Author Archives: Elyse Knoll

The Peach Boy: A Japanese Tale

The following is a conversation with SS that details her interpretation of the popular, Japanese tale about the Peach Boy.


SS: There’s an old couple who wanted a boy and then the grandmother goes to wash clothes in the river area, and then she sees this gigantic peach coming down, and she thinks ‘Oh, great! I’ll this this home with me so we can have this for dinner!’ And when they cut open the peach, there’s a little baby in it. He grows up to become this super-power, amazing boy, and eventually goes and destroys these bad demons that were living on a nearby island and were coming and attacking the farmers or the people in the community.


EK: How did you learn this tale? What is your relation to it?


SS: I tend to focus on tales because it’s just what I teach, but there’s a lot about an old couple wanting a child, and then getting a superhuman child. It’s a pattern, but one really famous one is this story. So this is a story that everyone hears if you grow up in Japan, a story that, I think there’s probably some more sophisticated narrative originally from the Medieval period, that’s probably shared by the warrior community, and then there’s a repackaging of it into this cute little story and that’s just been passed down. So yeah, if you look at Japanese folklore collections, it’s like one of the first stories that will be there.


My Interpretation:

It seems that this is a fairly popular tale that many Japanese children learn when they are young. Like fairytales we learn in the U.S., such as Snow White or Pinocchio, it appears that the Peach Boy tale is the equivalent in Japanese culture. As Japanese children grow up, this is a tale that they take with them that they most likely will tell their children and will be passed on for generations.

The Dojo Temple (Dojoji): A Japanese Legend

The following is a conversation with SS that details her interpretation of the Japanese legend about the Dojo Temple (Dojoji in Japanese).


SS: The story is about the Dojo temple; the title comes from a temple that forbid women from entering. Women were considered to pollute the sacred religious space. There’s a story that surrounds this temple where at a nearby, I think it was an inn, a woman was running the inn, you know, like, a little house that she was letting people stay at and she’s running it, a beautiful monk comes, and they fall in love, or maybe not exactly in love, because she seems to be really interested in him and he promises her that he will come back after he goes to this religious pilgrimage to Dojoji, this temple. Well, it turns out that he was just using that as an excuse because he got scared of her, so he goes away. But the woman gets really angry when she finds this out and turns into a serpent and then chases the guy until he gets to the temple and hides in this, kind of like, bell, and the serpent coils around the bell and burns him to death. So, there’s a lot of variations of the story but this is like the main part. So, you can see the story can be very dramatic and the Japanese perform it a lot, so you can see it in Kabuki theater, Noh theater, puppet theater, etc., etc.


EK: Would you say this is a legend or more of just a story?


SS: Well, it’s kind of hard to say. It’s been retold a lot in narrative form, performance, and so on, it’s all over the place, it’s been around from medieval to early modern Japan, which is from like eleventh century to 1868. It first appears in a religious text, so it could be a story that was made up to alert men of the danger of women, that they kind of pollute the sacred space. But then people became fascinated in the serpent itself. So, like in artworks, they’re not at all interested in the moral of the story that was important for probably the religious community very early on, but [instead] in the serpent that keeps on becoming this dramatic highlight.


EK: Where did you first hear this?


SS: I mean it’s one of those works that you read in school, like, one of those works that keeps coming up when you’re teaching pre-modern literature. It’s just all over the place. It’s actually associated with a specific region, like there’s and actual temple and a space, so I think, there are lots of different ways to access or come in contact with it. I grew up in Japan too, so I also know the story pretty well.


My Interpretation:

I believe the story that SS is a legend, in that it has questions of factuality but occurs in the real world. It seems that there are several variations of this story out there as well. SS noted that its origins are in religious texts and it’s also told by word-of-mouth, as well as performed in many different Japanese theaters, all of which I’m sure have their own interpretations or performances of the story. It seems that back when the story was first thought up, women were not thought of very highly of, as the legend presents the woman as pollution to sacred spaced, as well as a serpent creature. A serpent symbolic of being sneaky and deceitful, like the snake in the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

I suppose that this could have been fable at the time for men to hear in order for them to watch out for women who would “cause” them cheat on their wives or manipulate them into doing bad things. Overall, I think it’s an easy legend to repeat, so although there is most likely lots of variation to the story, the way it flows has helped the main plot remain similar over thousands of years.

The Early Bird Gets the Worm

The following is AJ’s interpretation of the proverb, “The Early Bird Gets the Worm.”


“The Early Bird Gets the Worm”:

The bird that is up first will get to the worm before another bird gets to it, and eats it, instead. Meaning, the earlier that one gets up, starts a project, etc., the better chance they have at having success compared to one who starts their day later. In other words, it pays to be proactive; don’t be lazy.


AJ doesn’t remember when she began to say this, she recalls her father saying it a lot to her when she was a kid. AJ went on to say it to her kids all the time to get them up and ready for the upcoming day, and now her kids say it as well. It’s a proverb that has been passed through the family and AJ says she will probably never stop saying it.


My Interpretation:

I feel like this is a very common proverb that I’ve heard said, and that I’ve said, in several different ways. I’ve heard “The early bird catches the worm,” “you don’t want to be a late bird, do you?”, “go get that worm!”, and more. There are several variations to this proverb, many of which I have never heard, but I think they all mean the same thing.

I think this proverb is also reflective of core American values, though I’m not sure when people began saying it. American values of being hard-working, ethical, energetic, and starting the day off bright and early, are all very apparent in this proverb. When AJ said the proverb, when I say it, and when others say it, it is said in a very matter-of-fact tone, like it’s a logical explanation. I believe that almost every American child grows up hearing this proverb at least once, most likely from their parents when they were trying to get them out of bed and ready for their day when they were younger.

The Legend of Boto Cor De Rosa- The Pink Dolphin

The following is a conversation with KL that describes her interpretation of the Brazilian legend of the Pink Dolphin (In Portuguese, Boto Cor De Rosa).


KL: So, basically, this story is popular among all Brazilians and it’s about a man who is said to have actually been a Pink Dolphin who would come out of the river and transform into a human. So, when he would come out of the water he would be dressed in all white and he would go to parties, acting like a human, and he was a very fertile man so he would impregnate a bunch of women in the village. So, there are a lot of conspiracies in Brazil about whether or not this is true, so some people do believe this is true, as crazy as it seems.


EK: So how did you learn of the story?


KL: Yeah, so this was told to me when I was on exchange in Brazil by my host parents right before I went on a trip to the Amazon Rain Forest. It’s just something cool that a lot of Brazilians tell, I was also told the story when I was in the [Amazon] rain forest, so it’s just a story that everyone kind of knows.


EK: So, it’s a pretty popular oral story then.


KL: Yeah, it’s pretty popular, if you asked around in the area, I’m sure someone would know. It’s one of those word-of-mouth things; it started in an Amazon village, the Amazon River was where he (the dolphin) was said to come out of, and now everyone knows, and different Brazilians will tell you their version of it or what they know about it.


EK: So, then what do you get out of the story?


KL: Yeah, I think that it shows that Brazilians place a lot of cultural emphasis on nature, like humans’ connections to nature, animals, and I think it’s really cool. It’s just an interesting story that shows that their culture is very much centered around family and nature and those connections.


My Interpretation:

I would have to agree with KL; it seems that Brazilians have a huge cultural emphasis on nature and family. Brazil may not be the wealthiest country in the world, but with this culture, they don’t place as much value in wealth as, say, Americans do. With the Amazon Rainforest in their backyard, there is so much nature to explore and appreciate. I believe the pink dolphin is only native to the Amazon River.

The Pink Dolphin who turns into a man to impregnate the women of the village shows the emphasis on family and fertility as well. However, it is interesting to me that the dolphin/male does not stick around after impregnating the women to my knowledge, so that could also be a statement on gender roles in Brazil. In most stories that I have encountered that are like this, though, it is often the female who is stuck with the child and the male who continues to impregnate multiple women, so it could also just be a theme of these types of stories.

A Sailor’s Proverb: Red Sky at Morning, Sailor Take Warning

The following is CL’s interpretation of the proverb, “Red Sky at Morning, Sailor Take Warning; Red Sky at Night, Sailor’s Delight,” in a conversation.


“Red Sky at Morning, Sailor Take Warning; Red Sky at Night, Sailor’s Delight”:


CL: The reason why [it’s called this] is [the following]. So, think sailors setting out to port at the first daylight; if the sky was red in the morning, that meant there was a lot of dust in the air and there was a chance that as you got out to sea, you’d get rained on because of the thickness in the air. So, if you got into a storm, it was bad for the sailor. Red sky at night meant it would be safe sailing because it would probably rain that night, and in the morning, you could set sail; you’d be safe to leave the port.


EK: Interesting, so where did you learn this from?


CL: That is an old, old story, and I think it probably goes back to the middle ages or before. I don’t know if it’s European in nature or if it’s something that was developed here. I learned it from my mother, though, who for some reason knew everything about sailing and sailing stories.


EK: So, what does this story mean to you, then?


CL: Well I’m not really much of a sailor, I just know the proverb exists. The closest tie I have to it is from my mother, so I guess it connects me to her in some way. I’m not sure if it’s still implemented today, but I’d imagine it is or was a pretty big superstition for sailors.


My Interpretation:

I’ve never heard this proverb before, most likely because I’ve never come in contact with a sailor. It could be true, or maybe it was something only used back in the day, before new technology has allowed us to set sail during a little rain or thunderstorm. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a red sky; it’s possible that the redness could be from pollution- I’ve heard that the deeper the sunset, the more particles from pollution. However, it is interesting to me that this is/was such a superstition for sailors. I can only assume that in past times they would have had to be more careful when setting sail because they didn’t have the knowledge of the seas or technology that they do today that could have given them more peace of mind and less uncertainty in their travels.

Keith Country Day School Lead in the Water Meme

IMG_7080The following is the background of the meme account of Keith School and a description of a meme about lead occurring in drinking water at Keith School from a conversation with NC. Attached is the respective meme.


Started in 2016, the seniors of Keith Country Day School created the @keithcountrymemeschool Instagram account. The purpose of the account was to mock and tease the faculty and school rules. Every year, one senior runs the account and takes into consideration the ideas of his/her peers. The memes are a collection of spin-offs of already well-known memes and original memes. Some of the memes even have faculty members’ faces photoshopped onto the picture. The account was made private, so as not to let faculty members see the page. Below is the description of a meme from the page, described by the senior from the class of 2018 who created it.


NC: This meme is kind of like a 2.0 version of a previous meme published on the page. In the previous meme, the joke was about how if your water wasn’t filtered by reverse osmosis, it wasn’t good enough to drink, a concept that started when the school brought in some fitness guru and she had the strangest rules she insisted people follow if they wanted to be healthy, including the reverse osmosis thing. So, the picture in the meme shows the lady spitting out the water in the picture with the caption “When your water isn’t filtered by reverse osmosis.” I redesigned that meme as this one, to fit another one of Keith’s long list of problems. It was released earlier that week that students and faculty should stop drinking the drinking fountain water in the school’s buildings because it had just come to the school’s attention that there were high levels of lead in the water, unhealthy for anyone to be drinking. Keith students found this funny though because it’s such a “Keith” thing to happen; of course, our school would have lead in the water, it’s already so run down and has so many other problems that it really wasn’t that surprising. So, all I had to do was cross out the reverse osmosis part of the original meme and put in “filled with lead” at the end and the meme was even funnier in my opinion because now it was poking fun at Keith. Kind of like, we were such high-class, fancy, private school kids, that we only drank water with lead in it.


My Interpretation:

Keith School is a private school, and although I’m sure that not everyone who attends is incredibly wealthy, there are definitely enough kids who are that earns the school its reputation for being very expensive and high quality for rich kids. So, it’s easy to see how, when mistakes as bad as lead being found in the water are made by the school, it makes them look really bad, especially with the reputation they have made for themselves. This, along with other happenings at the school, pokes holes in this reputation, and allows for the students who attend the school to make fun of how dingy, worn down, or ridiculous the school is for having such a bad lead problem. It seems that this irony is what makes the meme funny to the students.

Keith Country Day School Student Body Meme

IMG_7081The following is the background of the meme account of Keith School and a description of a meme about the student body of Keith School from a conversation with NC. Attached is the respective meme.


Started in 2016, the seniors of Keith Country Day School created the @keithcountrymemeschool Instagram account. The purpose of the account was to mock and tease the faculty and school rules. Every year, one senior runs the account and takes into consideration the ideas of his/her peers. The memes are a collection of spin-offs of already well-known memes and original memes. Some of the memes even have faculty members’ faces photoshopped onto the picture. The account was made private, so as not to let faculty members see the page. Below is the description of a meme from the page, described by the senior from the class of 2018 who created it.


NC: This meme is a spin-off of the popular meme with a surprised boy gesturing and looking at a butterfly in the right-hand corner and a caption at the bottom asking a question. If you want to see other examples of this meme, you can look up “butterfly man meme” in a search engine. I did a spin-off of that meme by photoshopping Keith’s image on the boy’s face, photoshopping “54 people” on top of the butterfly, and making the bottom caption says, “Is this an student body?” Kids who follow the account find the meme funny because Keith School is an incredibly small school with a smaller student body than most, but it always boasts that it is constantly getting more of student body and getting bigger every year; it’s funny because that’s so untrue, haha. In reality, Keith is actually losing student body members, and has never been smaller than it is now.


My Interpretation:

It’s obvious that the students at Keith Country Day School have little respect for the school, making fun of enrollment numbers through this meme. It seems that Keith is trying to make an attempt to hide that they are struggling, not only with enrollment numbers but also financially as an effect of it. The students see the school struggling and can easily poke fun at the weakness of the institution, especially if they know they won’t be caught doing so with a private meme page.

How Purim, A Jewish Holiday, Came to Be: The Story of Esther

The following is a conversation with AJ that describes her interpretation and knowledge of the Story of Esther; the story behind the Jewish holiday of Purim.


AJ: So basically, the second in command to the King, named Haman, made a decree that everyone needed to bow down to him, but this one guy named Mordecai didn’t want to bow down to him because you’re really not allowed to bow down to anyone that’s not God. So, Haman then hated all the Jews. So, he made a decree for a lottery, which picked a day that would essentially be “the purge” for killing Jews; you’d have the whole day to kill Jews and you wouldn’t get in trouble. So, the day he chose “the purge” for was on the 13th of Adar, which falls tomorrow (March 20th), I think, and it was called Purim.

So, while this is happening, the King was having a three-day festival party, and he told his wife to come so he could show her off or whatever. But she didn’t come and just had her own party with the girls, and it was so disrespectful to the King that he got rid of her. So, then he held a beauty pageant for a new wife, and he recruited every girl from the city. So basically, Mordecai, from earlier, had a niece named Esther, and they were trying to hide her, but the King’s men found her. When she went to the beauty pageant, the King liked her the most and she was the most beautiful, so she became Queen. Mordecai then told Esther that this [happening] was a sign that she needed to use her position as Queen to try and convince the King that he shouldn’t kill the Jews with the purge system that Haman created. And then basically Esther was really scared because you can’t approach the King, even if you’re the Queen, without him calling [upon] you or using his power on you. So that’s why the Jews fasted for three days, to make sure nothing would happen to her when she went to the King. They fasted because it was custom that you were supposed to fast if you really wanted something to happen […]; fasting helps give you luck. So, she went to the King and asked for a tea party to talk about Haman. So, Esther had the party twice, but couldn’t find her words until the third time when she told the King that Haman was trying to kill her people, the Jews. The King then was like, “What, oh my gosh!” […] there are more details, but anyway, the King sentences Haman and all his sons and they were hung, but only after Haman carried Mordecai on a horse to get his full embarrassment before his death. The lottery decree was able to be reversed because of the King’s power and then the Jew’s were saved because of Esther.


EK:  So, then what do you, and other Jews, do to celebrate for Purim?


AJ: Um, okay, so we fast for a day, which is tomorrow (March 20th), the same as the 13th of Adar, and then we read this story at night before we have a big feast. Also, it’s a custom to give each other food baskets to friends and family during this time.


EK: Interesting, so what does this story mean to you, as someone who is Jewish?


AJ: Basically, I know it because through being Jewish and it’s just a story that’s identifiable to all Jewish people because everyone in the religion celebrates the holiday, so it just brings us all together and we get food baskets in the process, haha.


My Interpretation:

It is very clear that the Jewish religion places a lot of emphasis on the stories of their religion and the sacredness of their celebrations. These origins seem to date back thousands of years, as well as the worship during the sacred holiday. During Purim, I watched AJ strictly abide by the rules of fasting throughout the day; obviously this is a holiday that Jews take very seriously. As this story is a part of their culture and religion, it seems that many Jews know it by heart. When AJ was sharing the story, she did not have to think twice about many of the details, like it was common practice for her to recite.

“Smile, Shake It, We Love You, Woot Woot!”: A Figure Skating Chant

The following is MA’s recollection and interpretation of a common Figure Skating chant.


MA details how this popular chant is performed before a figure skater begins their performance at a show or competition. “Smile, Shake It, We Love You, Woot Woot!” is a figure skating chant that younger skaters chant as a group before their friend takes the ice. It is used to give the skater confidence, luck, and support before they perform and to encourage them to put some spunk in their program. The group of skaters who chant this are usually all from the same figure skating club, so it shows a sense of camaraderie and association between the skaters in the club as they support their friend from their club. Likewise, it differentiates them from other figure skating clubs, especially if others say a parody of the chant or use a different tone.


MA is used to saying the chant with a brief pause between each part of the chant (there are four parts) and will only say it when she’s with friends. She adds that she would not be confident enough, nor project her voice enough, to yell out the chant by herself. MA says that “even if I go out and do a bad program, at least I know I gave it my all and my friends will always have my back.”


My Interpretation:

As a figure skater, I know the isolating feeling of competing or performing under pressure and not having a teammate to rely on. Figure skating is a very independent, individual sport, but with this chant, a skater can still get team-like support. It seems like this chant is pretty mainstream among younger skaters, most likely between the ages of seven and sixteen. It would definitely be surprising to hear it at a bigger event, such as a grand prix competition or at the Olympics, mostly because it is considered slightly immature for older skaters to say. Overall, the chant builds passion for the sport, camaraderie in the group and, in general, lasting friendships between the skaters in the same club through showing/performing their support for a fellow club member.

Dead Bodies in The Rock River: A Legend

The following is a conversation with JK that describes his interpretation and knowledge of the legend that dead bodies are dumped into the Rock River in Rockford, IL.


JK: So, Rockford [Illinois], is this small town but is actually one most dangerous cities in Illinois and one of the worst cities to live in in the country (U.S.A.). But anyway, the worst part is the West side, kind of in the downtown area, it’s super sketchy there, it’s like the hood. So, there’s this river called the Rock River that flows through the city close to the bad part of town, I don’t know really where it starts or ends, but basically, it’s really gross looking and murky and dirty, no one swims in it or fishes or anything; it’s just nasty looking. So, there’s this legend that the river is full of dead bodies that have been dumped from murders downtown. And tbh (to be honest) I’m pretty sure dead bodies have been pulled out of there. So, like, because of that, no one swims in the river. And it’s kind of funny and ironic because some of the nicer houses in town are on the river, but the last place I’d ever want to live is on the river for this reason.


EK: So how did you learn of this legend? What does it mean to you?


JK: I think it’s something that every kid picks up if they grow up in Rockford. I remember learning it in Kindergarten or First Grade, some corrupted little kid probably told me, and it spread like wildfire. But if you ask any kid from the area, regardless of the school, it’s just a legend that everyone knows; kind of like common knowledge. I’ve definitely passed it on to people before, haha.


My Interpretation:

The legend of dead bodies showing up in the Rock River seems like it can travel fast in a smaller town, especially because it has a lot of shock value. I’m sure some kids even tell it as a ghost story around Halloween. I also assume that the legend plants uncertainty in a lot of people, especially those who don’t live right by the river and are unfamiliar with the area; where the area goes from being the good part of town to “the hood.” The fact that JK believes that people have actually been found in the river, regardless of whether the person found was the result of a murder, a suicide, or an accident, it makes the river that much more eerie to citizens in the area, and helps the story spread like wildfire among kids in grade school who are looking to share the “next big thing” with their friends. When JK told the story, he told it very eerily/spookily, as if it were the perfect Halloween story.