My bad luck started in a cemetery – a very old one, in which emperors from centuries ago are buried. I’m one of those weirdos who believe cemeteries to be beautiful, reverent spaces (though a useless waste of land space) and typically, I seek them out when in foreign places, but this one gave me a feeling of unwelcome, as if I had absolutely no business being there. Not a bird chirping. Tall trees standing at attention in utter silence. A ray of sunshine, muted, peeking through.

Just one person is enshrined in this building, and more individuals in several like it in a row to the left.

These ancient tombs lay like scrolls I wanted to be begged to unroll and read. Instead, they whispered “go away”. So I did.

This ominous feeling followed me to our next stop, a pagoda and shrine at which I bought a tiny little rolled up piece of paper that housed my life fortune. Why did I do this? Because I’m an optimist and a buoyant believer in creating one’s own luck,and hadn’t planned to put stock in what it said, thank you very much.

Said pagoda.

But dammit. My fortune declared me quite unlucky indeed: a #3 (not as bad as a #1 but nowhere near a #10.) A three? Really, Fate? A three. I’ve been luckier than a three standing in the pouring rain/freezing sleet at a train station in Korea when I found a beautiful pair of leather gloves on the ground which were: you guessed it. Just my size. So THERE. #3 my butt.

Still. I couldn’t shake it. I didn’t even allow Patrick to read the fortune part. Instead, I attempted to leave it hanging on a string outside the shrine, as one does in Japan when one, in essence, puts a palm in the face of Fate and won’t hear another word. That’s right. Fate turns we unlucky people into teenagers.

You’re supposed to unroll the fortune, gently tie it in a loose little knot and leave it — creating time for Fate to reconsider. But when I went to gently tie my little paper in a tiny little knot, it tiny little ripped. Like the space/time continuum itself. Again, dammit. Now I knew Fate would not reconsider. Fate was to hold me to my #3.

Which seems silly, doesn’t it?

But in Japan, luck is a big deal. There are six ways to say “luck” for crying out loud. When I returned to my host family that evening, they had already heard about my slip of paper. WHAT I’M SAYING IS: this news preceded me. How, I didn’t know. But rumor had it, I was, big inhale, unlucky.

Only one person in my family thought it funny, rather than a curse. At first I felt relieved, but then he was the one who suggested I go to a shrine the following day to leave an offering and pray for a change in my fate! In fact, he insisted on it, though he wouldn’t be the one with time to take me. What made me nod my head and oblige? I have no idea. Nothing unlucky had happened, unless you count receiving the #3 to be the thing.

But off we went, at 7am, after the hot springs and before the Sakura Festival. Hitomi drove a total of 45 minutes just so I could have a chance to reverse my #3. I took pictures of this outing, but deleted them later, as they were blurry and dark and I think Fate put His finger over the lens.

Anyway. I brought water as an offering, took my shoes off, washed my hands properly, and, at this point, genuinely prayed for my luck to return as I would be boarding a flying piece of metal in less than 24 hours and, whatever, I’d take all the luck I could get.

That night, after a lovely goodbye banquet at city hall, Ka-san and Hitomi led me into the worship room in their home and closed the door. This had not happened before, I noted, this closed door thing. They silently lit incense, kneeled before each of the Buddhist and Shinto shrines, and murmured prayers. Then it was my turn. They handed me matches, encouraged me to light my own incense, and pointed to the sand in which to place it. “For your luck,” Hitomi said, seriously. Then I understood. So I lit the incense and matched her somber tone. “For my luck,” I repeated.

This visit to the public shrine and this lighting of incense at the private shrines must have worked. I’ve had exactly zero bad luck since.

Knock on wood.