USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘death’

The Rolling Rice Ball


This story is a Japanese folktale titled The Rolling Rice ball. The story begins with man who is chopping bamboo in the mountains, he stops for lunch and pulls out his rice ball to eat. He drops his rice ball and he follows it as it rolls into a hole, inside the hole he hears mice celebrating the rice ball. To thank the man for rice ball the mice gives him a choice of a small box or a big box, the man chooses the small box. Inside the small box he finds treasures and distributes it with his family and neighbors. His next door neighbor hears the man’s story and becomes  jealous so he decides to do the same thing. However when he reaches the mouse hole he acts as a cat to scare the mice and to try and steal all their treasures. However the mice get angry and attack the neighbor and kill him.

Background & Context:

This story was told to me in a casual interview like setting in the evening on a weekday. It was told to me by a Japanese American USC freshman, who has grown up in Honolulu, Hawaii but has visited Japan several times. The student grew up listening to these stories either as bedtime stories or just for fun. These stories were told by her parent or grandparents who reside with her family. Something she also explained was that she did not remember the original Japanese translation for the title of the story.

Final Thoughts:

 My thoughts on this story is that it holds an important message. The message being not to steal, be greedy and to share with others. I believe these are the messages that the story is trying to convey because the man who was kind and shared his rice ball with the mice was rewarded. While the neighbor who was greedy and plotted to steal from the mice was punished and killed at the end of the story.


Folk Beliefs
Life cycle

Ability to See Ghosts

A fellow student in this class and I met to exchange folklore. We are both very aware of the guidelines of the project, so there was no explaining necessary. Neither of us had any preference for certain category of folklore, so we agreed to share whatever we wanted. She chose the following story. BD is the informant, PH is myself

BD: My name is Beanna, I am 19, I am from the San Francisco Bay Area. What other questions are there?

PH: Nationality

BD: I’m Filipino but I’m also American, my family is third generation

So when my mom was a senior in high school her dad passed away and then she…was the only one there when he actually passed away and ever since then she says that she can see ghosts or like not see ghosts but she experiences ghostly…like seven years ago my grandmother on my dad’s side passed away, and again, like, my mom was not the only one there but, after that we were cleaning up my grandmother’s house and my mom said that she saw my grandmother in the …mirror? Like the main mirror of the house and like every time she passes it she sees like a white flash…and I’m not really sure if that white flash is also supposed to be my grandmother? It’s kind of freaky…and, yeah, things like that happen. Like whenever someone passes away and my mom knows about it, all of a sudden, she gets, like, mirror sightings ‘cause I don’t think it helps that in our house in our main hallway we have this very large mirror and like our neighbor’s…mom passed away …two years ago? And my mom kept insisting for like three weeks after that she kept seeing flashes in the mirror… Yeah.

PH: Wow. So, do you believe that she is, like, seeing those things and seeing ghosts?

BD: Not really, no. (Laughs) It’s also kind of like a Filipino superstition thing because her mom also thinks that she can see ghosts which is really weird because, like, my mom thinks it stems from her being present when her dad died, but my mom’s mom was not there, so why would she be able to see ghosts by that same logic, sort of?

Folk Beliefs

Gutter School Superstition

My friend was already aware of my folklore project. While getting coffee, we were happened to be telling stories about our experiences in high school. I realized this would be perfect for this assignment. GG is the informant, PH is myself.

PH: Do you have any folklore about your school, like stories everyone would tell, or things everyone would do?

GG: Oh, I think I have one. I don’t know for sure if it’s folklore.

PH: You tell me and then we’ll see.

GG: Okay, at my elementary school there was this gutter by the lunch tables and kids would say… just to freak other kids out… they would say it was built on an old ranch where there was a princess or something or a rich family and where the gutter was used to be a little stream and she fell face first and hit her head and died in the stream so people would never step in the gutter because she would come to haunt you

PH: Yes, that is folklore! Thank you.

Folk Beliefs

Night Marchers

“You shouldn’t whistle at night because you’ll get hunted down by the night marchers. I’ve never really gotten a description of what the night marchers are, but if you get hunted down by them, it’s also bad luck, and then, also, if you hear drums it’s night marchers, so go in the other direction. My sister, she’s in marching band, and one time she was whistling, and her friend just yelled at her across the field like, ‘Don’t whistle! You’re going to get hunted down by the night marchers!’ I asked her, ‘What are the night marchers?’ She just (she shrugs and shakes her head) and ‘Just don’t whistle at night.’”

Background Information and Context:

As the informant said above, she learned about this superstition from her sister, who had shared the experience of being warned about this superstition. They encountered this superstition in Hawaii, where they live.

Collector’s Notes:

It is interesting how the informant and her sister were warned not to whistle at night without ever truly understanding the background for the superstition. It makes me wonder if the person warning her sister even knew what the night marchers are, or if she was merely echoing a warning given to her by someone else. Many superstitions exist and are followed ‘just to be safe’ even though the reasons why it causes bad luck are unknown. Moreover, I was surprised that my informant never thought to look up the night marchers on the internet, because a simple Google search showed me that her bad-luck-causing night marchers were actually Hawaiian warriors whose appearance meant death.

For more information about the Night Marchers, see “Friday Frights: The Legend of Hawai‘i’s Night Marchers” in Honolulu Magazine

Folk Beliefs

Korean Fan Death

The interviewer’s initials are denoted through the initials BD, while the informant’s responses are marked as DS.

DS: In korea, if you sleep with the fan on, there’s a myth that you’ll die.
BD: Why?
DS: I don’t know.
BD: Who told you this?
DS: My mom.
BD: Where did she get it from?
DS: Her mom.
BD: Is it common in other Korean households?
DS: Yes, it’s very common. But everyone thinks of it as a joke.
BD: Does your mom actually believe it?
DS: No, she doesn’t. But she still always tells me to turn the fan off when I sleep.


Upon hearing this piece of folklore, I had thought it had a very clear scientific basis of belief—a fan would provide a slight breeze as one sleeps. Thus they could catch a cold and get very sick. But after reading more about this idea, Koreans do not have a clear scientific backing behind what they call “fan death.” They believe electric fans can actually kill people. The Atlantic discusses fan death and its origins in a recent article: Historically, a man had been found dead with two fans in his room. Frank Bures, a writer on illnesses, believes this incident is from where the belief stems, but we really do not know for sure.

Folk Beliefs
Life cycle

Taiwanese Death Practices

The interviewer’s initials are denoted through the initials BD, while the informant’s responses are marked as MW.

MW: If a person dies, we have to not eat meat. Because our religion is Buddhism. They believe that you have to clarify yourself, as a family, so that your family member that died will go to heaven.

BD: You can’t eat meat for how long?

MW: I think for at least 30 days.

BD: Does only your family do this?

MW: It’s not only just my family. I think all Taiwanese families, and probably Chinese families too. For seven days we will turn on the lights, after they died, we believe that their spirit will come back. The light needs to be on so they can see. We also have to clean the front doorway, like with no shoes, so that they can walk into the house. Another thing we do is put coins at the door because we believe there is a God controlling the money, and he can walk in. But this one we do all the time.

BD: Not just after someone died?

MW: No, all the time for good luck.


This conversation had quite a few folk beliefs, some regarding death, some about good luck. It is rooted in Buddhism, according to the informant, and it is interesting how food is related to death in this way. The Providence Zen Center.  says the time period should be 49 days, for people to “check their consciousness and digest their karma,”

Folk Beliefs

La Llorona


This story is well known throughout general Mexico and is titled La Llorona which translates to the weeping women and is a ghost story. The story focuses on an indigenous women who marries a Spaniard and has three children. However the husband leaves the woman and marries a wealthy Spanish woman. In the indigenous women’s anger she kills her three children. Right after she kills them she regrets killing her children, so she drowns herself. In the end her soul cannot move on so she roams lakes and rivers at night calling out “mis hijos” which translates to my children.

Background and Context:

This story was told to me in a casual setting in middle of the evening on a weekend. The informant is a Sophomore at USC and is Mexican American but grew up in Southern California. She was told this story by her mother in her teenage years. My informant also told me it is a ghost story and it is believed that anyone who hears the wailing woman is destined for bad luck, it is also told to children so they won’t wander outside at night.

Final Thoughts:

This was not the first time for me to be hearing this story so I believe this story is very popular and has many different variations. I also agree with the notion that this story is used to prevent children from wandering out at night, it would be effective because it would scare the children in fear of receiving bad luck by hearing the wailing women. I do not believe in ghost but I  do believe ghosts are a possibility so this story would deter me from going out at night as a child.



Folk Beliefs


When you greet each other, combination of being catholic in Columbia, you ask or give a bendicion(blessing). It is a common thing to do every time when you greet each other or you are saying good-bye. It is asking for a blessing basically from the other on the one as a sign of belief and good fortune after dismissing the other one from the phone. Alex is a Colombian native who immigrated here when he was just a little boy. His family left Columbia in response to all the violence that was emitting from Pablo Escobar’s reign of terror. In order to keep his family traditions alive, his parents constantly told him about the vast events and beauty of his homeland and people


Celebrating Selana

Selena Quintanilla was a Mexican artist who turned really famous in the United States. Her music was with Latin Culture, but sadly, she was killed by her manager. It is a common thing to throw parties and even just watch her movies and music on her birthday to remember how she prevailed as a WOMAN singer in the American culture. She is celebrated as one of the stepping stones for Hispanics/Latinos in the music industry in America.


Juan is a Mexican-American from Mexico city. He works demolition, but is super into his religion of being a Jehovah Witness. He has been passing down his traditions to his kids, just how they were passed down to him by his dad and grandpa


Funeral – Ireland

My informant is Irish-Korean. When her grandfather passed away, her family flew to Ireland for the funeral. She explained to me a couple of the events that took place for his funeral:

“So my Granddad passed away two years ago. The first funeral event we had, we had kind of like this viewing of the body for close relatives. They are very ‘light feelings’ I guess about death in Ireland so they just had my Granddad kind of exposed in the kitchen right where the food was. No one found it weird and it was just a very normal thing to do. He was in my uncle’s house and not in a proper setting. He was in a coffin, but like an open coffin. Kind of laying super casually by all the food, and people were eating around him and I felt really weird. So we had that event, and then that night all his (Granddad’s) sons and daughters– so like my dad and he has seven siblings– all stayed in the house with him there. And they had him there in the living room and they all just slept in the house, I guess to…bond? Or as a last time remembrance? And then we had another open body funeral for the whole community since we’re from a smaller community in Ireland. They had his body in a funeral home and all my siblings and cousins and relatives that could come would kind of stand in a line around the ‘funeral home’ –I don’t really know what the building was–and everyone in the town that knew my Granddad would shake every single relatives hand as a way of showing (and) saying that they’re sorry.”

Although Irish wakes are responses to the death of relatives and close friends, they are much more casual compared to American ones. In Ireland they like to play pranks with the corpse by creating situations where the deceased seems alive. It’s representative of the strange state between life and burial. We can see this when my informant’s grandfather’s corpse was casually set out in the kitchen, as people ate and interacted with each other in a very social and optimistic environment. This is very different from all the funerals I’ve attended; people are very quiet and somber. Their sadness comes from placing emphasis more on the loss of life as opposed to celebrating the life of the deceased. I also thought it was interesting how my informant’s relatives would sleep near the corpse. It’s as though they’re treating her granddad as alive, one last time.