Find out why the number 4 is taboo in Asia and how it affects their daily lives

Is the number 4 really cursed in Asia? Find out how this superstition influences daily life in countries like China, Japan, South Korea and Vietnam, and how this compares to our Western fear of the number 13.

Tetraphobia: the curse of the number 4 in Asia

Just as we in the West fear the number 13 because of the “Last Supper” and the betrayal of Judas Iscariot, the number 4 is surrounded by sinister prognostications in Asia. In countries such as China, Japan, Vietnam and South Korea, the number 4 is feared and considered ominous. This phenomenon is known as tetraphobia and is widespread in these Asian cultures.

Death and the number 4: a feared association

Unlike our fear of the number 13, the reason behind tetraphobia in Asia is not related to biblical events, but rather to a simple linguistic coincidence. In Chinese, the pronunciation of the word “four” is very similar to that of the word “death”. This association has spread to other languages influenced by Chinese, such as Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese. As a result, the number 4 has become synonymous with misfortune and death.

Avoid the number 4 at all costs

In these Asian countries, tetraphobia goes far beyond a simple superstition. The number 4 is often avoided in building addresses, hotel room numbers, hospitals, and even public holiday dates. It is not uncommon for elevators to omit the number 4 altogether to indicate the floor, or to use the letter ‘F' (for ‘four') instead, as is often seen in South Korea.

Extreme measures to escape the cursed number

In some places, like Hong Kong, apartment complexes even avoid numbers derived from the number 4. Apartment numbers are sometimes marked differently, such as “3a” or “13a,” to circumvent this superstition. In Taiwan, tetraphobia is so prevalent that 4×4 cars are virtually non-existent and anything related to the number 4 is avoided as much as possible.

A superstition rooted in the culture

This fear of the number 4 is deeply rooted in these Asian cultures. For example, in Hong Kong, the number 14 sounds very similar to the warning “will surely die”, and 24 to “easy death”. With such connotations, it is understandable that many people prefer to avoid tempting fate by choosing an airplane seat or a house where they will live the rest of their lives. Even if we don't necessarily believe in these superstitions, it's always a good idea to stay away, just in case.