Kurosawa, which was remade into, "The Magnificent Seven." Buddhists believe in seven reincarnations. The Japanese celebrate the seventh day after a baby's birth, and mourn the seventh day and seventh week following a death.
Japanese Unlucky Numbers
It seems that every culture has lucky numbers and unlucky numbers. In Japan, four and nine are considered unlucky numbers because of their pronunciation. Four is pronounced "shi," which is the same pronunciation as death. Nine is pronounced "ku," which has the same pronunciation as agony or torture. In fact, some hospitals and apartments don't have rooms numbered "4" or "9". Some vehicle identification numbers are restricted on Japanese license plates, unless someone requests them. For example, 42 and 49 at the end of plates, which are linked to the words for "death (shini 死に)" and "to run over (shiku 轢く)". The full sequences 42-19, (proceeding to death 死に行く) and 42-56 (time to die 死に頃) are also restricted. Learn more about unlucky Japanese numbers on my "Question of the Week" page. If you are not familiar with Japanese numbers, check out our page for learning Japanese numbers.
The Shichi-fuku-jin (七福神) is the Seven Gods of Luck in Japanese folklore. They are comical deities, often portrayed riding together on a treasure ship (takarabune). They carry various magical items such as an invisible hat, rolls of brocade, an inexhaustible purse, a lucky rain hat, robes of feathers, keys to the divine treasure house and important books and scrolls. Here are the names and the features of the Shichi-fuku-jin. Please check out the color image of the Shichi-fuku-jin at the top right of the article.
- Daikoku (大黒) --- The god of wealth and farmers. He holds a big bag filled with treasures on his shoulder and an uchideno-kozuchi (lucky mallet) in his hand.
- Bishamon (毘沙門) --- The god of war and warriors. He wears a suit of armor, a helmet and is armed with a sword.
- Ebisu (恵比寿) --- The god of fishermen and wealth. He holds a large, red tai (sea bream) and a fishing rod.
- Fukurokuju (福禄寿) --- The god of longevity. He has an elongated bald head and a white beard.
- Juroujin (寿老人) --- Another god of longevity. He wears a long white beard and a scholar's cap, and is often accompanied by a stag, which is his messenger.
- Hotei (布袋) --- The god of happiness. He has a jolly face and a big fat belly.
- Benzaiten (弁財天) --- The goddess of music. She carries a biwa (Japanese mandolin).
Nanakusa (七草） means "seven herbs." In Japan, there is a custom to eat nanakusa-gayu (seven herb rice porridge) on January 7th. These seven herbs are called, "haru no nanakusa (seven herbs of spring)." It is said that these herbs will remove evil from the body and prevent illness. Also, people tend to eat and drink too much on New Year's Day; therefore it is an ideal light and healthy meal that contains a lot of vitamins. There are also the "aki no nanakusa (seven herbs of autumn)," but they are not usually eaten, but used for decorations to celebrate the week of the autumn equinox or the full moon in September.
- Haru no nanakusa (春の七草) --- Seri (Japanese parsley), Nazuna (shepherd's purse), Gogyou, Hakobera (chickweed), Hotokenoza, Suzuna, Suzushiro
- Aki no nanakusa (秋の七草) --- Hagi (bush clover), Kikyou (Chinese bellflower), Ominaeshi, Fujibakama, Nadeshiko (pink), Obana (Japanese pampas grass), Kuzu (arrowroot)
Proverbs Including Seven
"Nana-korobi Ya-oki (七転び八起き)" literally means, "seven falls, eight getting up." Life has its ups and downs; therefore it is an encouragement to keep going no matter how tough it is. "Shichiten-hakki (七転八起)" is one of the yoji-jukugo (four character kanji compounds) with same meaning.
Seven Deadly Sins/Seven Virtues
You can check out the kanji characters for seven deadly sins and seven virtues on our Kanji for tattoos page.