Friday, April 06, 2012
Japanese Lucky Charm: Pubic hair
In Japan there is an outlier tradition of regarding pubic hair, specifically that of a female virgin, as a good luck charm. This tradition, while rare, is even to be found among the 8th century Japanese soldiers mentioned in the "Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves" (Manyōshū) (Kamata, 2000, p19).
Soldiers going to war, high school students preparing for an entrance exam, or in the case of the manga above, a professional Mah-jong player before a match, may ask the woman they love for a strand of pubic hair as a good luck charm. This practice is sufficiently rare, even in Japan, for many Japanese to be unaware of its existence, judging by the number of posts to Japanese Internet forums, of the form, "my boyfriend asked me for a strand. Is he strange?"
I do not, therefore, pretend this is a common practice but perhaps it sheds just a little light on one way in which a good luck charm may work. There are theories that hairs have magical power, or that in the case of soldiers, leaving ones girlfriend with "no (or one less) hair" puns on "no harm" (keganai).
Alternatively, from a more psychological perspective, this particular charm is a symbol of being loved by someone, being significant to someone of the opposite sex. For that reasons, I can see how a young man going to war, or to an entrance exam, might feel this lucky charm empowering.
It should also be noted that the use of pubic hair as a lucky charm does not mean that it is any less taboo. In Japan it is illegal to publish photos of the human form if such hair is showing, and Japanese are inclined to use the English loanword "hea" (hair) due the Japanese word being considered too impolite.
Image copyright Itasaka Yasuhiro and Muraoka Eiichi (1977) "Kazebaiden," Published by Commikku-Sha. Image scanned by 近代麻雀漫画生活. Frames reordered to read left to right. My translation.
Kamata, T. 鎌田東二. (2000). 神道とは何か: 自然の霊性を感じて生きる (What is Shinto? Live feeling the spirituality of nature, my trans). PHP研究所. Google Books
This blog represents the opinions of the author, Timothy Takemoto, and not the opinions of his employer.