USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Asian’
Childhood
Customs

Minnows can be beauty salon employees

My friend told me one folk tradition she and her sister used to do as children.  They would sit on the edge of a pond and stick their feet in the shallow water.  After a while the minnows would come by and they would start biting at their feet, removing the dead skin.

We were watching a documentary on sea life and she volunteered this tradition.  She claimed it feels like small pokes and was not painful at all.  She said that the practice was also used by Asian spas, which would stick your feet in buckets of water with minnows in them.

The process seems to be an at home beauty solution which incorporates nature.   It’s much cheaper, although somewhat more inconvenient that buying something to exfoliate your feet for you or paying for a spa visit. It makes sense that this originated as an eastern tradition since eastern medicine is known for incorporating natural remedies.  It is interesting that it was adapted as a practice for children since it is also almost a daredevil game because it places children in a much closer relationship with nature than they would normally be.  Minnows are not inherently dangerous but using them to clean your feet you are mastering nature.

Source: http://www.dvorak.org/blog/2007/08/15/new-spa-treatment-fish-eat-your-dead-skin-cells/

Legends
Narrative
Tales /märchen

La Casa Matusita B

During the 19th century, the house was inhabited by a migrant Chinese (sometimes Japanese) family. The father worked very hard and came back late at night every day. One day, he came back earlier and was surprised to hear strange noises coming from his and his wife’s bedroom. He went there and fount his wife in bed with a lover, irate, he grabbed a knife and hacked them both up into pieces. When his kids got home, he decided to kill them as well since he saw no feasible explanation of his deeds and he didn’t want them to hate him. After that, he committed suicide.
While property records show that a Chinese family did indeed live in the house during the early 19th century, there is no proof that the above events transpired. This story’s popularity however could be attributed to lingering xenophobia, staring from the mid 19th century to the early 20th century, there was a very large wave of Chinese migrants to Lima. These immigrants were brought to Lima under false pretenses of wealth and opportunity when in reality, they were brought to collect guano since there was a dearth of cheap labor in Lima (the remaining Africans who were brought over as slaves were too few and the indigenous population had fled to the Andes to avoid being enslaved). These Chinese immigrants suffered horrendously and died by the thousands; however, there was a good number who survived the Guano age and established themselves in the city. In spite of their work which had brought an immense level of prosperity for Lima, these migrants were viewed with distrust by the Peruvians of European descent and were actively discriminated against. This version of the story is a vestige of that sentiment.

Legends
Narrative
Tales /märchen

La Casa Matusita D

In the late 1970s, Argentinian comedian, Humberto Vilchez Vera made a bet on his television show that he would stay in the house for seven days without incident. However, on the the fourth day, neighbors called police because of the horrible screams that could be heard inside the house. The police and ambulances arrived and took Vera away who was still screaming, speaking in tongues and acting erratically. He was also frothing at the mouth. He was sent to an insane asylum for 13 months and after his release forever declined to speak of the house.
While the previous versions about the Chinese family and the cruel master are not supported by any evidence other than property records which show that the house was indeed inhabited by Chinese migrants, the Vilchez Vera case re is the most recent occurrence that is well-documented and would seem to corroborate the stories of the hauntings. However, Vilchez Vera denied having entered the house in his autobiography and said that while he made the bid, his intention was only to fool people into believing he’d entered the house. Vilchez Vera was very vague in his autobiography which was published shortly before his death, and he doesn’t state exactly how he pretended to enter the house nor does he address his documented rescue by the police or his disappearance after the incident (the insane asylum story has never been proven since no documents have been found). Over all it’s a very puzzling case.

Legends
Narrative
Tales /märchen

La Casa Matusita A

This house situated in Downtown Lima, Peru is the most famous haunted structure in the entire country. It is famous throughout, you can ask anyone in Lima, and they will all know of it whether they believe in paranormal phenomena or not. The house was first brought to my attention when I moved to Peru by one of my maids, she told me all about it and then my mother confirmed the stories circulated, but said they were all made up. During her last visit, I had her recount a couple of versions of the story of the Matusita which she knew (there are dozens):
At the turn of the twentieth century, there lived in the house a cruel man with two servants (cook and butler). During dinner with friends, the servants decided to get their revenge and poison their master and his friends with hallucinogenic substances. They served the tampered dinner and locked the door of the dining room. A few minutes later, the servants heard  a horrible scuffle. They waited until the noises ceased and then when they opened the door, they saw that the diners were torn to pieces, there was blood spread everywhere. The servants felt terribly guilty and took their lives right there. This version is said to explain the loud voices, conversation and laughter followed by blood curling cries and sepulchral silence that neighbors and passerbyers have attributed to the house.  It is said that if they get close to the house or look in, they will go mad at the sights of gore and debauchery inside.
This version shows the rift between the master and his servants which can be extended to the sentiments that the indigenous and African workers feel towards their European (and later on Asian) masters. This tension is found to this very day since in Peru there is a very strong, but passive racist undercurrent that is perpetuated from generation to generation and never confronted. The race of the master is left unsaid in some versions of the story like this one (it is implied he was white); however , there are also versions that connect this version to version b which I also discuss. In those versions, the master is Asian and a descendent of the Chinese family who lived in the house in the 19th century.

Childhood
Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Humor

If you don’t eat your rice….

Material

If you don’t eat all of your rice then when you’re sleeping your soul will leave your body and look for the rice cooker (laughs) and then you will get trapped in it or something like that (laughs).

Context

The informant told me that her friend told her this belief when the informant was nineteen but that the belief is usually told to little kids when they do not want to eat their rice.

Informant Analysis

According to the informant she believes that this folk belief is told to kids by their parents so the kids will eat all of their rice and not be wasteful. She believes that the parents tell their kids this because they think scaring their kids will work. Although my informant heard about this saying from a friend her friend was told about this belief from her parents. The informant’s friend is Chinese born in the Philippines so the informant believes the belief exists among all Asians, although in different forms. She believes this because she was also told about a belief pertaining to not eating rice by another friend who is Asian as well. I asked the informant if her parents ever told her anything pertaining to something bad happening if she did not eat her rice and she said no, her parents just told her to eat her rice.

My informant is currently 20 years old and is a student at USC. She is of Asian descent but does not speak any other language besides English. She is very involved in the USC Nikkei Association which is an Asian club on campus.

The other belief

 If you don’t eat your rice….then….they said something about worms like eating…eating your soul or something weird like that (laughs)

Analysis from the Collector

I enjoyed hearing about these beliefs because I have never heard any of them before. I agree with my informant that these beliefs are mainly told to little kids as an effort from their parents to get them to eat their rice. Not knowing many Asians myself, I would not be able to say whether these beliefs are common among all Asian groups like my informant believes. I think these are the type of beliefs that are taken very seriously when the person is young but are taken as being silly when the person grows and are just remembered as childhood folklore.

 

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.

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.

general
Humor

Supplies Joke

There’s a German man, American man and a Chinese man who are all employees at a cement factory. When the employer comes along, he tells the German man to set the cement, he tells the American man to set the bricks, and he tells the Chinese man to get the supplies. When he comes back in an hour, the cement is all set and bricks are all in place, but the Chinese man is nowhere to be found. When he asks where the Chinese man is, the Chinese man jumps out of the bush and yells “supplies!”

The informant says she first heard this joke from a friend in high school when they were both on a trip. She says that although they are both Asian, they both found it extremely funny, because this joke plays upon stereotypes of accents that are often true within the older generation that came to America, not having grown up here. Although it is stereotypical, she believes that it is all in good fun.

It is interesting how this joke plays with the idea of Blason Populaire. The informant and the person whom she heard the joke from are both Asian Americans with parents who have accents that are similar to the one being made fun of in the joke. By laughing over the joke and taking the idea lightly, they are both identifying with a group, which reaffirms their identities as Asian Americans. Furthermore, this joke also uses the rule of 3, which indicates that it originated in Western culture.

Customs
Foodways
general
Holidays
Life cycle
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

鏡餅 (Kagami Mochi) — Japanese Foodways

鏡餅, literally translated from the Japanese, means “mirror rice cake.” This name, though thought to have originated from the mochi’s resemblance to a old-fashioned kind of round copper mirror, has no relevance at all to its folkloric aspects. 鏡餅 is a traditional Japanese New Years decoration, consisting of two round mochi (rice cakes), the smaller placed atop the larger, and a Japanese orange with a leaf placed on top.

鏡餅 -- Traditional Japanese New Years decoration

My informant is a student in Nagoya, Japan, and has had 鏡餅 decorations every year for New Years, for as long as she can remember. Recently, however, she said that her family has settled on buying the cheaper, mass-produced 鏡餅, which are often pre-moulded into the shapes of stacked discs and sold in plastic packages at the supermarket. A plastic imitation bitter orange is substituted for the original. In some cases, there are actual rice makes within the plastic casing; however, even if there is, she said she has not heard of many families who actually enjoy eating the mochi. “Because it’s been there for so long,” She said. “It gets all stale and gross and no one wants to touch it.” The plastic casing, however, is preferred by most contemporary people because it keeps the mochi inside free of rot and germs. They break open and eat the mochi usually on January 11th, in a ritual known as 鏡開き (which literally means, “breaking the mirror”), in order to celebrate the breaking of the old year, for the arrival of the new. By this point, the mochi has become so stale that it usually has cracks on the surface; however, because cutting it with a knife has negative connotations (cutting off ties), they usually crack it open with their hands or some other heavy object.

The two mochi discs are said to symbolize the coming and going years, as well as the balance of yin and yang, although most people, including my informant, do not know exactly how those two concepts apply to the structure of the 鏡餅, or why it has to be mochi at all–it is simply something a ritual they have performed in the past, and so they repeat it, to end their year on the “right note,” and to enjoy a sense of camaraderie with the rest of Japanese society.

That most contemporary 鏡餅 is mass-produced in plastic casings is significant because it indicates the widespread performance of a folk ritual that seems to have no inherent personal meaning in the lives of most households. If there was inherent meaning, they would perhaps be more keen on performing it the traditional way–making the rice cakes themselves or even just buying them and stacking them together, placing the bitter orange on top. As it is, however, it has become for my informant “something my mom just picks up from the supermarket when she realizes it’s almost New Year’s.”

[geolocation]