Author Archive
Legends

Kuchisake Onna

Informant: In Japan, there’s this… I have to think about this. There’s a women who got her face slitted. Kuchisake Onna, that’s her name! It’s a Japanese urban legend. Apparently she was mutilated by her jealous husband and she returned as a vengeful spirit. She caused a lot of panic, like teachers would even take students home and police would patrol the area.

Informant: Children walking home at night would encounter a women with a mask, you know like those sick masks people wear to prevent germs… anyways she would ask the child “am I pretty” and if the child said no, she would cut the child in half. And if the child said “yes” she would rip off her mask and her face was slitted or scarred from ear to ear. “how about now?” and if the child said “no” she would cut the child in half and if the child said “yes” she would cut the child’s face like hers.

Me: Could you run?

Informant: There is no way to escape because if you tried to run she would just reappear in front of you. But you could confuse her by asking her “am I pretty?” and she would be confused. Or you could say, “You are average” when she asked you and she would also be confused. Then you could run.

Me: When did you hear about this?

Informant: When I was in Japan! People would just warn people against her.

Me: Are you scared of her?

Informant: Not really… but I think if I walked alone at night I’d be scared.

Analysis: It is interesting how while the general consensus is that this story is merely another ghost tale, the stir that the caused in Japan was huge. Especially in 1979, there were reports of extra police around schools at night, and children being sent home because the streets were thought to be unsafe with this story around.

This is relatable to the story of the boogieman in Western culture, in the way that both entities seem to target children. However while the boogieman targets naughty children, research did not show whether Kuchisake-onna had a preference for how well-behaved her victims were. Perhaps the most terrifying part of the story is that the woman looks like a normal person, for many people in Japan wear sick masks.

Annotation: This story was a made into a Japanese horror film in 1996. Kuchisake-onna (Video,1996)

general
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Chinese Bridal Dowry

Informant: “I have little brother, and my mother always used to tell me that it’d be perfect if I married a Chinese man, because then he’d [his side of the family] would have to pay for the wedding. And if my little brother married an American women, she’d [her side of the family] have to pay for the dowry. So that way we’d be saving money, haha (laughs).”

Me: “Did your husband have to pay for the wedding?”

Informant: “Well, we didn’t have a wedding. (laughs.) So I guess he got off free. He didn’t have to provide Jia Zhuang for me.”

Me: “Do people still do this?”

Informant: “Well, people who are more modern won’t care. After all, most people in China wear white wedding dresses instead of red now that China’s becoming more globalized and what not. Many families share the load of the wedding fee.”

Analysis: 嫁妆, (jia zhuang) literally means “Wedding Decoration”. In the traditional sense, this could include gold jewelry, embellishments, red shoes and bedding, etc. Now, it has expanded to include modern things like appliances.

Through my research I discovered that in China, the bride’s family does pay a dowry but gives it to the bride. Instead, when asking for the bride’s hand, the groom has to give gifts to the family. These gifts, “jia zhuang”, are similar to what typical American couples register for. Bedding, curtains, simple household appliances may all be included. Some of these the family will let the bride keep. It symbolizes respect for the family. What was most important was that it proved that the groom was capable of providing a good life style for the bride.

This goes down to cultural roots and practices such as filial piety, and having respect for one’s elders. When the bride marries the groom, she essentially becomes part of the groom’s family and leaves her own family.

My informant is 53, and currently works as a manager for Dow chemicals. She was born in QingDao China and currently resides in Beijing.

Narrative
Proverbs
Tales /märchen

“It is better to bend than to break” – Fable

Informant: “So the story goes like this… There was a palm tree and some reeds. And the palm tree was very cocky, and said to the reeds: “Why do you bend in the winds like that? You need to stand straight and tall! Look at me, I don’t bow down to anyone!” The reeds could care less, so they just swayed back and forth in the wind without caring. So the palm tree was like, “Hmph. I’ll show them.” And one day a storm came, and the winds were all like WHOOO and WUUUUSH [makes large hand gestures]. The reeds were being blown left and right, but the palm tree was like, “I’m not going to give in to some stupid wind!” And it continued to stand very straight and tall. In the end, the winds snapped the palm tree in half.”

Me: “What is the meaning of the story to you?”

Informant: “Well, it’s about compromising with people, rather than severing relationships or getting into a huge argument. Sure you have to stand your ground sometimes I guess, but from time to time it’s okay to let them have their way.”

Analysis: This is a variation of a fable in Aesop’s fables. In the original fable, it is an oak tree and some reeds. Perhaps the fact that the informant grew up in Southern California attributed to the fact that her version of the fable contains a palm tree instead.

The proverb warns against unnecessary stubbornness as well.

This fable is unusual because it does not contain any animal figures, and rather personifies plants.

Annotation: There is actually an overlap with a Chinese proverb that concludes: “A tree that is unbending will break.”

Folk Beliefs
general
Legends
Myths
Narrative

Why the Roussillon rocks are red

Informant: “This Lord and Lady  lived in the castle in Roussillon, which is like this canyon area in France, right? There was this pageboy that came to hang out at the castle and stuff. The Lord was away a lot and didn’t like to spend time at home. So the pageboy and the Lady spent time together and like, fell in love and started to have an affair. The servants started to notice and a jealous maid reported the incident to the Lord. One day, the pageboy sang a song of his love for the Lady, and hearing the truth, the Lord was so mad he decided to take revenge. He took the pageboy hunting, and when the pageboy wasn’t looking, he stabbed him in the back and cut out his heart. Then he went back to the castle with the heart and had his cook prepare it with a spicy sauce. The Lady thought the dish was delicious, until her husband informed her that she had just eaten the heart of her lover. She said, “You have given me such a good meal, that I never want to taste anything else again”. Then she  fled out of the castle to the edge of the cliff, and jumped off the cliff. Her blood spilled over the land and turned it red, and that is why the Roussillon rocks are red.”

My informant first heard this story from a tour guide when he was visiting Roussillon.

Analysis: According to my research, this is the story of Raymond d’Avignon and Lady Sermonde. It is interesting because while this is story is called a legend, it has the quality of a myth because it tells a story of how the earth came to be, and why the rocks are red.

The Roussillon cliffs are a unique shade of rust-red, therefore it makes sense that someone came up with a story to explain why they were the color they are. This is due to the “ochre” color in the clay of the sand, which is a rose-pigment that is often used in the coloring of textiles.

This story does not appear to be very well known, and is only present in tour-guide websites across the Internet. The story has an almost Shakesperean quality to it. The love, lust and tragedy might be due to the fact that France is known for being the romance capital of the world.

general
Myths
Tales /märchen

Bamboo Cutter and the Moonchild

Informant: “There was an old man and wife who wanted a child, because they didn’t have one and couldn’t get one someone. The old man chopped bamboo for a living, and one day he was chopping bamboo and there was a weird light coming from the bamboo stalk. So he chops it down and he finds a baby in the bamboo stalk. He fed her and raised her. Then another day came and he just went about cutting down bamboo trees and this time he found gold inside. There’s gold and jewels and stuff like that. So he and the old women build a nice home and are really happy with their daughter.

But then she grows into a full women in like three months, and everyone is stunned by her beauty. Um… So she has all these people trying to win her hand, but she gives them impossible tasks because she doesn’t want to get married. She’s so beautiful even the Emperor hears word of her beauty and wants to see for himself, so he visits the bamboo cutter’s home. He wants to make her his wife but she is unhappy about it, so he consents to just like writing her songs and letters.

What happened next… Then she gets really sad and stared at the moon and told her foster parents that she was a moonchild and her people were coming for her. This made the foster parents really sad so he tol d the Emperor to assemble an army to fight the moonpeople so they couldn’t take her, but she told him that it was her… like her destiny to go back to the moon. The cloud descends from the moon with her moonpeople and they tell the bamboo cutter how she was put on earth to be punished for a wrongdoing. They give her the Elixir of Life, and she only drinks half and sends the rest to the Emperor in a letter and leaves on the cloud.

The emperor is too scared to drink the Elixir because he doesn’t know what it is so he sends his royals to burn it on the tallest summit in the land. But because it is the elixir of life it never stops burning. And that’s why people see smoke coming up from Mount Fuji to this day.”

Analysis: The original tale is called 竹取物語, or Taketori Monogatari, which translates into The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter. It originated in Japan in the 10th century.

This story mostly follows the general traits of a Marchen tale, but the ending has a quality of a myth. With the Elixir of Life, some variations have the Emperor deciding the burn the Elixir at the closest place to heaven, which is Mount Fuji. It is thought that the word immortality (不死 fushi, or fuji) became the name of the mountain itself.

My informant was retelling this story from a picture book she had as a child.

Many Asian fairy tales have been related to people on the moon. The Chinese story of Chang-E has a similar theme in that the girl goes to the moon in order to escape marriage from a man she didn’t love. In other tales there is a man in the moon, or more commonly, a rabbit. This has to do with the emphasis Asian cultures put on the lunar calendar.

The tale of finding a child in a plant relates to the story of Thumbelina, who was given to an old lady who couldn’t have children of her own in a flower.

general

Krampus

Informant: I went to a Christian middle school, and one day before Christmas break my teacher was like, “Beware of the Krampus!” So I asked him what the Krampus was… and it’s like this mystical beast thingy that comes on Christmas. It has horns and looks like a devil.  It’s like… you know, a man-goat thing. And it takes children back to it’s lair.

Me: All children?

Informant: No, just the naughty children! Like kids who were naughty… you know how Santa knows if you’re naughty or nice? The Krampus eats children who are naughty. And he goes with Santa Claus and picks up all the bad children and ties them up with chains that he carries.

Analysis: It seems that the Krampus appears as a more extreme Christmas day punishment.

 

Folk Beliefs
general
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays
Signs

Wedding Ring Test – Pregnancy Gender Predictor

Informant: “This is how you do it. Take a pin, needle, or wedding ring and attach it to a thread. Then you hold the dangling item over mom to be’s belly while she is lying down. If the needle or wedding ring swings in a circular motion, you will be having a girl. If it moves in a to and fro motion like a pendulum, you will be having a boy.”

Me: “Did you try it?”

Informant: “I did and it worked for me! But it’s just an old wives tale.”

Analysis: This is a very common thing to do when one is eager to know the gender of one’s baby. It was thought to originate in Italy, except instead of a wedding ring, they used needles on threads. Due to female roles back in time, needles and threads were more common in an expecting woman’s life than nowadays. Using the wedding ring as opposed to the thread was thought to originate in Ireland.

Pregnancy is one of those exciting events, and the gender prediction always arouses the curiosity of others. There are several “old wives tales” on predicting the gender of a baby, however some of them contradict each other. According to testimonials online, people will often end up with an even split of results -50% of the tests will predict a boy, and 50% will predict a girl. This suggests that there is little truth or evidence to support the effectiveness of the tests, which may be why the informant was skeptical to believe in it despite the fact that it worked for her.

Folk Beliefs
Game
general

Blow a dandelion, make a wish.

The informant told me that when she was younger (age 4-5), she would pluck a dandelion and blow on it to make a wish. She learned this practice from her friends in preschool. “It was a lot of fun! We would run around looking for dandelions to blow on and fight over them sometimes.

Me: Do you have to get all the dandelion seeds off in one blow?

Informant: I think so!

Me: Do you still play this game?

Informant: Hmm… I think it’s second nature to pick up a dandelion and blow now. You don’t really think about it.

Analysis: This is a common practice in the United States, where dandelions are abundant in the grass. It is similar to blowing out all the candles on a birthday cake. It most likely stems from the belief that if you blow out all the seeds, they carry your wishes and dreams and eventually blossom. It is unclear where the origin of this game came from, however there are variations, such as if you blow a dandelion and all the seeds come off, your lover loves only you. If some seeds remain, he is not loyal. This may have come from the daisy petal-plucking “He loves me, he loves me not”, game.

For the informant, this game or ritual has become so common-place that it is almost innate for her to want to pluck a dandelion and blow the seeds into the wind.

general

There once was a mountain…

Informant: My mother used to tell me a story to get me to sleep. It was one of those like endless stories that loop back around until the child eventually gets bored. It goes like this: “There once was a mountain… and on the mountain there was a temple… and in the temple there was a monk… and he was trying to get the baby to go to sleep, but the baby didn’t want to go to sleep, so then the monk said: “Let me tell you a story… There once was a mountain… and on the mountain there was a temple… and in the temple…” You get the point. It just goes on and on.

Me: Did it ever work on you?

Informant: I don’t remember. I feel like it didn’t because it seems so boring.

Analysis: This story is very common in Chinese culture for mothers to get their babies to sleep. My informant told me that it is commonly told to children between ages of 6 months to two years. The origin is unknown, however it  references the Buddhist religion just like many other tales from China do.

general

Greek Initiation Ritual

The informant is a member of a sorority on campus and was bound to the secrecy of the sisterhood. However she was able to tell me that all sororities have a similar process in which they wear all white – no jewelry, no embellishments, no makeup, no nail polish. In the end of the ritual, they were all pinned with the flower that is the symbol of their sorority.

Analysis: This may have to do with the bridal customs of wearing white. The bridal hue usually symbolizes purity and chastity. Especially with the no-makeup and embellishments rule, it allows the sisters to bare themselves almost literally and accept each other for who they are.

The flower being pinned on their bosom at the end of the ceremony suggests that they are ready to bloom, so to speak, and embrace the sisterhood with open arms.

[geolocation]