USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘direction’
Folk Beliefs

Don’t Place Your Head Pointing North When You Sleep

Main piece:

The following is transcribed from a conversation between the informant and interviewer.

Informant: One thing I always do is like I never place, like when I’m sleeping, whenever I move into a new room, and I never sleep on the side where my head is facing north. Like my head is pointing north. Like if I sleep this way, that part can never be north. Like any other direction but north.

Interviewer: Why is that?

Informant: North is just really bad direction for us. Ummm, I think it’s cuz it symbolize coldness, coldness or like winter, or just like, I think ghost as well. Just like all the bed thing situated at north. It just like a bad connotation. South is like, sunny, warm, you know, but north is like cold. So if you play with color, north is like white, grey, blue, darkness. Or south is like, you know, red, orange, yellow, you know what I mean? So like it’s not like such a big deal but I never point north when I am sleeping. So I always check direction when I move to new apartment.

Interviewer: If you sleep with head pointing north, what will happen?

Informant: It just like bad dreams, you won’t sleep well.

Background:

My informant was born in Osaka, Japan. Both of her parents are very Japanese. So, although she immediately moved to Hong Kong after she was born, she learned Japanese and Japanese culture from her parents. She learns this folk piece from her mom. Whenever they move to a new house or place bed in a room, her mom will always check the direction and make sure the bed does not point north. Growing up with this believe, my informant also practices it, and never sleeps with her head pointing north.

Context:

She is a good friend of mine since we both lived in Osaka for a while. This piece was collected as we had lunch at the USC village. I invited her to talk about her culture and we were sharing thoughts while waiting for the food. The conversation was conducted under a relaxing environment and we both feel pretty comfortable sharing our childhood experience.

Thoughts:

I feel in Asian countries, people are really aware of the directions, especially when they buy houses. For example, in China, people like their houses or rooms face south because of more sunshine time. And they say the room temperature in a room that faces south tend to be warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer compares to other rooms. There is also a price difference in the apartment that faces south and others. If the apartment faces south, it will be more popular and sell at a higher price. However, even selling with a higher price tag, the ones that face south are usually the first batch to be sold out. After I come to America, I realize that people do not put such value on direction, which is one of the big differences I discovered between east culture and west culture.

 

Folk speech
Riddle

Where’s that Polar Bear Going?

Folk Piece

Question: You’re standing in a room which is centered perfectly on the south pole. You see a polar bear walk by the window. In what cardinal direction is the polar bear?

Answer: North. It can be northeast or northwest.

 

Background information

“I don’t even know where I heard this. Probably when I was in middle school? I don’t know, I definitely remember telling it to people in high school – it’s one of my favorite riddles. It’s just like, simple, but sort of like fucks with your mind a bit? You can almost, like, feel your head spinning as you think about it”

 

Context

“I usually tell this story only when other people bring riddles up. I don’t, like, just casually whip out some riddles because I want to. But they are fun and entertaining, I guess.”

 

Analysis

This, along with “A Dog Walks into a Forest” and “Three Light Bulbs, Two Rooms, and One Answer…” were part of an exchange between two informants that went back and forth with riddles they knew. While the first informant had familial connections to the riddles he was telling, this informant seemed to have less attachment to his riddles. Still, however, it was a point of pride for him when no one could answer. For more analysis on what this competitive aspect of riddling might mean, reference my post “Three Light Bulbs, Two Rooms, and One Answer…”

As for the piece itself, I think it’s interesting that this riddle would probably have been easier in years past. As we become more removed from our transportation and travel around our world, so too does our sense of direction become lost. I know many people who do not know the difference between East and West. While that is certainly not standard, and not a good thing in any way, it was still interesting for me to have to mentally orient myself on a map on the South Pole, spinning my head around trying to make sense of it all.

 

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Korean Directional Superstition

"North is the direction of Death"

My informant first heard this superstition from his mother when he was fourteen years old.  His father had passed away when he was thirteen, so in Korean tradition, the sons must prepare a shrine for the deceased father on the day the father died to commemorate his death.  It is a time of reflection and a time to remember the loved one who has passed away.  When he was preparing the meticulous shrine for his father with the help of his sisters and mother, his mother explained to him that the shrine must be set up towards the north side.  When he asked why, she answered that north is always the way of death.  She also added not to sleep facing the direction of north because that is like facing death.

There is some logic to people believing that north would be the direction of death.  Since it is a general belief that there is some kind of an after-life in most religions, people believe in spirits.  Usually after death, the spirits leave the heavy bodies and elevate to a higher plane.  That is why I believe people perceive north as the direction of death.

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