Author Archive
Folk Beliefs
Narrative
Tales /märchen

Sea Salt

Informant SW is a USC student who went to high school in Hong Kong but his nationality is Korean, so he grew up hearing a lot of Korean folk stories and doing a lot of Korean traditions.

Just tell me the first story that comes to your mind

SW: “Once upon a time the Emperor of Korea had a mill that would spin anything you want. If you asked it to spin gold, it would spin it, basically just say it and it will come out. Anyways, there was a thief that wanted to steal this mill, so one day he dressed up as a government official and started talking to another government official. The thief told the other guy that the King buried the mill so that no one could steal it. The other guy says ‘nah man, the mill is in the garden and is un-stealable because theres people walking around all the time’. So the thief waits until its nightfall and then steals the mill and gets on a boat to get out of the kingdom. While on the boat the thief thinks about what he’s going to ask the mill to make. Eventually he thinks ‘I’ll make salt because everyone wants talk!’. So he tells the mill to make salt, and since he was so happy he didn’t tell it to stop. Eventually the salt got so heavy that the boat sank. Since the mill was never told to stop it continues to make salt and that is why the sea is salty.”

I’ve never heard this story and never heard anything similar to it. In fact I’ve never heard a story explaining why the sea was salty, which is why I found this story really interesting. For some reason this story reminds me of Rumpelstiltskin because they both of the element of the spinning wheel. I like how a lot of folklore stories involve a thief and a magical item and the thief uses the item wrong which explains some natural phenomenon. Very interesting.

Kinesthetic
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Sumo Wrestling

Informant CS is a student at USC who is currently studying physical therapy. He is Japanese, born and raised in Japan, and went to school at an international school in Japan.

What about sumo wrestling, tell me something about that since its a huge part of Japanese culture

CS: “Ok well, Japanese people have been doing sumo wrestling for forever. Probably for like… thousands of years. I learned in high school that a long time ago people would do sumo wrestling to pray for good crop and good weather. And then I think it became super popular and the Emperors loved it so they hosted tournaments and stuff. Since sumo wrestling became so popular, matches were created to raise money for temples and shrines and other government related things, and because of that a sumo wrestling league was created.”

Okay but whats the significance of it or is it just a sport?

CS: “Well, sumo wrestling matches happen on important days of the years, and there are always matches during festivals and stuff. I think sumo wrestling is just a way to show strength and people in Japan really love watching it.”

Thoughts: I always thought sumo wrestling was really interesting because it is a huge sport in Japan but is not seen anywhere else. Of course there are other forms of wrestling around the world, but none exactly like sumo wrestling, where the competitors are huge and wear only a towel. It’s really cool that something like sumo wrestling originated from farming, because neither one has anything to do with the other.

Humor
Riddle

Bread Riddle

Informant CS is a student at USC who is currently studying physical therapy. He is Japanese, born and raised in Japan, and went to school at an international school in Japan.

CS: “This is a really well known Japanese riddle that I don’t know if it counts as folklore but it’s more of a joke. [says something in Japanese].”

*later I found the original in Japanese: パンはパンでも食べられないパンは、なぁに?

Dude how do I even know what you’re saying

CS: “You can find it online for sure. Anyways, in english it translates to ‘bread is bread, but what bread is inedible?’. The answer is: ‘a frying pan’. Obviously that makes no sense in english, BUT, in Japanese, the word for “bread” is also “pan”, so, if you take that, it is a play on words and the riddle is actually ‘Pan is pan but what pan is inedible?’.”

…..

Thoughts: I mean… that was amongst one of the lamest jokes I’ve ever heard in my life but I guess its a joke riddle so it makes sense. I know in Chinese there are a lot of riddles like that where the answer to the riddle is a play on the original riddle’s word. But when my friend he would tell me a riddle I was expecting something better than this…

Contagious
Magic
Protection
Signs

Evil Eye (Islam)

Informant GP is my grandfather who has been a Muslim is whole life. My father’s side of the family has been Muslim for many generations. My grandpa is a devout Muslim who follows the Quran and all the practices described within it. Unfortunately my grandpa’s generation is the last generation in my dad’s side of the family to practice Islam. My father and my aunt and uncles do not practice it, so even though I know many of the things they believe and practice, I don’t know the reason behind it.

So my class was talking about this thing called the evil eye that is believed by many religions and cultures, is there something like that for Islam?

GP: “There is actually! I don’t know what it is like in other religions but for Islam, the evil eye is an eye that everyone can get. The evil eye appears when someone gets greedy. What I mean is like… when someone sees something they like but it belongs to someone else, they envy them right? This envy shows in their eye, theres a certain look people give when they are envious of someone else. This jealous way of looking at someone is the evil eye and when you look at someone with that gaze, you are casting the evil eye on them. Once you cast the evil eye on them, it will affect the other person in a bad way, for example they might get bad luck or something.”

Is there any protection against the evil eye then, because I know in class we talked about this 

GP: “Yes there is. When the evil eye is cast upon you and someone notices, they will ask you to take a bath to wash away the evil eye and its bad influence.”

Thoughts: The Islamic version of the evil eye is very similar to the ones that we have discussed in class. They’re all variation of basically the same thing. I think after listening to my grandpa tell me about the evil eye, I believe their version is rooted in teaching people not to feel jealous of others and to be grateful for what you have, because if you do get jealous of other people bad things will happen.

Foodways

Fasting

Informant GP is my grandfather who has been a Muslim is whole life. My father’s side of the family has been Muslim for many generations. My grandpa is a devout Muslim who follows the Quran and all the practices described within it. Unfortunately my grandpa’s generation is the last generation in my dad’s side of the family to practice Islam. My father and my aunt and uncles do not practice it, so even though I know many of the things they believe and practice, I don’t know the reason behind it.

Okay so I guess you guys not eating pork kind of make sense, but why fast? What’s the health benefit in fasting?

GP: “hahaha, fasting is not for our health, it is for our spirit! Fasting is a way for us to learn self control because we are unable to eat and drink. It helps discipline us because if we can control our food, we can then use that to control our greed and lust. Also, fasting helps us know what it is like to live without food. It shows us what it is like to be the less fortunate, which teaches us how to be grateful. it also gives us an awareness and empathy to those who are unable to eat 3 regular meals every day.”

Thoughts: I used to think that fasting was ridiculous because you have to starve yourself for a whole month. I guess the reason I didn’t understand it was because I didn’t understand the motivation behind why people did it. Now that my grandpa explained it to me, it seems like it makes total sense and I have a whole new respect for the Muslims that do it. It is another way the Quran helps Muslims remember that they are human and to be humble and grateful for what they have.

Legends

Momotaro

Informant CS is a student at USC who is currently studying physical therapy. He is Japanese, born and raised in Japan, and went to school at an international school in Japan.

Give me a Japanese folk story

CS: “Okay I will tell you the about Momotaro. I don’t really remember the details of the story but I’ll tell you basically what happened. Momotaro was this legendary Japanese hero that is really well known. You can find toy figures of him in toy shops and in stores. His name literally means peach boy because he was born from a peach. It was said that a peach came flying down from the sky and out hatched Momotaro. Two couples found him and raised him. Once Momotaro grew up, he learned of an island full of demons that were terrorizing people, so he set off to fight these demons. He meets some talking animals and become friends with them (I forget how), and then goes fights the demons. He destroys the demons and brings the demon king home as a captive. Then… I think he lived happily ever after.”

Thoughts: When my friend was telling me this story I didn’t recognize who it was but after I went home and did a bit of research on the guy and saw his Chinese name, I knew exactly who he was. I have definitely heard his name before in mandarin classes, but probably the reason why I know him is because there is a theme park in Taiwan named after him. Another fun fact is during WW2 Momotaro’s story was very popular and was used as a metaphor. Pearl harbor was considered the demon islands that the demons (United States) lived on, Momotaro represents the Japanese government, and his animal companions represent the Japanese people. I thought that was really interesting how they use a legendary story as propaganda to boost the morale of their people during WW2 and to get them to have faith in their government.

Legends

The Story of Chunhyang

Informant SW is a USC student who went to high school in Hong Kong but his nationality is Korean, so he grew up hearing a lot of Korean folk stories and doing a lot of Korean traditions.

SW: “This is a love story okay thats like pretty well known in Korea. So once upon a time there was a guy called Mongryong who was walking around when he see this girl and instantly falls in love. The girl’s name was Chunhyang. So Mongryong finds out who this girl is and asks her mother for her hand in marriage. Her mother says yes, even though Chunhyang doesn’t want to, and they get married.

However, Mongryong’s father is a government official and has to leave to another city, so Mongryong has to follow him. Before leaving, Chunhyang gives Mongryong a ring as a token and reminder of love. After Mongryong leaves a guy called Pyon replaces his father. Pyon is a super greedy person and just drinks and parties every day. Eventually Mongryong places first in his exams and because a spy for the government to find corrupt government officials. Mongryong, in disguise, goes back to his hometown to see Pyon ruining his village. At Pyon’s birthday, Mongryong reveals himself and arrests Pyon. However, Chunhyang doesn’t believe that Mongryong is who he says he is. Mongryong shows Chunhyang the ring she gave him and she is shocked and then they live happily ever after.”

To me this story is very generic, I felt like I have heard this story a billion times. Love stories in Asia is always about a guy and girl falling in love but then they end up getting separated, then something bad befalls the girl and the guy comes back but the girl does not recognize him until he proves to her that he is who he says he is. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are other similar stories all across Asia and maybe even in Western society.

Folk Beliefs
Tales /märchen

Hungry Tiger

Informant SW is a USC student who went to high school in Hong Kong but his nationality is Korean, so he grew up hearing a lot of Korean folk stories and doing a lot of Korean traditions.

SW: “There was once a tiger who terrorized the people in the village. One day a guy was walking around in the forest when he came across the tiger who had fallen into a pit and couldn’t get out. The tiger begged the guy to help him out. The guy said he would help him only if the tiger didn’t eat him. The tiger said okay, so the guy helped the tiger out. The moment the tiger got out he attacked the guy. However, before the tiger could eat the guy the guy said they should ask for a second opinion on whether the tiger should eat him or not. Since the tiger liked playing games with his prey, the tiger said okay. So, the guy asks a nearby rabbit if the tiger had the right to eat him. The rabbit said, okay reenact everything so I can see what happened. The tiger jumps into the pit again and the rabbit tells the guy to run away and don’t be stupid like that next time.”

wait but what was the moral of the story?

SW: “I kind of forgot but I think the moral of the story is that you have to think before you act or else you might end up doing something stupid.”

I think this story is very funny because even though this story is about thinking before you act, both the tiger and the man failed to do so. The man should’ve left the tiger in the pit and the tiger should not have jumped into the pit. I guess it is kind of a double warning to people. I have heard of similar stories to this one, except the tiger was a hideous monster and I forgot how but somehow it relates to why people release firecrackers during Chinese New Year.

Folk Beliefs
Narrative
Tales /märchen

Frogs

Informant SW is a USC student who went to high school in Hong Kong but his nationality is Korean, so he grew up hearing a lot of Korean folk stories and doing a lot of Korean traditions.

SW: “Once upon a time there was a frog who was very disobedient. He would do the opposite of everything his mom told him. So one day his mom tells him to say croak, and the frog says… crack or something I can’t remember. He says something that isn’t croak. Anyways, one day the mother calls his son over and says hey I’m about to die so could you bury me bury me by the stream and not the mountain, thinking that the frog would bury her in the mountains because he always does the opposite of what she says. When the mom dies the frog feels so bad for never doing what his mom tells him to do, so he does what his mother tells him to do and buries her next to the stream. A storm comes and washes the mother’s grave away and the frog was so sad he just keeps shouting croak. And that is why frogs croak when it rains.”

Even though my informant says that the story is about frogs and why they croak, I feel like the more important message in this story is to listen to your parents. I feel like this is one of those stories that parents tell their kids so that their kids would listen to them. It is very interesting to see different culture’s way of making kids listen to their parents. Some cultures say monsters will come eat the kids if they’re disobedient, and others are less gruesome like this one.

Myths

Ghost in School

Informant EL went to the same high school as me and now currently goes to UC Berkeley. However, because he is interning in LA, he is taking classes at USC this semester to satisfy credits. While we were out eating dinner we began reminiscing about high school when I realized that our school had a lot of traditions and myths, so I asked him to tell me in his own words some of the stories of our school.

EL: “Okay I remember when we were in middle school there was this painting of this Japanese devil samurai thing holding a sword, it was in front of the IT department remember? Remember how there was a rumor going on that at night at 8 a ghost would walk out of the painting and if it sees you it will kill you? I remember Jesse and Calvin (friends from high school) said they saw it.”

Oh yea I remember that

EL: “Yea I remember in middle school on fridays we would stay around school and wait till it was the right time and then hang out at the stairs and wait to see if the ghost ever appeared.We never saw it but people from other grades have claimed that they have seen a ghost walk out of the painting before.”

Thoughts: I remember this very clearly because it was one of those things I would never forget from middle school. We literally would wait around school until 8pm and then hide at a staircase to catch the ghost. This rumor went around our whole middle school and a lot of people have claimed to have seen it, but I’m pretty sure they were lying as we never see it. I think it was just one of those things someone made up to kept us entertained when we didn’t want to go home.

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