In this edition of Viewster’s Anime Vocab Lessons, we’re doing something a little interesting. Instead of teaching you a new word, we’re going to be talking about a peculiar superstition found in Japan and other East Asian Cultures: the fear of the number 4, or Tetraphobia.
In Japanese, the words for 4 (四) and death (死) are written differently but when spoken aloud sound identical (shi). As a result, the words have become associated with each other and a superstition has evolved, so much so that some Japanese people will use the alternate pronunciation “yon” to avoiding having to say “shi” altogether. This phenomenon is similar to the Western susperstition surrounding the number 13, but much more common. Tetraphobia can effect everything from business deals to parking lots. Nothing is safe from the number 4, even military aircraft skip it and weddings are often scheduled around it.
This superstition surrounding 4 can be seen all across anime, especially when the story’s protagonist must take on a powerful team of adversaries. These adversaries usually come in groups of four, and are bent on killing the hero, or at least crushing their dreams. This can be seen with Pokemon‘s Elite Four, the greatest trainers in the land, and also in Kill La Kill‘s Student Council, also referred to as the Elite Four. A whole blog post could be dedicated to this concept, known as Shitennō in Japan (perhaps we’ll cover this in a future Anime Vocab Lesson?).
Some of the most destructive forces in anime are related to the number 4. In Yakitate!! Ja-Pan, Kazuma Azuma’s 44th bread recipe is so dangerously delicious that it is literally “to die for”, temporarily sending whomever eats it to heaven. In Deadman Wonderland, the massive earthquake that devastates most of Tokyo occurs on 4/4/2014 and measures in at a whopping 11.4 magnitude. One of the deadliest forces in anime, the Death Note, is riddled with instances of 4. For example, once a name is written within, the victim has 40 seconds to live.
The superstition pops up in the background of other series all the time. In the chilling series Another, the Hospital Yumigaoka has no 4th level, just like many real hospitals across Japan. In certain Gundam series and sequels, 4’s in the Gundam lineup are often either skipped, or destroyed in a spectacular fashion.
Once you start looking for it, the superstition surrounding the number 4 can be seen all across anime and other Japanese media. What other instances have you come across in your own viewing? Let us know in the comments below or by hitting us up on Twitter and Facebook.