Tetraphobia: East Asia’s fear of the number four

I have a love-hate relationship with numbers – love seeing numbers in my bank account (as long as there’s no minus in front of them) but hate numbers in almost all other scenarios. Certainly never ask me to add them together or multiply them or divide them or some trickery like that. But I’ve honestly never really been scared of a number. Not in the same way a lot of people in east Asia are, anyway.

Missing parking space

Credit: Halowand

Tetraphobia is an irrational fear of the number four and it’s common in a lot of east Asian countries like China and Japan. The reason is quite simple, really – in a lot of east Asian languages, the word for “four” sounds a lot like the word for “death”. In fact, in some languages, they sound identical.

Lift buttons

Credit: Tofugu

In Mandarin Chinese, the word for four is “sì” and the word for death is “sǐ”. Likewise, in Japanese, the word for four is “shi” and the word for death is “shi”. So you can understand why they’re a little uneasy…

Wherever the number appears, they try to avoid it. Phone numbers, house numbers, passwords, floor numbers, even dates. The 4th April is especially unlucky, a bit like our Friday 13th. Even mentioning the number around a sick relative would be frowned upon, as well as giving someone four of something.

Missing floors

Credit: Chrisobyrne

There are some quite extreme examples of the number four being skipped altogether. Some apartments in Hong Kong skip all the floors from 40 to 49, so the floor above the 39th floor is the 50th!

It was even speculated that China, after losing the bid to host the 2000 Olympic Games, waited until the 2008 Games to bid again, so they skipped the 2004 Olympics.

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About Dom Stapleton

Dom Stapleton

As well as being the world’s northernmost capital city, Reykjavik in Iceland is also an incredible place to visit.

We stayed in a hotel right in the middle of the city and spent most days walking around from there. The main thing we noticed (apart from the cold, of course) was that the people are so friendly. At home, trying to cross the road is a nightmare, but in Reykjavik, the cars are literally queuing up to let you across.

When my partner and I went, in January 2013, the sun only started rising at about 10 am, which was a strange experience. And it got dark at about 4 pm each day!

Dom works in our marketing team

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