Author Archive
Folk Beliefs
Legends
Magic
Narrative

Blue Ghosts in Okinawa, Japan

AM: So, it was- like the first month or two when i moved to Japan and I was hanging outside at like…2am like at night in a park. Um, the military base we was staying on was built like near like Japanese Shrines and whatnot and they said that you know the shrines are haunted and there’s a lotta “superstitions” with those. So while we’re out hanging, there was like oh look- you can see a bluf- blue figure on a hill like on top of the shrine and when I looked over you- I saw like a bluish like glow from the hills where the shrine was and they said that this island is one of the most haunted places and that there’s a lot of spirits around.

VG: Woah. What island was it?

AM: Okinawa.

VG: Woah-

AM: And that is- it is very common to see those there… so we was like “yeah, let’s get the hell out of here.”

 

Background:

Location of Story – Okinawa, Japan

Location of Performance – Dormitory room, Los Angeles, CA, night

 

Context: This performance took place in a group setting – about 2-3 people – in a college dormitory room. This performance was prompted by the call for stories about beliefs, ghosts, or superstitions as examples of folklore. This story came after a few others. The one prior was specifically about a high school grade being cursed.

 

Analysis: One point of interest in this performance is the effectiveness of the subtlety of the description of the “spirits.” The only physical description the audience receives about these supernatural beings is that they humanoid in figure and blue. The color is particularly notable because, at least in my experience, I have always viewed the ghosts in ghost stories as being neutral toned or white. Therefore, this description was able to create a whole new image for me and draw me deeper into this performance. It also reinforces the foreignness AM might feel since he had just moved to Japan: not only is the location different but also all of the local lore. One might even go so far as to say that this story was presented with a negative conation despite having no description of graphic hauntings or threats. 

Folk speech
Humor

Newton’s Law “Dad” Joke

KO: Ok uh, do you know what Newton’s Law is?

VG: Yes.

KO: Do you know what cole’s law is?

VG: No.

KO: You don’t know what thinly sliced cabbage is?

 

Background:

Location of riddle: N/A

Location of Performance – Classroom, Los Angeles, CA, late morning

 

Context: This performance was done in a group of 3-4 people after a class in response to a question about potential high school traditions, festivals, jokes, or riddles. KO was the first among the students to offer this joke as performance. KO and I are classmates.

 

Analysis: After my initial recording, KO classified the joke as a “dad joke,” which prompted many others. Therefore, it is apparent that this is a popular genre because everyone was commenting on the tradition of dad jokes and even had a collection of these themselves. I wish I would have questioned KO about how she discovered this joke and the genre of dad jokes as a whole because I am curious to see if these are actually jokes that are sourced from fathers or father figures. My assumption is that this genre rose out of children utilizing these jokes to critique their parental figures and practice rebellion in a relatively harmless way. 

 

Folk Beliefs
Legends
Magic
Narrative
Tales /märchen

Krasue in South Asian Folklore

NC: So there’s this story about crossaway or crosu (Krasue) I don’t know exactly how to pronounce the name but in southeast asian folklore she is supposed to be a very beautiful woman and she’s only a head, so she’s a decapitated head and her entails are hanging out and she’s supposed to float around uh a building- a haunted building or something um she’s- I think she’s searching for something and she might also kill anyone who comes into the building. That’s all I’ve heard about it.

 

Background:

Location of Story – Southeast Asia

Location of Performance – Dormitory room, Los Angeles, CA, night

 

Context: This performance took place in a group setting – about 2-3 people – in a college dormitory room. This performance was prompted by the call for stories about beliefs, ghosts, or superstitions as examples of folklore via a group message. NC approached me in person in response to the text and had just discovered this creature herself. 

 

Analysis: Krasue is physically unlike any other “monster” or creature I have heard of before. I was particularly interested in the dichotomy between the woman’s beauty and the grotesqueness of her lower half. For me, this hints at a commentary about how women are viewed around the world globally: her head is attached but her body has been ripped apart by what exactly? If women often fall victim to objectification, then it makes sense that this lore would depict her “body” has being completely consumed by something else or at least lost to something or someone besides herself. Additionally, the fact that she is bound by a building, confirms the archetypical “domestic” woman, but the threat she poses to anyone else trying to reside in her household disrupts this stereotype and protects the space as her own.

Childhood
Customs
Game

Kagome – Japanese Children’s Game

NC: There’s a Japanese game that children play called kagome, um…so it’s-it’s really similar to ring around a rosey in that…um…it was based on…experiments that people were doing, so Ring around the rosie is about um the disease the bubonic plague but um uh kagome is about experiments that people were doing um on the Japanese and they- they basically took children and they mutilated them I think that’s what it is. And um they would haunt people in the building like they would haunt the doctors and they would say um “kagome, kagome” and some other uh words and they would basically play that game in a circle and um that’s just like the ghost story behind that game.

 

Background:

Location of Story – Japan

Location of Performance – Dormitory room, Los Angeles, CA, night

 

Context: This performance took place in a group setting – about 2-3 people – in a college dormitory room. This performance was prompted by the call for stories about beliefs, ghosts, or superstitions as examples of folklore via a group message. NC approached me in person in response to the text and this is the second of two stories she presented. The first was about a monster who took the form of a beautiful, floating female head that had been decapitated and haunts a building. It was apparent that NC had just recently discovered this game because she was looking at her computer the whole time. 

 

Analysis: I think the comparison to “Ring Around the Rosey” is really effective here because it reinforces the idea that games or rhythm games are often counter-hegemonic and can critique a system under the guise of play. It is an indirect form of protest and also a way to be able to process the trauma of an experience such as this with humor and distance from the actual reality. On a different note, I really wished I would have NC where she discovered this game because I can understand stumbling upon a ghost story but not a traditional Japanese child’s game; I want to know where these are being documented online since she had her computer. 

 

Annotation: Upon further research, I discovered that the folk song element to this performance is actually much more essential to the folk game in other collected versions. For example, there is a documentation of this game in Highlights magazine for kids will additional information about how to perform the song. This version documents the chant as, “Can you guess? Can you guess? Who is right behind you? Could it be, possibly…” and then the participants would recite their names until “it says stop.” I could not identify what the “it” of this game is, but what is interesting to note here is that the word kogome is missing from this particular chant. This may very well because it is a translation, but for me, it demonstrates a lack of that historical context. The meaning is even more deeply hidden in the practice of the game. Additionally, Highlights includes the physical rules of the game, which involve being in a circle and blindfolded. See citation below for a PDF of the Highlights article.

 

Citation: Yasuda, Anita. “Kagome Kagome.” Highlights for Children, vol. 65, no. 10, 10, 2010, pp. 12. ProQuest, http://libproxy.usc.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.libproxy1.usc.edu/docview/756206958?accountid=14749.

Folk speech
Game
Humor
Riddle

Going Through Doors Riddle

JK: Ok, so, it’s a blackout and you’re walking along uh street uh a dark neighborhood street and you see one little cottage that is lit up by candlelight so you go inside and there’s a red door and a purple door. Which one do you go through?

VG: The red.

JK: K, so you go through the red door and you are presented with two more doors. There’s a brown regular looking door and there’s uh- polka dot door. Which door do you go through?

VG: The brown.

JK: You go through the brown door and you are presented with two more doors…it’s a black door and a white door. Which door do you go through?

VG: The white door.

JK: Ok, so you go through the white door and you come out of…the s- into uh- a space brightly lit by candles and there’s a couple there and they’re very angry that you broke into their home and you can either choose death by uh their dogs who will tear you apart or you can choose death by electric chair. Which one do you choose and why?

VG: I choose electric chair-

JK: Why?

VG: Because it’s faster.

JK: Nah-

EM: I know what this is- can I answer it?

JK: Yeah.

EM: Cause- wait there’s no electricity right?

JK: Yeah, you choose the electric chair because the power is out.

(Everyone laughs)

VG: Dammit.

 

Background:

Location of story – N/A

Location of Performance – Different student’s dormitory room, Los Angeles, CA, afternoon

 

Context: This performance took place between 2-3 people who were working on a film project together for class. This story came in response to my question if anyone had time to talk before the film shoot to talk about traditions specific to school, festivals, holidays, and riddles. JK and I had just met recently on this project. His story had just followed two about high school traditions.

 

Analysis: My favorite part about this performance is that the other person in the room, EK, had heard of this riddle before. Moreover, EK’s question about whether she can spoil the end demonstrates the universally understood pressure to let the one being challenged demonstrate their wit. I was actually nervous participating in this performance because historically, I am not very good at riddles and whenever I “fail” I always feel socially inferior. It may seem silly, but my anxiety only confirms the social implications of these riddles. 

 

Customs
Humor
Narrative
Rituals, festivals, holidays

High School Senior Streaking Prank

IG: Ha, every year in high school in the spring the seniors would go to someone’s house who lived next to the high school and take off all their clothes and then we would run through the high school campus and it was really funny because everybody would leave class to watch us and then everybody would get their grade docked because all the teacher were hella against it and then every year the principal would stand there with just his like arms crossed but also like shading his eyes because it was so weird to look at your students naked but it was so funny because we would wear masks, obviously, so it would be kind of anonymous but then one year (laughs) my best friend fell (laughs) and she was bleeding and then somebody- like her mask like sorta fell off and then somebody in the crowd ripped it off so she had to (laughs) she had to run naked and bleeding and her face was out through like- we have a huge campus because it was a really big public school and it was really funny and then once we got to the end of the route of the run the gates were all locked so we all had to climb over a fence which was so painful because your bare legs are out and everything, but it was so fun and it happens every year so you just have to do it even if you don’t really want to-

VG: Oh my god!

IG: Yeah

VG: Where- Where- Where did you go to high school?

IG: ****** High School.

VG: Is that in ****, ****?

IG: Yeah, it has like 4,000 students.

A: Yeah, sorry, that sounds a lot like ****.

IG: Yeah, totally.

VG: That’s so funny though.

IG: It was rite of passage for sure.

VG: Yeah.

IG: Yeah, but also like so inappropriate. We wer-We were on the streets of Berkeley naked cause we had to get from the house to the school.

VG: So, it’s illegal.

(A laughs)

IG: Yeah, exactly. I know! And people were drinking and…I mean you had to get up some nerve- probably a lot of people, so…it was like extra illegal and then you would have friends who would be the getaway cars, waiting for you, which was so hard to ma- like manage because not everyone can fit. And then one year, it was so chaotic that somebody- my neighbor like crashed into another car- not like badly, but he just like skimmed the side, and everybody’s already trying to get you in trouble that day, so then just to do that next to the school was so bad- but then it was ok because the school was pretty lenient because everybody got in trouble all the time…so yeah. It was great.

 

Background:

Location of story – Northern California  

Location of Performance – Classroom, Los Angeles, CA, late morning

 

Context: This performance was done in a group of 3-4 people after a class in response to a question about potential high school traditions, festivals, jokes, or riddles. IG was unsure at first and then was enthusiastic about sharing once she remembered this story. Hers followed one joke made. IG and I are classmates. I censored the high school name for privacy reasons. 

 

Analysis: There are many obvious and severe breeches of normal social decorum as well as the law in the continuation of this tradition. The fact that it still exists demonstrates how integral this performance is to the school and surrounding community’s identity; if they did not see that it was worth the benefits, they would most likely be able to stop with with increased police force or harsher punishments. I think this performance is particularly interesting because it demonstrates that just because some rituals and traditions may be illegal, they are often so engrained into the identity of the community that it is difficult to stop the practice and nearly impossible to remove the memories from the community’s mind if it continues. I myself have participated in senior pranks, but this was still shocking to me. Additionally, I thought it was funny that other student knew the exact location of where this prank took place. Evidently, this prank was not just fitting to the identity of the high school community but to the identity of the town as well. In fact, the other student was not even from the town and was able to identity its attitude and myth. 

 

Folk Beliefs
Myths
Narrative

Devil Sightings on Horse at Night – Mexico

KF: People have tales of like because uh Mexico is like predominantly like Catholic um…people say that like they’ve seen the devil on like their horse- on his horse…like just like galloping like if you stay up really really late at night, you’ll see him like come through like the town or something.

 

Background:

Location of story – predominantly Mexico, according to informant

Location of Performance – Interviewer’s dormitory room, Los Angeles, CA, night

 

Context: This performance took place in a group setting – about 2-3 people – in a college dormitory room. This performance was prompted by the call for stories about beliefs, ghosts, or superstitions as examples of folklore via a group message. KF approached me two days prior to this interview, but schedules did not allow for a recording until she came to ask a homework and remembered. I am good friends with KF. This story followed one of KF’s previously about La Llorona.

 

Analysis: It is interesting to note that the devil only appears late at night. In Catholic tradition, one is always at risk to sin and the Devil, but for some reason, these monsters only seem to reveal themselves at night. In Mathias Clasen’s article “Monsters Evolve: A Biocultural Approach to Horror Stories,” Paul Shepard is quoted as saying, “our fear of monsters in the night probably has its origins far back in the evolution of our primate ancestors, whose tribes were pruned by horrors whose shadows continue to elicit our monkey screams in dark theaters” (Clasen 1). In other words, tradition has conditioned us to believe that the night brings about supernatural activity. This phenomenon can possibly be explained by a communal need to feel protected from evils, such as the Devil, by having times dedicated to explore and be free and then times dedicated to retreat and hide.

 

Additional Reading:

Clasen, Mathias. “Monsters Evolve: A Biocultural Approach to Horror Stories.” Review of General Psychology, vol. 16, no. 2, June 2012, pp. 222–229, doi:10.1037/a0027918.

Shepard, Paul. The others: How animals made us human. Island Press, 1997.

Legends
Narrative
Protection
Signs

La Llorona Legend

KF: Ok so, um, there’s this tale, or folklore, or urban legend- I’m not quite really sure what it is…um, where- I think they recently made a movie on it too. Uh, La Llorona is a woman who was married and she had children, but her husband ended up cheating on her or leaving her, and so she decided to get back at her husband she was gonna kill her kids, and um, she drowned them in like a nearby river or something and she ended up- I think she ended up committing suicide herself. And so then at night, she comes back uh crying, um, “my kids, my kids!” And So practically, it’s well known throughout like Mexico that like if you live near a river, and she like- you hear her say like “my kids, my kids,” you wanna hide your children cause she’ll like she’ll take them…um, and they’ll disappear forever or something like that.

 

Background:

Location of story – predominantly Mexico, according to informant

Location of Performance – Interviewer’s dormitory room, Los Angeles, CA, night

 

Context: This performance took place in a group setting – about 2-3 people – in a college dormitory room. This performance was prompted by the call for stories about beliefs, ghosts, or superstitions as examples of folklore via a group message. KF approached me two days prior to this interview, but schedules did not allow for a recording until she came to ask a homework and remembered. I am good friend’s with KF.

 

Analysis: La Llorona has extensive foundations in the conquistador era, and the lack of knowledge about the historical context demonstrates to me how extensively the legend has spread and varied amongst different communties. I have studied La Llorona before but never had I heard about the warning cry “my kids, my kids!” Therefore, this is one of the more impactful versions of La Llorona I have heard because it actually has a physical effect on the people who might believe they have heard the cry because they remove their kids from a physical space.

Annotation: Another recent version of this legend is the The Curse of La Llorona movie that was recently released.

Citation: Chaves, Michael, director. The Curse of La Llorona. New Line Cinema, Atomic Monster Productions, 2019.

Folk speech
Humor

Horse Walks Into A Bar “Dad” Joke

A: A horse walks into a bar and the bartender, and the bartender says: why the long face?

(group laughs and groans)

 

Background:

Location of joke: N/A

Location of Performance – Classroom, Los Angeles, CA, late morning

 

Context: This performance was done in a group of 3-4 people after a class in response to a question about potential high school traditions, festivals, jokes, or riddles. A was the last to perform his folklore and was particularly inspired after another student performed what was termed as a “dad joke.”

 

Analysis: Prior to A’s performance, another “dad” joke, as the group defined it, was presented. I had my own understanding of Dad jokes prior as just being truly ridiculous in the fact that the punchline was so on the nose…hence the groan. Therefore, my understanding of the effect of “dad” jokes was confirmed through these auditory cues and conversation. It is also interesting to note that dad jokes have no association with father’s at all; possibly this implies that you do not have to be a father in order to be embarrassing – a bad joke will do.

Childhood
Folk Beliefs
Legends
Magic
Narrative
Protection
Tales /märchen

El Cucuy – “Boogeyman” Creature in Mexican Folklore

The Cucuy, I’m not really quite sure what it is, um, but, usually, uh, when like children are acting like- out of like the norm, like when they’re misbehaving uh parents will be like “oi, there comes the cucuy!” Like he’s gonna come eat you if you don’t stop being a bad person, um…and it’s sorta like similar to like the boogeyman like if you- if you put your child to sleep, and like they don’t go to sleep, you’ll be like the cuc- if you don’t close your eyes, the cucuy’s gonna come get you…so yeah.

 

Background:

Location of story – predominantly Mexico, according to informant

Location of Performance – Interviewer’s dormitory room, Los Angeles, CA, night

 

Context: This performance took place in a group setting – about 2-3 people – in a college dormitory room. This performance was prompted by the call for stories about beliefs, ghosts, or superstitions as examples of folklore via a group message. KF approached me two days prior to this interview, but schedules did not allow for a recording until she came to ask a homework and remembered. I am good friends with KF. This story followed two of KF’s previously about La Llorona and the devil appearing on people’s horses at night.

 

Analysis: This performance demonstrates the phenomenon of children being more inclined to follow instructions based on the threat of a supernatural creature or element rather than their own parents. Likewise, the parents utilize this tactic because the effect is so immediate. It is also interesting to note that the comparison to the boogeyman is drawn because I have only known the American version of that bedtime creature: bedtime and a fear of the dark seems to conjure similar fears and potential monsters across cultures.

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