Translated by Verity Lane
Japanese Encyclopedia: Yaku (Misfortune)
The Japanese term "yaku" refers to the bad luck accumulated everyday. Find out the years when bad luck tend to occur as well as methods on how to get rid of it!
Written by MATCHA
The term yaku 厄(やく) in Japanese, refers to hardship due to illness and unlucky events that happen to us in our lives. Since times of old, a period in your life where misfortune can easily occur is called yakudoshi in Japanese.
What is Yakudoshi?
Yakudoshi 厄年 (やくどし) means "bad luck year", and indicates a specific age in your life where unlucky things can happen. This custom has been passed on for more than 1,200 years.
The Yakudoshi year is different for both men and women. For men, it's the ages of 25, 42, and 61. For women, it's the ages of 19, 33, 37, and 61. Yakudoshi is also referred to as honyaku (本厄), which means inauspicious year. The year before yakudoshi is referred to as maeyaku (前厄), which roughly means "before bad luck"; the year after is called atoyaku (後厄), which translates to "after bad luck". It is recommended that you take special care in terms of sickness and mishaps over these three years.
Receiving Yakuyoke or Yakubarai
The yaku (bad luck) you accumulate from your everyday life can be removed at both shrines and temples. This religious service, called shinji in Japanese, and has a different name depending on whether it is a shrine (Shinto) or temple (Buddhist). At temples, this service is called yakuyoke, and at shrines it is referred to as yakubarai.
※There are some Buddhist sects that may not practise yakuyoke.
Source: Jōkyōji: Enjoy a Concert at Kyoto's Temple! (Japanese)
When you receive yakuyoke or yakubarai, you need to pay a fee referred to as kitouryou in Japanese. The fee is determined by the shrine or temple, but the standard price is generally around 5,000 yen per occasion.
There are many yakuyoke and yakubarai services taking place at the beginning of the new year. The reason for this, is to get rid of the bad luck built up over the course of the year, and to start off the new year with a fresh sentiment. However, kito, the religious service where you pay for divine protection from either Shinto deities or Buddhas, can be received all year round. There is no dress code but entering a shrine or temple does require you to take off your shoes. To avoid excessive exposure (which can be considered rude or unsightly), it might be a good idea to wear socks or stockings on the day itself.