Author Archive
Customs
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

돌 잔치

In Korea, a child’s first birthday is called 돌 (Dol), and is celebrated extravagantly with many guests and festivities. From what I learned from my parents and upperclassmen, this celebration dates back to much older times. The reason that the first birthday is so celebrated is because during the time period, babies did not often live long enough to become one year old meaning that when they did survive, it was almost a miracle. This tradition continued on, celebrated by each family for each of their children. Back when I lived in Korea, I went to my younger cousin’s 1st birthday. Almost the entire family was there, along with friends, neighbors, and loved ones. My cousin was wearing traditional Korean clothes, which is known as a hanbok. The thing I remember most is actually one of the key traditions: the fortune-telling ritual. It is the most memorable part of the celebration, when many items including money, yarn of string, rice cake, books, noodles, etc are laid out in front of the child. The adults urged the child to pick up an object out of the many objects displayed before him. The reason for this was that when the child picks up an object, it is an indicator of what kind of person the child would be when he grew up. Indeed, each item was symbolic for a particular future. For instance, the yarn of string symbolizes longevity while the rice cakes symbolize good fortune and strength. Picking up a pen or book would indicate the child would become a scholar, while picking up money means that the child will become wealthy. Everybody eagerly waited for my baby cousin to choose and cheered when he finally picked something up. After this, the guests went up to play with the baby. They gave gifts to the parents to congratulate them and were very much jubilant and cheerful. The food, too, was very traditional. In front of the baby was set a mountain of rainbow colored rice cakes. This was meant to symbolize prosperity and good fortune for the baby. In addition, there were fruits and seaweed soup as well. Seaweed soup is actually a symbol for birthdays and is traditionally eaten every birthday starting with Dol. It was truly not a quiet, reserved party. Everybody was talking, enjoying themselves, and having fun with the baby or talking to the parents about how much they wished good fortune for the baby’s future. Shortly after, the guests began to leave after having blessed the family and given them gifts to commemorate the special day. This day was ultimately very important to me because in my eyes, these events were a time when many relatives, even very distant relatives, would come together. Regardless of where they were or how much had changed, they decided to come together to celebrate the healthy child and to have time to catch up on each others’ lives. If anything, it also was a symbol of how much the parents treasure their beloved child and the hopes that they have for the child they are raising.

Customs

Eastern Age

Eastern Age

This folklore was told to me by my father. He immigrated to America 40 years prior to this date. Having grown up in Korea and then having moved to the United States, he had experienced a slight culture shock. In living here for so long, he essentially gave up a part of his culture as a Korean-American because it was just so unused. I had asked him how I old I was in Korea because they had told me while I was there that I couldn’t drink yet because I was off by a couple of months. In America, I’m off by 3 years. So I asked him what system people used to measure age in Korea, and this was the answer he gave me. I just sat there and listened as he recounted the traditions that he used to follow in an older generation.

Eastern age is different from western age. It’s counted differently. Asian people actually count the 9 months in the womb as 1 year, so when a baby is born, it is already called 1 year old. After that, the birthday is no longer really important. It is still celebrated as a legal day of when your age increases, but that is not the traditional way of measuring age. Actually, you gain one year on the New Year’s Day every year starting from when you are born. As a result, ages can be quite varied. Children who were born on February 9th this year were considered one. However, as soon as it became February 10th, which was when Seollal was, they were considered 2. They are only a few days old legally, but in the Asian culture, they are two. As a result, two standards of measuring age are used. One is used in everyday life in terms of people interactions and fortune telling, which is a part of Asian life. It is rare that people will ask for your legal age, unless you are doing things that involve the government and whatnot. In terms of trivial matters, then it is only your eastern age that matters. The other method utilizes the Western way of measuring age, which is you turn one a full year after you leave your mother’s womb, and is used for legal purposes. This tradition is actually starting to die out in Asia when people no longer recognize the lunar calendar as well. Some people still do celebrate their age on the New Years, however, so it does have some people who still practice this. This tradition only really applies in Asia, however. In coming to the United States, everybody had to rethink about how old they were because non Asians don’t utilize the same system to count age as we do. All of a sudden, everybody’s age dropped by one to two years because they were no longer considered one at birth, and they gained age on their literal birthday rather than the coming of the new lunar year.

I thought that this system was very interesting. It uses a system ultimately very different from the Gregorian calendar that is currently in place. It is not so applicable to me because I live in America, where we use the western way of counting age. However, when I talk to fellow Asian students, they often ask for my Asian age rather than my real age. That is really the only chance that I have to embrace my Korean culture in terms of time. So in a sense, it is important to me because it is something that I can do. However, in the broadest sense, this is an interesting practice that seems to have stemmed from a different origin entirely in comparison to the system that non Asians use to measure time.

Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Game
Protection
Proverbs
Signs

Japanese Customs of Good Luck, Bad Fortune, and Protection

I collected this from a friend who happened to be studying this for another part of a Japanese cultural festival. He learned them from his parents, who had learned it from their parents as well. To him, they originally sounded very foolish and nonsensical. However, after looking into the context of what they were based on, he said that he understood why the people acted that way. To him, words have a lot of power, especially in the Japanese language. By not being careful with what you say, then it could have truly harmful effects on other people. It is very traditional and a part of his culture, so he was glad to share it. It was collected prior to the cultural festival, but it was at nighttime. The lights were on in the room we were in, but they were dim and the air was stale because the windows were closed.

You are not supposed to clip your toenails at night. By doing so, you will be cursed by spirits so that you will not be with your parents when they die. A variant of this is that you are not supposed to clip your fingernails at night. It will have the same effect of cursing you so that you will not be able to be with your parents in the event that they die. This is because it sounds like “yo o tsumeru,” and that sounds awfully like “to cut short a life.”

You are not supposed to do anything related to the number 4, which sounds like the word for “death.” One application of this is that you are supposed to avoid sleeping in a room that has 4 somewhere in the room number. Another is that when giving gifts, you don’t want it to have 4 parts to it, or else it will bring bad luck.

You are not supposed to sleep facing north. Dead bodies are placed so that their head orients to the north. By sleeping in the same way, it invites you to die because you are now in a similar position to the dead bodies. Malicious spirits might attempt to take advantage of that.

When a funeral car passes by, you must hide your thumb. In Japan, the thumb is called the “Oya yubi,” which means “parent finger.” By not hiding your thumb, it means that your parents will be taken away by a funeral car very soon.

You are not supposed to step on the cloth border of tatami mats, because that will bring misfortune to you.

You do not stick chopsticks upright in a bowl of rice. That is symbolically done when you are offering food to the spirits of your ancestors. In particular, this tends to happen more at funerals. However, by doing that elsewhere, it is disrespectful and you are inviting ghosts into your home, which may have a catastrophic effect on your life.

You are not supposed to give potted plants to ill people at the hospital. That will curse them, because it means that they will be rooted to the hospital, extending their illness. As a result, they can be given cut flowers, but not potted plants.

After attending a funeral, you must be sprinkled with salt so as to purify the spirit of the dead that may have followed you home.

Mirrors must be covered in a home, and must not be placed in front of a window. At night, it is possible that a ghostly woman will come out of the mirror to steal your soul or to eat away at your life. By placing mirrors in front of a window, the good energy that is coming in from the sun will be reflected back out, leaving you with no good energy at all.

You are not supposed to be able to see stairs that go up to the second floor when you look through the front door. It means that good luck will fall down the stairs and will continue to stumble right out the door, leaving you behind with absolutely no good luck

By going to a shrine, it is possible to acquire charms that are blessed in specific ways, such as “getting into a good university” or “always having good friends.” They are blessed by the priests, and usually have a lasting power of 1 year before they must be renewed again.

A branch of a peach tree is known to have purification effects. Keeping one with you is said to help ward away evil spirits so that they cannot get close enough to you to harm you.

There is a game called shiritori which requires two people. The last syllable of the word the first person says has to become the first syllable of the word the second person says. The cycle continues as each person takes the previous last syllable and makes that their first. That is supposed to actually be a charm to keep away evil spirits in the night if you are walking with a friend and there is no one else there.

Sea salt is actually a very strong purifying item. Throwing it at evil spirits will make them flee from you or be exorcised.

Some of these traditions are shared with the other Asian countries, so they felt very familiar and understandable to me. They are also part of my own culture as well, which is why they have significance to me. I understand that people act this way, and I understand why. These superstitions do sound silly at times, but they also have good intent. They are warnings to ensure that a positive future can be acquired. Either that or they are ways of gaining good fortune and keeping away evil spirits.

Humor
Narrative
Tales /märchen

Greed is Punishment

This folklore was collected from my friend who had learned it from his Jewish friend. It came up when we were discussing how some people had everything while other people had nothing. It seemed like there was no equality because there was nothing to balance out the two. However, this small folk tale came up explaining that there was something to balance the two. It was a somewhat heated discussion, so hearing this light story was very much refreshing and helped put the matter into perspective. My friend said that to him, it was a clear sign that justice would prevail over any other circumstances that might be involved. In addition, by being so greedy, it would inevitably end in loss because trying to grab hold of too much requires you to let go and lose more than what you were holding on to.

A poor beggar was wandering around a rather busy marketplace. It was unusually busy that day, so it was a shock when he came upon a small money pouch that had apparently been lost. Opening the money pouch, he found that it held 100 coins of gold. Just then, he heard a shout exclaiming that someone had lost their pouch and would pay a reward for anybody who would return the purse.

The beggar thought he was in luck! He was an honest fellow and wanted the reward that was due to him for returning the pouch instead of taking it for himself. He walked up to the merchant who had claimed that the pouch was his and handed him the purse. He asked for the reward that he was due after giving it back.

However, it became very clear that the merchant was very greedy and only wanted to keep the money that he had without giving any form of reward at all. After all, the merchant was already counting the gold pieces. “What reward?” he asked. “When I dropped this money bag, it contained 200 gold coins. And now, I see only 100. You’ve already stolen so much from me! Be thankful that I’m not searching you for the gold pieces and go away or else I will call the authorities on you.”

The beggar refused to be cowed down by a greedy merchant. After all, he had returned a purse that he had no reason to return because he would have been better off either way. He decided to claim, “I may be poor, but I am honest. I will not accept this injustice. Let us go to a court of law and see who is the more correct between us.” They then went to court and presented both of their arguments to the judge. The judge was very wise and knew what was good and right according to the law. He was not partial to either side, but he knew what the law had said, and so came his verdict. He claimed that justice could be provided for both parties who had presented a claim before him, thereby allowing any wronged party to be recompensed for the troubles that they had faced.

Addressing the merchant, he said, “You said that your money bag contained 200 gold coins when you lost it. That by itself is a very large amount of money. This bag that the beggar picked up had 100 coins. There is no reason why he would keep 100 to return 100 when it is clear that there is money already in it and that you would know how much money was missing? It then becomes quite reasonable that you were very mistaken. This bag cannot be yours because that does not make any logical sense.

With no further comment, the judge awarded the purse with 100 gold coins to the beggar. The righteous beggar walked off knowing that he had acted according to what was good and just. The merchant stomped off in frustration because he had lost money due to his uncontrolled greed.

I very much agreed with my friend on this matter as to what it meant. Greed is a very powerful force, but it is very negative and leads to negative consequences. More is lost than gained through being greedy, and so is often not worth it. In addition, the idea that justice is blind is very important as well. Living in America where everybody is entitled to a fair trial, this concept is very ingrained into the general population’s believes. Regardless of whether they are rich or a beggar should not have a bearing on whether they are being honest or not. Everybody is equalized under the law.

Myths
Narrative

Bobbi Bobbi

This story was collected from a friend who is very interested in creation myths. He heard this while visiting Australia from a native there. It came up because we were in the middle of talking about how there were different myths about the origins of man and the creation of the world. It was very light-hearted. It was in no way a serious discussion. However, in comparing the different stories, he thought this was interesting because it was both exceedingly “random” and otherwise amusing. It also explains why boomerangs are so particular to Australia. He was very amused by it, so he felt the need to tell me this story that he had heard.

Long ago, Australia existed in a time known as the Dreamtime. The people there did not have much food to eat, so they were constantly hungry and in need of more food. The god in the sky, Bobbi Bobbi the Rainbow Snake decided to take pity on them and help them acquire the food they needed in order to survive. He tried to help them out by creating large bats that flew around for the people to eat. Unfortunately, he did not consider that the bats would fly far too high for the people to reach. As a result of his carelessness, Bobbi Bobbi decided that he had to help out the people once again. He tore out one of his ribs and gave it to the humans, teaching them how to throw it so that it would hit the bats and return to them. This became the first boomerang. Eventually, humans began to kill the bats left and right because they were able to do so with their newfound weapons. However, they eventually began to get greedy. They wanted to peer into the heavens, because earth was not good enough for them. And so, throwing the boomerang into the sky, they tore the sky apart and made the heavens visible to mankind. Now they thought that Bobbi Bobbi would be angered by this, so they had the excuse that they only opened the heavens because they wanted to thank him. However, they forgot the problem associated with throwing a boomerang at the heavens to tear it open. It came back to them later. Anyway, Bobbi Bobbi was too shocked by this that he didn’t react in time to stop the boomerang. Consequently, they were torn apart because they were unable to catch the boomerang on its return path. As a result of this entire mess, Bobbi Bobbi was very disgusted by man’s petulance. As a result, he forsook them and decided to never again help out mankind.

This was an interesting insight to Australian beliefs. Especially because it involves a boomerang, which seems so much like a very modern invention. Instead of acknowledging it as a modern invention, it indicates that it is an item that is associated with a god. It also has the very traditional message to not attempt to reach the heavens, or else the punishment that will occur will be devastating. It is reminiscent of the Tower of Babel in the Bible. It also maintains the stereotype that humans are foolish in the presence of gods, and that their ingratitude will take away whatever blessings they received to begin with.

Folk Beliefs
Humor
Legends
Narrative
Protection

Horror Stories from El Salvador

This story was told at midnight. The lights were off, and it was during a horror-story telling game. The windows were open, and a small lamp was on in the middle of the room. There was no moon. There was a window in the room as it was being told, and the lamp was reflected clearly. The stories are meant to be told for fun, according to the speaker. They were stories heard from the speaker’s mother, who had heard them herself when she was young. The stories have not changed over time, and are fun stories meant to amuse and frighten young children.

Ziguanaba

This story takes place back in the time before Western civilization arrived in the southern peninsula and took over with their new customs and traditions. In that location,  there lived a tribe that was apparently somewhat similar to Aztecs. At this point in time, their names were forgotten, but the tribe was definitely said to have existed. Apparently, the chief of the tribe would go out and start wars on a whim, because that was his nature. He would go out and fight wars with the neighboring tribes according to his whim and leave his wife at home. Supposedly, his wife was very beautiful, and they had a son together. However, what would end up happening was that while he was away, his wife would cheat on him. He was often away, constantly fighting wars, so he was not home enough to fulfill her desires. This happened on for quite a long time, until one day he found out. As soon as he found out, upon his return, he had her taken out of the village and had her killed near a river. It was a violent death, because she constantly returns as a ghost to haunt men and lead them around.  When men approached rivers, apparently she would appear to men as a beautiful woman. She would proceed to seduce them, and most of the men would be unable to escape her charms. Additionally, once she had them seduced, she would stupefy them. Once they were found by the other villagers, the villagers would see that the men were all brain dead. Ziguanaba continues to appear to men who approach the rivers, and if they are not careful, then they will also end up brain dead just as the men who fell to Ziguanaba’s allures were.

Ziguanaba’s Child

Ziguanaba had a child with the chieftain of the tribe before she cheated on him and died. Apparently his name is Zipitio. He was not good looking, and therefore could not find love, because nobody would look at him. He was incredibly short with a large pot belly and always wore big hats. Unfortunately for him, he easily fell in love with the beautiful girls of the village, but they never spared a glance at him because he was so ugly. However, when he falls in love with a girl, be becomes incredibly frightening. He throws flowers at them and leaves flowers for them no matter where they go. He is a jealous type though, because if they have a boyfriend, he is known to get really angry. If he sees the girl that is the subject of his affection with her boyfriend, he will get angry with her and begin throwing his own fecal matter at them. Throughout his short life, he was unable to be loved by a girl, and that strong desire keeps him alive as a ghost even now. He will still appear and fall in love with beautiful girls that pass by. He will try to grab their attention by throwing flowers at them and presenting them with flowers at every turn. However, if they have a boyfriend, then problems will occur due to his incredibly petty jealousy. In the event that the girl that caught his eye and her boyfriend are together in front of him, he will throw foul matter at them to express his displeasure even now.

La Llorona

In a small village, there was a married couple. In the beginning, they were very happy with each other as the image of a perfect husband and wife. Indeed, they even had children together who she cared about very deeply and loved to take care of. However, as time passed, she found that she did not truly love her husband anymore and she became bored with him. As a result, she cheated on her husband all the time. Nobody said anything out loud, but rumors spread about her promiscuity, thinly veiled behind vague analogies and metaphors. One day the husband found out about the rumors and confronted her about them. She had no choice but to admit to it privately before it became a village wide scandal. That was precisely what happened. Although people were not inclined to say anything originally, as soon as she was discovered by her own husband, the townspeople were very willing to call her out for her supposed crime. For being a harlot, she was given a very painful death sentence. The village decided that the appropriate punishment for a harlot was to be stoned to death. When the day came, all the villagers banded together and killed her. The last thought on her mind was her regret that she could no longer take care of her children. She did not regret cheating on her husband, because he was a bore to her. But her beloved children who had done nothing wrong were to be without a mother. Now, it is said to not walk around alone in the dark. If you are not careful, she will appear before you and cry out “Where are my children?”

Cadejo Blanco/ Cadejo Negro

Be careful when it’s dark out! The forces of life have a special interest in rewarding or punishing you depending on what kind of life you have lived. If you are a good person a white dog will show up. Its name is Cadejo blanco. It is a sacred protector, but it will only manifest its presence during the night. It will wander around you, and it will ensure that you are safe along your way.  It will ward off evil spirits and it will keep harm away from you. However, it is mandatory that you are by yourself. If you are walking about with other people, then it will not appear. However, it has its own form of danger, because it cannot protect you from itself. You are forbidden from looking directly at it. If you do look directly at it, then you will fall asleep and never wake up with irreversible brain damage. Otherwise, it will do you no harm. As said before, this will only appear if you are a good person. If you are a wicked person, then a black dog will appear. Its name is Cadejo negro, and it will also appear only at nighttime. However, it does the opposite of Cadejo blanco. It does not protect you. It does not necessarily bring harm to you, but it is possible that it will. If it feels like it, then it will attack you or curse you so that evil spirits will haunt you continually. It will follow you until you reach sacred ground or the sun rises.

As the collector, I see these stories as meant to amuse or to frighten. They are rather fun vignettes with small morals embedded, such as living a chaste life or living an honorable life. Other than that, these stories are ghost stories that seem to have multiple versions, as I have heard some of them before. This also seems to reflect how historical occurrences may shift and become the subject of rumors and folklore, often becoming more fantastical in nature. Interestingly enough, the basic features of a horror story seem common to many cultures, rather than being limited strictly to a few. I suppose in a way, these stories are not horror stories at all. Although they do involve ghosts, they are more cautionary than actually frightening stories.

Legends
Narrative

The Legend of Momotarou

This folklore was acquired on my friend’s Japanese Cultural day at her Japanese school. The school was filled with many different aspects of Japanese culture, whether it was ancient Japanese culture or modern Japanese culture. It was during the day, and there were many people who had heard the tale and would interject quotes, filling in the story. With so many people, the meaning this story had grew exponentially as the emotionally charged atmosphere gave the story strength. This in particular was one of the older stories that were told from generation to generation. She had learned this story from her parents, but had constantly heard it in Japanese school as one of the traditional stories that would never be forgotten as an integral part of Japanese culture. It reflected the nature of the people, according to her, in being brave when necessary, filial, pious, and ultimately harmonious. All of these attributes were part of the culture of the Japanese, and this was definitive proof of this.

Once upon a time, long, long ago, there lived an old man and an old woman; they were peasants, and worked really hard to earn their daily rice. The old man used to cut grass for the farmers around, and while he went and did that the old woman, his wife, did the household chores and managed to take care of their own little rice field. One day the old man went as usual to cut grass and the old woman took some clothes to the river to wash. It was almost summertime so the country was very beautiful as the two went on their way. The grass on the riverbanks looked like dark green fields, and the trees that lived on the edge of the water were shaking out their branches rather lightly. The breezes blew and moved the edges of the water into wavelets, and caressed the cheeks of the old couple who, strangely, felt very happy that morning. The old woman found a nice spot by the river bank and put her basket down and started to wash the clothes; she took them one by one out of the basket and washed them in the river by rubbing them on the stones. The water was as clear as crystal, and she could see the tiny fish swimming to and fro and the muddy river bottom.

As she was washing her clothes, a large peach drifted down the stream. The old woman looked up from her work and saw it. She was sixty years of age, but she had never seen a peach like that before.

“How delicious that peach looks!” she said to herself. “I must get it and take it home.”

She stretched out her arm to try and get it, but it was too far out. She looked for a stick, but there was no stick in sight, and if she went to look for one she would lose the peach.

Immediately, the answer came to her because she remembered an old spell for similar situations. Now she began to clap her hands to keep time to the rolling of the peach downstream, and while she clapped she sang this song, “Distant water is bitter, the near water is sweet so pass by the distant water and come into the sweet.”
As soon as she said her charm, the peach began to come nearer and nearer the bank where the old woman was standing, till at last it stopped just in front of her so that she could pick it up in her hands. The old woman was delighted. She could not go on with her work because she was so happy and excited that she put all the clothes back in her bamboo basket, and with the basket on her back and the peach in her hand she hurried back home.

She had to wait a very, very, long time for her husband to return home from working. The old man at last came back as the sun was setting, with a mound of grass on his back so big that he was almost hidden and she could barely spot him. He seemed very tired and used the scythe for a walking stick, leaning on it as he walked along.

As soon as the old woman saw him she excitedly called out to him, “Husband! I have been waiting for you to come home all day!”

“What is the matter? Why are you so impatient?” asked the old man, wondering at her unusual eagerness. “Has anything happened while I have been away?”

“No,” she said, “nothing much happened except… I have found a nice present for you!”

“That is good,” said the old man. He then washed his feet in water and stepped up to the veranda.

The old woman now ran and brought out from the cupboard the big peach. It felt even heavier than before. She held it up to him, exclaiming, “Just look at this! Did you ever see such a large peach in all your life?”

When the old man looked at the peach he was greatly astonished. He readily agreed and asked where she had bought it.

“I did not buy it,” answered the old woman. “I found it in the river where I was washing.” She told him the whole story, explaining all the details regarding the peach.

“I am very glad that you have found it. Let us eat it now, for I am hungry,” said the old man.

He brought out the kitchen knife, and, placing the peach on a board, was about to cut it when, the peach suddenly split in two and a voice called, “Wait a bit, old man!” and out stepped a beautiful little child.

The old man and his wife were both scared out of their minds, but the child spoke again:

“Don’t be afraid. I am not a harmful spirit. Actually, Heaven is blessing you because you cried every day and every night that you had no children to care for you in your old age. Your cry has been heard and I am sent to be the son of your old age!”

On hearing this, the old man and his wife were very happy. They had cried unendingly out of sorrow that they had no child to help them in their lonely old age, and now that their prayer was answered they were so lost with joy that they did not know what to do. First the old man took the child up in his arms, and then the old woman did the same; and they named him Momotarou, or “Son of a Peach,” because he had come out of a peach.

The years passed quickly by and the child became fifteen years old. He was taller and far stronger than any other boy, he had a handsome face and a heart full of courage, and he was very wise. The old couple was exceedingly happy when they looked at him, for he was just what they thought a hero ought to be like.

One day Momotarou came to his foster-father and said:

“Father, by a strange chance we have become father and son. Your goodness to me has been higher than the mountain grasses which you cut, and deeper than the river where my mother washes the clothes. I do not know how to thank you enough.”

“Why,” he replied, “it is only natural that a father should take care of his son. When you are older it will be your turn to take care of us, so after all there will be no profit or loss between us… All will be equal. Indeed, I am rather surprised that you should thank me in this way!” and the old man looked bothered.

“I hope you will be patient with me,” said Momotarou; “but before I pay back your goodness to me I have a request to make which I hope you will grant.”

“I will let you do whatever you want, for you’re so different from all the rest of the boys!”

“Then let me go away at once!”

“What do you say? Do you wish to leave your old father and mother and go away from your old home?”

“I will surely come back again, if you let me go now!”

“Where are you going?”

“It is strange that I want to go away,” said Momotaro, “because I have not told you my reason.”

Explaining carefully, Momotarou recounted the rumors that far away to the northeast of Japan there was an island in the sea. This island was known as the stronghold of a band of devils. Having heard many stories of how they invade this land, kill and rob the people, and carry off all they can find, he had concluded that they were terribly wicked and utterly disloyal to our Emperor in disobeying his laws. In addition, he explained that they were also cannibals because they kill and eat some of the poor people who are captured. In hearing this, Momotarou told his father that he had to go in order to defeat them and restore the land where they lived to its former and proper status, safe from the invasions and other harmful things that might threaten it and its inhabitants.

The old man was much surprised to hear all this from a mere boy of fifteen. He decided to let the boy go because Momotarou was strong and fearless. Besides, the old man knew he was no common child, for he had been sent to them as a gift from Heaven, and he felt quite sure that the devils would be powerless to harm him.

The father agreed to let Momotarou go, telling him to go as soon as he could and become a hero by defeating the demons and bringing peace to Japan.

“Thank you for all your kindness,” said Momotarou, who began to pack for his journey. He was full of courage and did not know what fear was.

The old man and woman decided to pound rice in the kitchen mortar to make cakes for Momotarou to take with him on his journey.

At last the cakes were done and Momotarou was ready to start on his long journey.

Parting is always sad, and the eyes of the two old people were filled with tears and their voices trembled as they wished him will, saying, “Go well. We expect you back victorious!”

Momotarou was very sorry to leave his old parents even though he thought that he would be back immediately after accomplishing his task, for he thought of how lonely they would be while he was away. But he said “Goodbye!” quite bravely.

“I am going, so take good care of yourselves while I am away. Goodbye!” And he stepped quickly out of the house.

Momotarou now hurried on his way till it was midday. He was feeling slightly hungry, so he opened his bag and took out one of the rice cakes and sat beside a tree in the shade along the side of the road to eat. While he was happily consuming his meal, a dog as large as a colt came running out from the high grass. He ran directly at Momotarou, and while baring all of his sharp teeth, fiercely told Momotarou, “You are a rude man to pass my field without asking permission first. If you leave me all the cakes you have in your bag you may go; otherwise I will bite you to death!”

Momotarou only laughed scornfully:

“What is that you are saying? Do you know who I am? I am Momotarou, and I am on my way to subdue the devils in their island stronghold in the northeast of Japan. If you try to stop me on my way there I will cut you in half!”

The dog’s manner immediately changed. His tail dropped between his legs, and coming near he bowed so low that his forehead touched the ground, the utter picture of reverence and obeisance.

“Do you speak the truth? You bear the name of Momotarou? Are you indeed Momotarou? I have often heard of you in many, many, places. Not knowing who you were, I have behaved in a very stupid way. Have mercy on me, and please forgive my extreme rudeness! You said you were on your way to the Island of Devils did you not? If you will take such a rude fellow with you as one of your followers, I shall be very grateful to you.”

Momotarou agreed to take him along, if the dog wanted to follow.

The dog expressed his thanks but asked for food, as he was exceedingly hungry having been unable to fill his belly with much food.

“This is the best kind of cake there is in Japan,” said Momotarou. “I cannot spare you a whole one; I will give you half of one.”

The dog thankfully ate the half, taking the piece thrown to him.

Then Momotarou got up and the dog followed. For a long time they walked over the hills and through the valleys. As they were going along an animal came down from a tree a little ahead of them. The creature soon came up to Momotarou and chattered, “Good morning, Momotarou! You are welcome in this part of the country. Will you allow me to go with you?”

The dog felt a spark of jealousy at this and snapped back, “Momotarou already has a dog to accompany him. Of what use is a monkey like you in battle? We are on our way to fight the devils! Get away!”

The dog and the monkey began to fight between themselves, for these two animals always hate each other.

Momotarou forced his way in between the two and forced them apart, talking to them the whole while.

“It is not at all dignified for you to have such a creature as that following you!” said the dog.

“What do you know about it?” asked Momotarou; and pushing aside the dog, he spoke to the monkey:

“Who are you?”

“I am a monkey living in these hills,” replied the monkey. “I heard of your expedition to the Island of Devils, and I have come to go with you. Nothing will please me more than to follow you!”

“Do you really wish to go to the Island of Devils and fight with me?”

The monkey replied in the affirmative.

“I admire your courage,” said Momotarou. “Here is a piece of one of my fine rice-cakes. Come along!”

So the monkey joined Momotarou. The dog and the monkey did not get on well together. They were always snapping at each other as they went along, and always wanting to have a fight. This made Momotarou very cross, and at last he sent the dog on ahead with a flag and put the monkey behind with a sword, and he placed himself between them with a war-fan made of iron.

As they were walking on their way, a bird flew down and just in front of the little party. It was the most beautiful bird Momotarou had ever seen because on its body were five different robes of feathers and its head was covered with a scarlet cap.

The dog at once ran at the bird and tried to seize and kill it. But the bird struck out its spurs and flew at the dog’s tail, and the fight went hard with both.

Momotarou, as he looked on, could not help admiring the bird; it showed so much spirit in the fight. It would certainly make a good fighter.

Momotarou went up to the two combatants, and holding the dog back, yelled, “You rascal! You are hindering my journey. Surrender and I will take you with me or I will set this dog to bite your head off!”

Then the bird surrendered at once, and begged to be taken into Momotarou’s company.

“Please forgive me, because I only saw your servant and decided to fight with him, but even more forgive me because I did not see you. I am a miserable bird called a pheasant. It is very generous of you to pardon my rudeness and to take me with you. Please allow me to follow you behind the dog and the monkey!”

“That is the correct choice,” said Momotarou, smiling. “Come and join us in our raid on the devils.”

“Are you going to take this bird with you also?” asked the dog, interrupting.

“Why do you ask such an unnecessary question? Didn’t you hear what I said? I take the bird with me because I wish to!”

“Humph!” said the dog.

Then Momotarou stood and scolded all of his companions, “Now all of you must listen to me. The first thing necessary in an army is harmony. A wise saying says that ‘Advantage on earth is better than advantage in Heaven!’ Union is better than any earthly gain. When we are not at peace amongst ourselves it is no easy thing to subdue an enemy. From now, you three, the dog, the monkey and the pheasant, must be friends with one mind. The one who first begins a quarrel will be discharged on the spot!”

All the three promised not to quarrel. The pheasant was now made a member of Momotarou’s team, and received half a cake. Because Momotarou’s influence was so great, his three companions became very good friends, and hurried onwards with him as their leader. After hurrying on day after day they at last came out upon the shore of the North-Eastern Sea. Unfortunately, they could not see anything that remotely resembled an island; all they could see was the never ending sea. Now, the dog and the monkey and the pheasant had come bravely all the way through the long valleys and over the hills, but they had never seen the sea before, and were exceedingly scared. They wanted to ask Momotarou how were they to cross the water and get to the Island of Devils?

Momotarou soon saw that they were daunted by the sight of the sea, and to try them he spoke loudly and cajoled them with, “Why do you hesitate? Could it be that all of you are afraid of the sea? Oh! How cowardly! It is impossible to take such weak creatures as you with me to fight the demons. It will be far better for me to go alone. I discharge you all at once!”

The three animals were taken aback at this sharp reproof, and clung to Momotarou’s sleeve, begging him not to send them away.

All three animals disputed this accusation that they were afraid, and each of them individually told Momotarou that they were not afraid at all; it was only his misperception that resulted in them thinking that they were afraid.

Having gained courage, facing the prospect of being left behind, they had now become much less fearful of the ocean, so Momotarou agreed to take them with him.

Momotarou somehow acquired a small boat, and they all got on board. The wind and weather were wonderful, and the ship went swiftly over the sea. It was the first time they had ever been on the water, and so at first the dog, the monkey and the pheasant were frightened at the waves, but by and by they grew accustomed to the water and they quickly became quite happy again. Every day they paced the deck of their little ship, eagerly looking out for the demons’ island.

When they grew tired of this, they told each other stories of all their accomplishments of which they were proud, and then played games together; and Momotarou found much to amuse him in listening to the three animals and watching their antics, because this way he forgot that the length of the journey and that he was so tired of being on a voyage doing nothing. He longed to be at work killing the monsters that had done so much harm in his country.

As the wind continually blew in their favor and did not send any storms in their way, one day when the sun was shining brightly, land was visible to the four watchers at the bow.

Momotarou knew at once that what they saw was the devils’ stronghold. On the top was a large castle. Now that he was so close, he was deep in thought wondering how he should begin the attack. His three followers watched him, waiting for orders. At last he called to the pheasant and told it to taunt the demons so that they would come out and be enraged. Essentially, he wanted to have them engage in combat.

The pheasant at once obeyed. He flew off from the ship beating the air. The bird soon reached the island and took up his position on the roof in the middle of the castle, and proclaimed loudly, “All you devils listen! The great Japanese general Momotarou has come to fight and defeat all of you. If you wish to remain alive, surrender at once, and break off the horns that grow on your forehead. If you do not surrender at once, make up your mind to fight, we, the pheasant, the dog and the monkey, will kill you all by biting and tearing you to death!”

The horned demons looking up and only seeing a pheasant, laughed amongst themselves saying, “A wild pheasant? It is ridiculous to hear such words from you. Just wait until you receive a blow from one of our iron bars!”

Thanks to the pheasant’s words, the devils soon became very angry. They shook their horns and their wild manes of blood red hair fiercely, and ran to their wardrobes so that they could put on tiger skin trousers to make themselves look more terrible. They then brought out great iron bars and ran to where the pheasant perched and tried to knock him down. The pheasant flew to one side to escape the blow, and then attacked the head of first one and then another demon. He flew round and round them, beating the air with his wings so strongly, that the devils began to wonder whether they had to fight one or many more birds.

In the meantime, Momotarou had brought his ship to land. As they had approached, he saw that the large castle was surrounded by high walls and large iron gates and was strongly fortified meaning that he would have a very difficult time reaching it.

Momotarou landed, and with the hope of finding some way of entrance, walked up the path towards the top, followed by the monkey and the dog. They soon came upon two beautiful damsels washing clothes in a stream. Momotarou saw that the clothes were blood-stained, and that as the two maidens washed, the tears were falling fast down their cheeks. He stopped and spoke to them asking them who they were, and why they were crying so much.

They explained that they were captives of the Demon King who were carried away from their homes in the dead of night to this island. Apparently, they were the daughters of Daimyous, and were obliged to be his servants until one day when they will die and be eaten, which was indicated by the blood stained clothes they were washing. They screamed out, asking who would save them from their misery, and their tears burst out afresh at this horrible thought.

Momotarou bravely exclaimed that he would rescue them from their misery, and that as long as they showed him a way into the castle, he would be sure to set them free. Then the two ladies led the way and showed Momotarou a little back door in the lowest part of the castle wall that was very small, but just big enough for Momotarou to fit in. The pheasant saw Momotarou and his little band rush in at the back.

Momotarou’s slaughtered the devils with the three companions that had followed him. At first their foe had been a single bird, the pheasant, but Momotarou and the dog and the monkey had joined the fray. The devils were extremely scared and confused for the four enemies fought like a hundred. Some of the devils were cast out of the castle and fell to their deaths by being dashed to pieces on the rocks beneath; others fell into the sea and were drowned; many were beaten to death by the three animals.

The chief of the devils at last was the only one left. He made up his mind to surrender, for he knew that his enemy was stronger than mortal man.

He came up humbly to Momotarou and threw down his iron bar, and knelt in front of Momotarou. He broke off the horns on his head in token of submission, for they were the sign of his strength and power and asked Momotarou to spare his life because he did not want to die.

Momotarou laughed.

“How unusual it is for a devil to ask that I spare his life! I cannot spare your life, because you have killed and tortured many people and robbed our country for many years.”

Then Momotarou tied the devil chief up and gave him to the monkey. Having done this, he set the prisoners free and gathered together all the treasure he found. The dog and the pheasant carried home the plunder, and Momotarou returned triumphantly to his home, taking with him the devil chief as a captive. The two poor damsels, daughters of Daimyous, and others whom were kidnapped as slaves, were taken safely to their own homes and delivered to their parents. The whole country made a hero of Momotarou on his triumphant return, and rejoiced that the country was now freed from the devils that had been a terror of the land for a long time. The old couple’s joy was greater than ever, and the treasure Momotarou had brought home with him enabled them to live in peace and plenty to the end of their days.

As the collector, the story was very intriguing. Surrounded by so many people believing the same story, it gave it a much greater weight that made it so much more meaningful. It was a reminder of how much people are bound together by their ethnicity and race, regardless of where they are in their walks of life. This story also connects to other folklore that is prominent in Japanese culture—where peach trees are sacred, and the wood of a peach tree will ward away evil demons as a powerful holy symbol. This story seems to express the pride and fierce believe in morality and honor that the people are expected to express. It has the people’s fierceness, and it is in no way lacking as a representation of the Japanese people.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Foodways

Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine

This folklore was collected from my friend who practices acupuncture and uses herbal medicine instead of drugs. It has to do with her culture as a Taiwanese-American. She learned the practice from her father. The practice is important to her because not only is it a large part of her culture as an alternative medicine that originated from Asia, but it is also important because it is a way that she can help other people develop good health. To her, it is a way of embracing her individuality and her culture while being utilitarian. We were talking about the concept of balance within the body one day after learning about how the body balances its own changes to ensure that the body will be able to survive. She brought up how acupuncture uses another standard to determine the state of illness and uses less unnatural means of treating disease.

According to her, disease is not specifically caused by the diseases that people normally suffer from. Instead they suffer from an imbalance of qi in their body, which is wreaking havoc on the internal balance that is usually present. People are a balance of yin, yang, and the five traditional elements of fire, water, wood, metal, and earth. When there is a buildup of one that affects the body, the qi loses its effectiveness in flowing throughout the body. That then causes the illnesses which people identify through the symptoms of the patient and their pulse. When qi is stagnant and is not flowing readily through the body, which poses a serious risk. As a result, acupuncturists will use needles in order to stimulate the acupuncture points. Qi is said to flow in channels along the body with a large number of accompanying and interconnected acupuncture points. In stimulating specific acupuncture points, a specific area of the body will be affected and allow the qi to flow properly. The proper points must be stimulated, however. According to the speaker, by stimulating the wrong points at the same time, there could be much more massive harm done to the ill person. This is why during headaches, it is recommended to not rub the center of your forehead. There is a pressure point there, but that is along a meridian that is very influential on your health. Stimulating that specific pressure point by rubbing it or tapping on it will only make it worse. Stimulating the acupuncture points on the side of the head are usually more effective because they help to relieve the stagnating qi flow and balance out the elements within the body.

Acupuncture is not the only way to healing illnesses. Usually, more often than not, food can also help heal the illnesses without requiring acupuncture. Along with poor qi flow within the body, are also external factors such as temperature and humidity. For example, when the body is too hot, which is indicated through fever, redness, swelling, and other such symptoms, the body must be cooled with a food item that has the innate property of coldness such as peony. In counter balancing the elements that are in disharmony, the body will eventually recover and will no longer be ill. In this way, bodies that are suffering from cold must be warmed with something hot. Something that is chill will be cured with something warm. There must be great caution not to be excess, or the body will again be imbalanced and a new illness will erupt. Perhaps the most common herb is ginseng. It is widely acknowledged as a powerful medicine. It has wide effects, and is known as a warm herb. It will cause an increase in energy, blood flow, and is widely good for health. The meridian it stimulates helps regulate qi flow as well. However, in excess, its medicinal properties are too strong, and it will be dangerous for the health to continue taking it. In most cases, acupuncture and traditional medicine will go together to work in unison to help cure the problem. Acupuncture places a burden on an ill person especially since it involves regulating qi flow. If the qi flow changes very suddenly, then it can be dangerous to the person’s health. As a result, by using food along with less intensive acupuncture, the person will more naturally adapt to the change and be much healthier. Adding yin to excess yang and adding yang to excess yin is one of the fundamentals. Balancing fire, water, earth, wood, and metal with their respective counter elements is also an essential part of this. When the cycle continues naturally, then the person will be at optimal health.

These are holistic forms of medicine and curing disease. Although they are not “proven” because they use Eastern ideas instead of western, they still provide means of providing aid for people. By balancing out their internal state, they will find true harmony within themselves and be at peace. They will no longer be ill through this curing of the body’s ills.

I find the concept of acupuncture very interesting. I do find that it is effective, having undergone it myself. It is also important as an Asian cultural practice. It reveals another way of looking at medicine instead of being limited to one way in particular. In doing so, it opens up the possibilities that a better cure will be found for diseases that are known and present. While listening to her explanation, it seemed to make sense. In a sense, it is a cultural legacy that is passed on from generation to generation. The Asian people are indicated to be very in touch with nature through this particularly because the concepts of the body and the natural occurrences of illness are all linked to natural elements of the earth. In maintaining harmony within the body with the elements and outside of it, then everything has met its equilibrium point. It is an indicator that people are constantly searching for harmony in their lives. Without it, people find that they are ill and need to regain that inner balance.

Legends
Narrative

JangHwa HongRyeon

This story was told on a Sunday afternoon. She had just heard the story being told to one of her younger cousins, because it is very much the Korean version of Cinderella. It reminded her of the belief that children who showed much filial piety were granted good afterlives, and that evil is always repaid with evil. It is also meant to teach young men to keep watch for evil women and make sure that they were never sought for as wives. It also had the effect of teaching women what qualified as a wicked wife, and what was really meant by a caring mother. It follows very Confucian ideals, which is also an inherent part of Korean culture as well. The topic matter prior to this had been about dating, and this story was just something that came up as a result of that.

In the time of Great King Sejong, there was a man named Bae Mu Ryong who lived in Chul-San-Gun in the province of Pyong-An. He was born pretty well off because he did well enough with business, and his family was good so there was nothing for him to be jealous of. It was just that he had no children to pass on his name, so he was very, very, sad. One day, his wife, while dreaming, thought that a celestial being had come down and given her a flower. In giving her a flower, the wind blew and the flower slowly changed into a beautiful girl. The wife was so shocked by this that she woke up. She decided to tell this to her husband, who responded, “The heavens must have noticed that we have no children and are watching over us to provide that precious child for us.” Because he said that, the two became very happy. After this moment, the wife found out that she was pregnant with a child. They found that when she was born, she was so precious and particularly beautiful that they had to call her “JangHwa” (Rose-Flower) because she resembled precious jewels. When JangHwa was two, the mother gave birth to another child. Although the couple desperately wanted a son, they came to have another daughter. In their mind, because there was no other choice, gave her the name HongRyeon (Red-Lotus). The two sisters, as they grew older, became extremely beautiful and were extremely filially pious children. After raising such daughters, the couple found that they loved their daughters to an amount that nobody could compare with. However, there were no sons, so the couple was always worried about continuing the family line. But there was a time of sadness and the wife became very ill and was unable to move. The husband went and got medicine for her, but there was not even a single change in her condition. JangHwa looked up to the heavens to ask for the help of the gods in keeping her mother safe, but to no avail because the gods could not intervene in the event of illness. As a result, the mother died, leaving two daughters behind with the father all alone in the world.

“In the last life, she must have accumulated much bad sin in order to have left the world this early. Although it is not sad to die, it is sad that JangHwa and HongRyeon cannot close their eyes to the fact that they will have nobody to guide them throughout their lives. All I can do is wish for my wife to pass peacefully on, so that her weary soul can finally change and have rest and be reincarnated into another woman. Perhaps I will be able to meet her again and we will fall in love again and be reunited.” After lamenting so, the old man had no choice but to move on.

Despite having loved his former wife, the old man wished to preserve his family’s bloodline, so he remarried another woman. She was fertile, and was able to bear him three boys, much to his pleasure. She on the other hand, despised JangHwa and HongRyeon immensely. The two girls’ father had fallen in love with a shrew, with both a twisted heart and twisted body. She was clever, however, and was able to deceive the father into believing that she cared for the two girls as her own children. However, that only continued until she had borne three sons to her husband, which gave her much power in the family, as boys were valued more than girls because they could continue the bloodline. As soon as her position in the household became stable, she became extremely abusive to both JangHwa and HongRyeon, who did nothing but behave as filially pious daughters. Despite the constant stream of abuse that both of the girls faced, they did not say a single word to their father because they did not want to worry him or have him feel guilty about marrying the woman. Unfortunately, their younger brothers were no better. Having been raised and spoiled by their mother, they felt no love for their sisters and mistreated them with a terrible brutality. Sadly, even that went unnoticed by the father. As the boys grew up, they only became wicked along with their mother, who cared even less about the girls. But even in such an environment where they received no love and were treated so terribly by their stepmother and their younger brothers, the two girls continued to grow beautifully throughout their adolescence into adulthood. Eventually, the time came when the two girls could no longer truly be called girls, because they had truly matured into beautiful women who were ready to leave the home and start families of their own. Janghwa had actually gotten engaged with a man she loved very much, and was contemplating marriage. After a long period of time with much deliberation, she agreed to marry the man she was engaged to. The father, despite the sadness he felt at giving his daughter away to another family, was overjoyed at the fact that his beloved daughter was finally getting married.

The father told his wife, “Go and help prepare a wedding for JangHwa. She is old enough to move out of the home now, and she is exceedingly beautiful! Surely she will make a wonderful bride. Do this, and do it well.” However, the stepmother refused to do so. Having become very power hungry, she no longer thought of JangHwa and HongRyeon as even remotely part of her family. In her mind, they had become the extra mouths to feed and essentially slaves to the “main family” of the stepmother and her three sons. She didn’t want to spend any of her money, or any money that could be inherited by her sons on the ones in the family who weren’t even hers. And in her endless greed, she calculated, plotted, and finally came up with a plan. Having wanted to get rid of JangHwa for a long time, the stepmother was prepared to do anything. And so, one night, she carried out her plan.

One night, as JangHwa was sleeping peacefully in her bed, she quietly whispered to her son, “We must do this tonight. Go find a rat, and without anybody seeing you, go skin it. Slip it into her bed, and then leave. Let no one see you. Be silent, and be sneaky. With this, we shall finally be rid of that wench who thought she could use up our family’s money for her own selfish desires!”

Her son eagerly agreed, because he was the firstborn and would inherit the money after the death of his father. Per his mother’s commands, he went outside and caught a rat. Using his knife, he quickly skinned the rat. He sneaked into his sister’s room, and hid it under the sheets. The plan having been fulfilled, they all went to bed.

In the early hours of the morning, however, the nightmare was about to begin. Stepmother had “woken up” in a fright, waking up her husband as well. She frantically told her husband that she had been having nightmares regarding her older stepdaughter, and that surely meant something was amiss. Such omens, she had said, could have only meant that her stepdaughter had something evil about her. They went to her room, while JangHwa was still asleep, and pulled off the covers. There lied the skinned rat, which looked ultimately like a very bloody miscarriage. She screamed that she knew something was wrong about JangHwa the whole time, accusing her of being an unchaste girl who had had a child out of wedlock. JangHwa, who was shocked into silence because she was being accused of something she did not do to such an extreme degree, was utterly unable to defend herself. As a result, her father agreed with her stepmother and believed that she had slept with an unknown man and had become pregnant with his child, defiling herself and the name of the household. The shame of not being believed was too much for JangHwa. After all, this whole time, she had done absolutely nothing wrong, and had to deal with the abuse that her stepmother heaped upon her every chance she got and had said nothing to her father. She fled the house in tears to a pond in the nearby forest where she could cry without anybody seeing her.

Her stepmother, being both crafty and wicked sent her oldest son after JangHwa with the strict command: “If you see her near the pond, then drown her and make sure that she does not come back.” He eagerly complied, and followed JangHwa’s path into the forest. He pushed her into the pond, and watched as she drowned. However, he would not escape punishment for having taken someone’s life. A tiger suddenly appeared and viciously tore off one of his arms and legs. Needless to say, he was crippled by this, and was unable to do much. In addition, who would want to marry such a crippled and disfigured person? Although he was the oldest, the inheritance he would get would not help his condition in any way.

This enraged the stepmother beyond belief. She had gotten what she desired, which was getting rid of JangHwa. The cost of having done that, however, was much too high. She now had a crippled son who was essentially good for nothing. She was severely embittered by this fact and took it all out on Hongryeon. Having become sharper and more shrew-like with her bitterness and rage, she very quickly made life for Hongryeon beyond unbearable. All the poison and abuse became too much for her to handle by herself, especially since JangHwa was no longer there to console her and help her move on. Hongryeon left to the pond where JangHwa had died and committed suicide, drowning herself in the pond.

At this time, the mayor in the town changed. It was not such a big deal, as mayors changed from time to time as they were repositioned depending on what status they had acquired during the time they had served at a specific place. The new mayor died though, the night immediately after having moved into the village. This continued, as each mayor following the first mayor died the first night in office. Nobody knew why this was happening. A lot of rumors were spreading around town. Mayors were even afraid to come to the town because they thought they would die. Nobody ever found a culprit, and nobody was ever able to explain just what had happened to the mayors.

One day, a new mayor decided to come. He was young and he was strong; he was not afraid for his life. He knew what happened to the guys that had come before him in his position, but he was willing to go anyway. During the night, he was sitting in his room preparing to go to bed. Suddenly, a gust of wind blew out his candle and he heard various screams and moans fill the air. The air became very damp, and the smell of wet moss became very strong. His door opened by itself, but then he saw them. Two ghostly girls had opened the door, crying and weeping heavily. He had no patience for hysterics, but he felt that he needed to know. He asked them, “Why did you kill all the previous mayors? What sin have they committed that you felt the need to kill them?” The two wept and wept on as they explained their situation. They had not wanted to kill the mayors before him. What had happened was that they had appeared before each of the previous mayors. However, each mayor had been frightened to death because of what they saw, which was not the fault of the two girls. They told the newest mayor, “We only wanted to explain the injustice that has been done to us so that it can be fixed, clearing our names of the shame that they have been stained so deeply with.” JangHwa’s ghost had been unable to move on because she had died in anguish, knowing that everybody believed she was an unchaste girl. She wanted to undo that before she would be able to move on into the afterlife. She told the mayor that she had been framed by her stepmother, who had wanted to get rid of her. Her stepbrother had been an accomplice to this by murdering her in the end, drowning her in the pond she had run to. They asked the mayor if there was anything that he could do to clear JangHwa’s name.

His answer was simple. “Give me proof that they did this, and I will restore your honor as soon as I am able to do so.”

Her reply was just as simple. “Go check the supposed fetus that everybody said was mine. If you examine it, you will see that it is not mine, for I was a chaste girl while I was alive, and I committed no such act.”

The next morning, the new mayor did what the sisters’ ghosts had asked him to do. He summoned the family members who were involved, who were the father, stepmother, and the eldest son and examined the fetus. The stepmother had insisted that the “fetus” had come from Janghwa’s body as definitive proof that she was a wicked child who was unchaste. However, when the mayor asked to see the body, the stepmother tried to say that she no longer had it. She could not see why the mayor would know about the fetus at all, or why he would be concerned with it. Nobody knew what had happened except for her and her eldest son. She had no idea that JangHwa and HongRyeon were unable to move on to the afterlife. Under threat of punishment, however, the stepmother managed to produce the dead “fetus.” When he split it with a knife, the innards revealed that the supposed fetus was nothing more than a a common filthy rat. Stepmother and her eldest son were sentenced to death, and were excommunicated from the village. The father was free to go, however, because the mayor felt that he had known nothing about what was going on and was innocent of any wrongdoing. Plus, fulfilling his promise to the two ghostly sisters, he proved that JangHwa was an innocent girl who was the victim of a malicious plot to get rid of her. JangHwa’s honor was restored, and she was no longer thought of as a loose girl with no morals.

Years later, the girls’ father married once again, having fallen in love with another woman. On the night of his third wedding, he had a dream. He saw his two daughters in his dream, and they were more beautiful than ever. He wept because he believed that he had been unable to take care of them properly in life. They told him that nothing was his fault, and that since things were as they should be, they wanted to come back to him in life. Having died so young while having lived pure lives, they would have been reincarnated very quickly into human forms again. This promise was fulfilled, because his wife soon became pregnant. Nine months later, she delivered and found that she had given birth to twin girls. The father believed that his daughters had truly returned to him in the end. He named them “JangHwa” and “HongRyeon” and he loved them very much. His wife, too, loved them as she was also very kind woman. The twins grew healthy and in a loving environment, and the family lived a happy life in the end.

This legend is important in that it is a strong reminder of what not to be like. It teaches to be honest and virtuous rather than greedy and cunning. Goodness is rewarded with goodness, while nothing good comes from cruelty. It also teaches the virtue of being brave and not succumbing to fright because it will reveal truth. This is also important in that it is a story from my personal culture, and I understand the ideals that are behind it. Confucian ideals, filial piety, and even Buddhism with the idea of reincarnation are all part of the origins of Korean culture. This story affirms that.

 

Customs
Festival
Rituals, festivals, holidays

“Hungry Ghost Month”

This piece of folklore was gained unintentionally, when my friend reprimanded me for whistling at night so as to avoid being afraid of the dark. It was past midnight and was very dark. The moon was not out, so everything was dark and muffled. It was cold, but it was still manageable to be outside. People were preparing for festivities, but the environment seemed entirely surreal. It was out of legitimate concern, however, that my friend scolded me so quickly and harshly. For the sake of safety and good fortune, my friend believed that this was just not to be done. It also said much about my friend’s spirituality. She had learned this tradition from her parents, who are strong Buddhists. She believed strongly that ghosts and spirits still interacted with the world and could affect it depending on how they were treated; particularly if they were treated well or ignored.

In Taiwanese culture, spirits and ghosts are very accepted, and they are to be honored and respected. As a result, every August is known as “Hungry Ghost Month.” You are not supposed to go outside after dark because that is when the spirits come outside to mingle and visit. Also, you are also not supposed to whistle at night, because the ghosts will hear it and follow you home, bringing misfortune and spreading it to you and your household. Although generally you are not supposed to go outside at night, there are still festivals held during this month that individuals attend. During the festivals, everyone wears masks and celebrates together. The usage of the masks is ultimately very symbolic because during the month of ghosts and spirits, you cannot be sure if you are celebrating with other humans or if you are celebrating with ghosts; the masks are representative of the mingling that occurs during the festivals of this month.

As the collector, I felt very moved by the tradition. At night when no light was present, it seemed impossibly surreal and it felt like ghosts were out and about. Although later on, I felt more that it was a trick of the mind, at the moment, it was truly awe-inducing and frightening.

[geolocation]