Things You Thought You Knew #10: Are Black Cats Bad Luck?

What You Thought You Knew: A black cat crossing your path could cause bad luck.


What You Didn’t Know: Whether you’re superstitious or not, the fact remains that many people believe that black cats cause bad luck. It’s why they’re popular Halloween symbols and why they’re the least adopted animals at rescue shelters. But it seems like the whole superstition may be a little overplayed.

In ancient Egypt, black cats were seen not only as acceptable but even as praiseworthy, so harming one was considered an extremely serious offense (of the same degree as, say, murder). The Japanese consider black cats to be good luck, and even in Europe and early America where the bulk of black cat myths existed, sailors still believed that a black cat on the docks boded well for their voyage. In fact, a black cat on the ship was extremely good luck, especially if it approached you on deck. If you threw it overboard…well, you might as well have been tying your own noose, they say.

But I’m not really interested in the superstitions about how witches can turn into black cats at night (the prevalent opinion especially during the times surrounding the Salem Witch Trials). So instead, I wanted something more factual. In what percent of people does the presence of a black cat immediately precede “bad luck” (negative consequences)?

As it turns out, bad “luck” happens to the best of us, and the kitties don’t have anything to do with it. In a statistical analysis of black cat encounters immediately prior to a coin toss, each person tested did report a slight drop in favorable outcomes (choosing the correct side), but the average success/failure rate was still within that person’s normal range, as proven by prior testing.

To ensure that the study wasn’t too biased, the participants were then also exposed to WHITE cats (thought to bring good luck) crossing their paths. Again, the average success/failure rate changed, but it still remained within the person’s average. It is interesting to note, however, that the black cat made the rate go down slightly and the white cat granted success for the first few throws after its appearance. In both cases, averages returned to normal quickly.

It seems, then, that the cats had nothing to do with the averages, which would have been fluctuating anyway, regardless of whether or not cats walked in front of the participants.

Now You Know: That there is no statistical proof that black cats cause negative outcomes.

Things You Thought You Knew #6: Is a Coin Toss Really a 50-50 Chance?

What You Thought You Knew: If you’re guessing heads or tails in a coin toss, both parties have an equal chance (50%) of winning because a coin has only 2 sides.


What You Didn’t Know: If you choose heads and then begin the toss with heads facing up, the odds shall be ever in your favor for a coin toss. Strangely enough, the odds of winning aren’t 50-50 — they’re about 49-51 in favor of the side that you place face-up at the beginning of the toss. Students and Standford University had a blast flipping coins under high-speed cameras all day for a few days to figure this out. Indeed, I also sat in my room flipping coins for a while, and I was impressed to see that the term “fair coin toss” is a misnomer after all.

There are, however, even more unfair object-flipping odds — coins are, to be honest, pretty fair anyway. But toast…now that’s another matter.

We all know that if a piece of buttered toast falls, the odds of the buttered side hitting the floor are virtually 100%. Such is life.

We’ve also always been told that cats always land on their feet, even if they flip in the air.

The real question, then, is what would happen if you strapped a buttered piece of toast to the back of a falling cat?

Now You Know: To pay attention to which side of the coin is facing up at the beginning of a coin toss, as the chances aren’t 50-50. (Oh, and you also know not to combine buttered toast and cats, or you may create a black hole of some sort.)

Japan Part 14: In Which My Host Mother Kickboxes a Moving Car

Had the clock in my room been on the correct time, I could have slept quite a bit longer this morning. Oh well. No harm done. I’m an early riser anyway.

As promised, I agreed to take the shower first. I officially do not want to shower again for like a month.

Okay, maybe not a month. 😉 But still, this is shower number 9 in less than 48 hours.

After that, it was a short breakfast of sandwiches, soft-boiled eggs, and yogurt and some sunscreen application before Mari held up her side of last night’s bargain and agreed to take me out into Nagoya to show me everything she had planned for a surprise.

Thankfully, she and I have similar tastes.

Because we didn’t have too much time in Nagoya, Sensei decided that we would not go to see Nagoya castle. I, however, am a castle junkie, so I was happy to see that Mari’s “surprise” was to take me to see the castle. We wandered around inside it for a while, and we had quite a few hearty laughs climbing the vast number of stairs to the top. Before we left, I made sure to climb on top of a shachihoko (a guardian tiger-fish that protects against fire); normally they are very sacred monuments, so it was a privilege to be able to touch this one.



Mari was busting with laughter as we had lots of fun exploring the castle, and I made sure to get a quick picture with a man whose job is to dress as a samurai. Yes, sometimes I just have to be touristy like that.


We also explored a newly renovated (and just opened) building that features brand new painted panels of all of Nagoya castle’s old, worn out ones. From tigers to pheasants to foxes, the artwork was incredible and so, SO vibrant! It was absolutely stunning.


After we visited the castle and the painted panels, Mari led me to the train station to meet with Ura, my “substitute host father” for the day since my host parents could not come out and join the fun because of their jobs. I said goodbye to Mari and took the short trip with Ura to join my friends at Osu Kannon, a Buddhist temple.

Once we were all together, Sensei said that we had free reign until 2PM – go where we want with whichever friends and host parents we wanted to. One of my friend’s host mothers was a huge anime fan, so she made sure to take us to multiple anime and figurine stores. One of them had a BUNCH of Monster Hunter figurines.

I about went nuts.

I love Monster Hunter, and I’ve been a fan of the series since its original release on the PlayStation. It’s a difficult game, sure, but it’s fantastic. The monsters are very well designed, and so to see figurines of them for $9 was great.

Unfortunately, my luggage does not have room to accommodate all of my wants. Good thing I’m coming back to Japan next year. And besides, they didn’t even have figurines of Agnaktor or Plesioth, so I probably wouldn’t have bought anything anyway. 🙂 We also went to a manga store (Mandarake), and I finally, FINALLY found some Death Note manga.

You wouldn’t think that it would be as hard to find as it was. The first two volumes are now mine. And I am happy.

Our homestay families were doing everything that they could to make our stay in Nagoya memorable, and that included buying us some great local food. One of the really excitable host fathers lured us into a dango shop and bought us some fried dango on a stick. Actually, it was really good. It was a bit like a fried donut but with sweet bean paste in the middle.


While we were munching on our dango, I swooped in to a 100 yen store and bought a dragon fan. We wandered around for a while (and I found a pachinko ball lying around), grabbed some lucky cat statues as gifts for family and friends, and then joined some of my friends to finally, FINALLY go to a neko café.

A neko café (i.e. a cat café) is a place where you just go and sit in a room full of cats. You can pet them, play with them, or just watch them, but it’s very relaxing and fun. Sensei decided to come with us, and the cats sure loved her! They kept scrambling to get inside her backpack for some strange reason….


Another one of the cats that entertained us for quite a while was a rather grumpy looking one. This cat just curled up in his cloth cradle, peeking out to watch before slinking back in with a sour frown on his face. When was he coming out? I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then, cat. You know we’ll have a good time then.


One of the cats, a young one by the look of it, was just bursting with energy. He bounded around the room, climbing the walls and spinning in circles. He was NUTS. Fun to watch, though. As I was kneeling to get a picture of a lazy cat that kind of looked like Grumpy Cat, apparently the other kitties found my skirt supremely interesting. One of them went under my skirt and started batting at it, and that’s when the fun started.

Cat #1 got his claw stuck in the back of my skirt as he played with it, so he ended up trapped underneath my skirt as I was kneeling. Cat #2 wondered what on earth could possibly be going on and came to investigate. He also crept underneath my skirt, watching Cat #1 try to get out of my skirt.


I never intended to become the cat lady.

After our short but enjoyable time in the cat café, we rejoined our group, as it was about 2PM. Sensei led us quickly to a spot on the street underneath a balcony, where we watched a cool mechanical puppet clock do its thing.

After it had finished, I was just starting to walk away when I backtracked to watch some monks. My group seemed irritated that I wanted to stay for another minute, but I wanted to see what was going on. They were enchanting something. And it was cool.

After we’d walked around to our hearts’ content, we went to Nagoya college to have a 2-hour tour from some students. It was enjoyable, and some students on the large campus seemed to be performers practicing for a show. They were all juggling.


By far, though, the best moment on that campus was Taylor’s bravery in pressing, you guessed it, the bacon button.

Let me preface this by saying that, if you didn’t know, many Japanese toilets have A LOT of buttons that do a lot of things. There’s not just a simple handle to flush – I bet you could find a toilet that would sing songs for you.

Oh wait. They already do that too.

Anyway, Taylor went in to use the bathroom while my friends and I were waiting outside the stall.

“Guys!” Taylor shouted. “There’s a button in here that looks like bacon!”

“You should press it!” I said.

“But I’m afraid!” she replied. “What if a jet of water hits me in the crotch?”

“You want another security guard to come in here?” Amy snorted (referring to an earlier incident where we’d accidentally hit the emergency button). “What if it’s the toilet alert button?”

“No, the ‘toilet alert’ button next to the bacon button is the toilet alert button,” said Sarah, who was in the toilet beside Taylor.

“It’ll probably be okay,” the other Sarah piped in.

“I’ve always wanted a bacon button in the bathroom,” Sarah chuckled.

I grinned. “It’ll be an adventure….”

“I’m gonna do it, guys,” Taylor announced. “Oh gosh, I’m a little scared right now! Wha…wh…guys, it’s a fan! There’s a fan blowing cool air on my crotch! This is really creeping me out here!”

After we’d all recovered from our hysterical laughter, Taylor came out and said, “I even closed the lid so the next person can see it open.”

I gasped. “It opens automatically?”


“Let me see!”

Once our tour of Nagoya university was finished, we were all exhausted and quite ready to go home. Our homestay families came out to meet us, and Miho was (as usual) a bubble of exuberance. She took me to a store, then decided not to buy anything. She was just buzzing around like a bee.

Oh host mama.

As soon as I got home, I greeted my host father and found Himapi to continue forging our human-bunny relationship. As my host father and I sat and talked together, I explained my abiding love of Japanese history, specifically the Shinsengumi.

And I thought that my host dad was a pretty chill guy. He about exploded. In excitement.

Apparently, he’s a Shinsengumi guru!

As soon as he found out that that was also my interest, he just had to run upstairs and dig out all of his Shinsengumi stuff – to give to me. I felt so guilty for accepting it, but he really was insisting that I keep it as the most honorable gift he could provide – a beautiful Shinsengumi uniform and a wall banner stating their creed. He then offered me his golden Shinsengumi sword.

You can’t be serious. There’s no way I can accept something so valuable!


Although I was quite sad that I couldn’t bring myself to keep the sword (for many reasons, including taking it away from him, trying to get it into America in my luggage, and the small size of said luggage), I was so incredibly honored that he offered it to me and even let me unsheathe it and use it!

He continued to explain how all of his Shinsengumi weaponry worked, but I was one step ahead; when he pulled out a jitte (a half-sai sword with a hook on the guard), I interrupted him to finish explaining what it does. He was surprised to see me demonstrate how to break a samurai sword (katana) with a jitte, as the Japanese police did during the Edo period.


Needless to say he was so thrilled he was about to explode.

For the rest of the night, he just couldn’t wipe the smile off of his face. It was obvious that I’d made a meaningful connection with him, and that was meaningful to me. He made sure to switch on some old samurai TV movies during dinner.

Because of my host father’s generosity in giving me his Shisengumi stuff, I made sure to present my own homestay gift to them immediately. My host mother responded by giving me yet more gifts – a beautiful, handmade bag that she had created out of tatami cloth and kimono material (apparently she’s actually kind of famous in Japan for her creations), some miso dip to bring back to my family, and some arm sleeve things. I really appreciated all that my final host family was doing for me! I was explaining my gift, some homemade jam made by some Amish friends in our town, and it was quite interesting (and difficult) to communicate the idea of “Amish” in Japanese. So, instead, I used their computer to find the Japanese Wikipedia article about Amish people.

My entire homestay family was very surprised to see that I lived in a community with these types of astonishing people. As it turned out, my host family respected the Amish way of life greatly and were very excited and happy to learn about them. That made them all the more excited about my gift to them.

Shortly after we’d exchanged gifts and had that fun learning experience, my host mother proved her mettle one more time…by facing a drunken car crash head-on. In her slippers.

Like a boss.

As Mari and I were sitting on the couch watching TV and taking turns petting Himapi, we heard a dull rumble, as if something had hit the house. We both got up to look outside the sliding glass doors on the side of the house above the driveway. Host mama was cooking dinner.

As we watched, the driver (who seemed to be trying to pull into our vertical driveway diagonally) gunned it and shot forward, then reversed, then shot forward again, then reversed again. Each time, he was scraping the side of his car against the house. Mari told host mama what was going on. Host mama gently set down her knife, and the look on her face said one thing very clearly – this, my friends, was war.

She went outside just as the driver was backing up again, grating once more across the corner of the house. She had her arms raised, shouting, “何するの!?” [nani suru no; what on earth are you doing!?] as she ran toward the purplish car. As soon as she got to it, she started punching the hood like she was a boxer.

As I said before, this woman is a beast.

When the driver didn’t stop, she walked around the back of the car in order to get to the driver’s side (walking around the front being impossible because of the way he was pinned diagonally against the house corner). Just then, he put the car in reverse and sped out of Mari’s and my view. We heard host mama scream, “ちょっと待ってよ!” [chotto matte yo; wait/hold on!], followed by a loud crash and an even more piercing shriek from my mama.

Oh great. I bet my host mother has just been pinned between a house and a car.

Mari rushed outside, looked around, then rushed back inside to get her father, who was in the shower. I was still looking out the window, hoping that I hadn’t just heard my host mother’s final moments before she got hit by that car. Just then, my host father practically exploded from the shower like King Kong through a brick wall, trickles of water streaming down around him as he stood there in only his boxers.

He rushed to the window as well, but just then, the front door opened and host mama walked back in, seemingly unharmed. Without saying a word, she went back into the kitchen and, regaining her content smile, resumed cutting up some pieces of melon.

As if nothing had happened.

My host mama is a beast. I’d hate to see what that driver looks like after coming face-to-face with her….

Despite her harrowing experience, she seemed to have no problem cooking up a delicious dinner as if the whole car thing had never happened. She made some homemade tonkatsu and curry rice with melon slices. Thankfully, unlike my other host families, she explicitly told me that I did not have to eat it all and, actually, she wasn’t going to be able to finish it all either.

At dinner and for a short time afterward, I entertained my host family with stories of my time on Niagara (turns out my host father was also fond of sailing) and with an explanation of what medieval faires are and how my parents and I dress when we go to them. They were really enjoying getting a glimpse of my culture.

As thanks for staying with them, my host family offered to help me find directions to the places that I wanted to go in Tokyo; they navigated me through the Japanese equivalent of Mapquest until I had some nice maps and a Tokyo train map as well, which would prove to be exceedingly useful. I am quite good at navigating using public transportation, and having a small map of all the stops and lines is invaluable in a big place like Tokyo.

After such a long, hot day, my host mother insisted that I take (yet another) shower to relax. I complied, not really feeling like arguing. After that, I dismissed myself to bed and prepared to leave my final homestay in the morning.