This is one of those little reference posts I like to put up for people. If you look on a Japanese calendar you will often see a lot of extra characters like 大安, 仏滅, or 赤口, but what do these mean? For years, this drove me crazy. At my wife’s house in Japan they have one such calendar hanging in the bathroom, and whenever I had to go there, I would stare at the words trying to figure out what they meant, without any luck. The same words would just repeat every six days.
Finally, on my last trip, I picked up a helpful cultural guidebook, which explained them as the rokuyō (六曜) (also called rokki 六輝) which derive from the Chinese calendar of the 14th century, and Taoist folk beliefs at the time. The six days originally were used for gambling, but as they integrated into Japanese culture, they evolved and reflected auspicious and inauspicious day for things like weddings, and other memorable events.
According to the guidebook above, when the Meiji-era government sought to modernize and Westernize the country, they banned most superstitions, but allowed this one to remain in place because the Imperial family still conducted many events based on this ancient system. Thus it is one of the few such customs to survive into the modern era.
The six days, as you’ll see them on a typical calendar are in order:
“Victory first / before”
|Mornings are lucky, but afternoons unlucky.|
|Funerals on this day are thought to be dangerous on this day as the deceased might “pull” their friends into death with them. On the other hand, weddings occur on this day because friends are “pulled” into the good fortune. From 11am to 1pm, luck is especially bad.|
“Loss first / before”
|Mornings are unlucky, but afternoons are lucky.|
“Destruction of the Buddha”
|The most inauspicious day. Wedding halls will have deep discounts because so few weddings are held on this day.|
|The most auspicious of the six days. Weddings and store openings are held on this day, and even the Japanese National Cabinet is formed on this day when a new Cabinet is formed.|
|The “red” here refers to fire and blood, and other inauspicious things. These days are only lucky from 11:00am to 1pm, and care should be given around knives and fire on these days.|
The cycle works like so:
- The 12 months in the year of the traditional calendar, or kyūreki (旧暦), do not line up with the Gregorian calendar.
- Each “month” has 5 weeks, 6 days each, for a total of 30 days. Starting from the first day of the month, they go in the order above.
- The first day of the month, however, also follows the cycle above. So the first day of the first month is Sensho, while the first day of the second month is Tomobiki and so on. The first day of the twelfth month is therefore Senbu (goes around twice).
- Sometimes leap-months exist where a certain month is repeated twice. This is to correct the calendar when things get too far off, though I don’t know how this is actually calculated.
So, the first month might go day A, B, C, D, E, F, A, B, C and so on. But month 2 goes B, C, D, E, F, A, B, C, and month 3 goes C, D, E, F and so on. Calculating all this mathematically would be tricky.
The cyclical nature of the calendar, I think, speaks to the notion of cycles in Taoism and how good and bad fortune just come and go. Taoism at heart strives to teach people to just bend with the winds, as opposed to always trying to swim upstream, as people often try to do when ego and “self” are the most important thing in their lives. Some days are just going to be terrible, and some are just going to be good, with a lot of grey days in between.
Now, on the practical side of things, the six days are not observed much in Japan these days. As an experiment, I tried to follow these days on our calendar for a week or two to see if I could notice any difference in “luck” and I found no real difference from day to day. Sometimes, I had good luck on a “bad” day and bad luck on the “good” day. Also, I did the math, and was married on Shakkō in the later afternoon, a supposedly inauspicious time, and have been happily married for almost 6 years now, with a cute little addition to the family.1
However, the phenomenon itself, how it relates to the Imperial Family (which explains why it’s still even observed at all), and its origins are a point of interest for me. I think most people are not superstitious, but they may want to consult these days for that extra little boost of “luck” at important events. It may just be peace of mind, if nothing else, and I can definitely understand that. Of course, there are some superstitious people, just like every culture, but based on my experience, I believe the Six Days are more of a relic to most, or just something for the curious.
At any rate, it’s an interesting phenomenon and one of those things I’ve just wanted to post for a long time. Enjoy!
Update: Corrected incorrect information regarding how the cycle works.
1 Since folks have frequently asked, we’ve thought about a second one, but having just moved back into the US, and settled down, we just haven’t been able to focus on this yet. Holiday-related work is also taking up a lot of time as well.