Social Taboos in Japan - Red Ink

What would writing in red ink mean for the Japanese? For the most skeptical, nothing. However, for the most superstitious, a lot. This is yet another popular myth present in Japanese society.

The fact that you write someone's name using red ink represents danger within this superstition. Check below why you should avoid writing with red ink.

In Japan, the people have the custom of making their own tombs to be ready for when their time comes. The citizen then writes his own name on the headstone in red to indicate that he is still alive. On the day the individual kicks the bucket, his name is then written in black on the headstone to indicate his death.

Because of this custom, the Japanese began to associate writing in red ink with death and other things. Ironically the Japanese stamps or signature seal are usually red in color.

Japan social taboos - red ink

What does writing the name in red ink mean?

Given the custom mentioned earlier, writing someone's name in red can represent premature death or a bad omen in general.

If you write a person's name (or your name) in that color it can also represent that the person will go bankrupt. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that the word 赤字 (akaji), which means "deficit", be formed by the characters 赤 (red) and 字 (character).

Depending on the situation (and the person), writing the person's name in red can also be considered an offense because names of criminals (especially those on the death row) are written in that color. Writing the person's name in that color implies that they are a criminal.

Red ink also represents the person's desire to cut ties with another person. This has to do with the fact that samurai used to write letters to challenge the recipient to a battle to the death. These letters were written in red.

Japan social taboos - red ink

The color also represents something that is unofficial. All official documents are written in black, while red pen is used to correct errors in drafts. When names are written in red, it gives the impression that your name is being disrespected and not being treated in an official way.

Does this taboo on red ink still persist today?

This taboo is disappearing. That way, there are people who don't know or really don't care. But to be on the safe side, it is advisable to always use a black pen so you don't run the risk of offending someone. Consider a name written in red like a voodoo doll with your name on it.

Even if you don't believe or care about these things, it's still important to respect and avoid problems. O red It is mainly used on tombstones. Do not use red color when signing cards, avoid even red Christmas cards. Funeral notices in Japan are red.

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