USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Japan’
Childhood
Customs
general

Bath Time – Japan

My informant was born and raised in Japan, but moved to America to finish her college degree at the University of San Diego. She told me about a childhood custom that is common among Japanese families.

“In Japan a little daughter and dad shower and bath together is normal–with son too. People from other countries say that’s disgusting. (But) it’s because normally dads don’t have time to communicate with their kids cause the work, so bath time is perfect time to have kids time to them. We did until I was 7 or something.”

I knew she had an older brother, so I asked if her dad would shower with both of them simultaneously or one by one. Her response was:

“Both! But that’s only when we’re little like 3 or 4. After that let’s say probably when I’m taking the bath my dad join me after. We just talk and play in the bathtub. Maybe he help me wash my hair, but not the body.”

I thought it was interesting how my informant pointed out how other countries saw this custom as strange, and felt the need to provide an explanation (almost in a defensive manner). I think it is because in Western culture it is more commonly heard of for mothers to take baths with their children since they are the ones to have given birth and are the “caretakers” of the family. A father  taking a bath with his child–especially a daughter– could be interpreted as inappropriate or even as sexual abuse.

However, baths are a huge part of Japanese custom. Japan has numerous public bathhouses located all over the country, varying from rural to urban areas. These bathhouses have large communal baths that are typically segregated by gender. Visitors comfortably bathe and walk around nude in front of complete strangers. With this information in mind, I was not surprised to hear that it is typical for children to bathe with their fathers.

Customs
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays
Signs

Japanese New Year Eve

Information about the Informant: The informant is a 23 year old USC student named Eddie Roche. Eddie is a business major and is half Japanese half American. His father is from Chicago while his mother is from Japan. Growing up, Eddie lived in both Japan and China so he was immersed to numerous holiday traditions that both countries practiced. He has lots of family in Japan so he spent all of his holidays with family and learned about his culture.

Informant: “So basically every new years eve, all of the Japanese people clean everything in their house. It’s something that the Japanese people call Oosoji. It may take hours upon hours but it is a tradition that always occurs among Japanese people. Whether its making beds perfectly, re-cleaning every dish, or dustin all the furniture, the tradition is to cleanse everything in the house. People also clean out their cars and other forms of property that can require cleaning. They do this in order to begin the new year off on a blank page. If anything is dirty on new years, it means that some of the previous years’ bad habits are leaking into the new year.  After the cleaning is done, its tradition to put up numerous New Years decorations like Kadomatsu which are made up of pine and bamboo. Japanese people really like Bamboo. They all believe it is a symbol of longevity and good luck.”

Analysis: I found this Japanese New year eve tradition to be a tradition that makes a lot of sense practically and symbolically. From the perspective of an outsider who had never practiced such a tradition, I can easily understand how cleaning houses and property to perfection before the new years starts makes sense. It is as if the Japanese people are beginning the new year on a completely blank slate. What happened in the past is the past and there is nothing they can do about it once the next year comes along.

Customs
general
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Japanese New Years Day

Information about the Informant: The informant is a 23 year old USC student named Eddie Roche. Eddie is a business major and is half Japanese half American. His father is from Chicago while his mother is from Japan. Growing up, Eddie lived in both Japan and China so he was immersed to numerous holiday traditions that both countries practiced. He has lots of family in Japan so he spent all of his holidays with family and learned about his culture.

Informant: “After the oosoji on New Year’s Eve where everyone in Japan cleans everything, the day of New Years is equally as important. This day is all about giving and sharing good fortune. Pretty much everyone just gives everyone money throughout the whole day. Lots of the young kids receive money from the parents, relatives, and friends as a sign of good fortune for the rest of the year. In order to receive money you have to be under 22 years old. The tradition is called Otoshidama and the closer you are to 22 years old the more money you receive. Typically really going kids don’t get much money but its more about the idea of giving money to the kids as opposed to the exact amount they get. Another tradition on New Year’s Day is that most people, religious or not, travel to the temples in order to give money to the temples and receive good fortune. At the temple we walk around through these pillars and then throw money into a basket. Also, there is a tradition where you shake a brown box with a small hole on it and a bunch of sticks in it. You shake the box until a stick comes out and once the stick comes out you make the number on the stick to a corresponding piece of paper. Whatever the paper says determines your fortune for the new year. It can range from saying you will have really good luck to having very bad luck for the whole year.”

Analysis: Although he is Japanese, my informant wasn’t necessarily the most fond of these traditions. He enjoys them but he doesn’t really believe what they say. This is mostly because he is not full Japanese and did these traditions with his family more just because he had to than anything else. Japanese culture is very fond of fortune telling and it makes sense that these traditions are so heavily practiced on New Years Day, a day that is seen as a blank slate from what happened in the previous year.

Customs
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Chado

About the Interviewed: Yuki is a Japanese student  from the University of Hokkaido, currently studying western art and culture. She’s currently participating in an American homestay at a friend’s house in Southern California. Yuki is ethnically Japanese, and she’s said that her family has lived in Japan for a long time. She’s about 21 years old.

My subject, Yuki was willing to tell me about a folkloric tradition in her family. 

Yuki: “My dad performs Chado for work. In English, it means “Tea Ceremony”. Chado is the art of making exquisite tea, but it is also very difficult. You have to train for a long time to do it properly. Chado requires absolute [specific] steps. You can’t make mistakes. People pay a lot of money to watch Chado because it’s traditional.”

I ask Yuki if she can explain what a “Chado” performance looks like.

Yuki: “I can’t do [demonstrate?] it. It’s too hard. My dad studied for a very long time. I’m sorry. I can explain it though. You take a bowl, and you carefully clean it. Then you prepare the tea in a very special way. Chado is history. People used to make tea for Kings using the Chado style.”

I carefully ask if Chado is more about technique, or if the Tea is just that good.

Yuki: “(laughs) The technique is more important. But the Tea is better than most. Chado is about watching tradition.”

I ask what Chado has meant to Yuki.

Yuki: “I think it’s interesting. I just can’t do it. (laughs)”

Summary:

Chado, or Tea Ceremony, is a traditional art performance that has deep historical roots. It involves making tea using a highly articulate technique that requires intense training to master. People pay to watch those who know the technique perform their craft.

Yuki was unable to perform the tea ceremony for me, but independent research has shown me that there are a large number of materials required to make the ceremony “work”. It has a lot to do with the concept of “authenticity” in folklore. People want to engage in a culture that is as close to its original counterpart as possible.

Customs

Taking Off Shoes – Japanese Domestic Customs

About the Interviewed: Yuki is a Japanese student  from the University of Hokkaido, currently studying western art and culture. She’s currently participating in an American homestay at a friend’s house in Southern California. Yuki is ethnically Japanese, and she’s said that her family has lived in Japan for a long time. She’s about 21 years old.

My subject, Yuki, was telling me about the customs involved when entering a Japanese home.

Yuki: “Japanese people don’t wear shoes in the house. We have a Gedabako [shoe rack] for putting shoes when you enter the house.”

I ask Yuki why she thinks that Western People and Japanese People have different ways of doing things.

Yuki: “I don’t understand why westerners wear shoes and walk on the floor. You can get dirty. In Japan, we walk on the floor in our feet, so it’s good to keep the floor clean.”

I tell Yuki that it might be because Japanese floors are lined with tatami mats, which Japanese people sleep, eat, and generally walk upon barefoot.

Yuki: “Not all Japanese people sleep on mats. But it’s important to keep them clean. (laugh) Walking indoors with shoes on is still something I find difficult.”

Summary:

In Japan, it’s seen as customary to take your shoes off when you enter the home. This is probably because Japanese people typically walk around barefoot, as well as sit upon the floor when they eat and sometimes sleep.

Japan isn’t the only culture in the world that has a custom against using shoes indoors. Countries in Europe, like Germany, Switzerland, and Scandinavia, as well as other Asian countries like Thailand and Korea, also have taboos against getting the floors dirty. I think it’s interesting that certain cultures are fine with the sanitation limits of using shoes indoors, yet others are more wary. Customs are oral traditions that are performed/enforced to maintain a cultural standard.

http://expatsincebirth.com/2013/11/24/take-off-your-shoes-please/

Folk Dance
Kinesthetic
Musical

Kamigami-sama Eisa Dance

Eisa is a traditional Okinawan folk dance, and it uses small handheld drums called paranku. People used to dance eisa during traditional festivals, but now it is just performed for cultural entertainment. It is closely related to taiko.

Our taiko group dances eisa to a song called “Kamigami-sama”. It’s from the soundtrack of Hayao Miyazaki’s movie Spirited Away, and it incorporates many elements of traditional Japanese music. The song’s title means “The Gods”, and it’s actually a silly song about all sorts of gods needing to take all sorts of baths. But people who don’t understand Japanese can’t really tell.

This song has been in our repertoire for quite a number of years now, and we basically just have older members teach the new members every year. Sometimes we might change a bit of the movements or formation, depending on the Artistic Director or on the dancers’ opinions, so each performance is a little different.

Kamigami-sama

The informant is the Executive Director of her taiko group, so she is knowledgeable about the group’s repertoire and the stories behind most songs.

It is interesting that this piece is never performed the exact same way more than once, since the performances are never written / made “sacred”. With this more fluid nature, performances of “Kamigami-sama” could potentially take big changes as the years accumulate.

Legends
Narrative

Momotarō

One day an old woman was washing her clothes by a stream and a giant peach floats down the water. When she took it home to show her husband and to share the peach, a boy popped out, claiming to be their son sent from the gods. Because he came out of a peach, the couple decided to name him Momotarō (桃太郎).

When Momotarō grew up he decided to go on an adventure, and he befriends a monkey, a rooster, and a bear. Together they fought oni (鬼; ghosts) on an island and claimed their treasures, which Momotarō then took home to his parents. They lived happily ever after.

Informant had studied abroad in Japan and considers herself more Japanese than Chinese or American. She learned such folklore from her Japanese friends.

Legends
Narrative
Tales /märchen

Kappa, the River Child

Kappa (河童) is a creepy child-like, frog-like creature that has a bowl of water in its head. They also have a shell and a beak and webbed fingers and toes. They’re very mischievous and they’re excellent swimmers becuase they live in the rivers and lakes. They always have to have water in their bowl though, because the water gives them strength. It’s like their blood.

They like playing pranks on people, and sometimes they do worse things too, like drowning people. But if you can somehow get it to spill the water on its head by making it bow down to you or otherwise, you can make the kappa subservient to you.

They love eating cucumbers. Some people say that if you eat cucumbers before you go swimming, you’ll get attacked by a kappa, but others say it could prevent that from happening.

Informant had studied abroad in Japan and considers herself more Japanese than Chinese or American. She learned such folklore from her Japanese friends. The story of the kappa may be used as a cautionary tale in Japan to keep children from playing in water without supervision.

Legends
Narrative

Yuki-Onna the Snow Lady

One day two pair of woodcutters Minokichi and Mosaku go out into the mountains to gather wood, but a snowstorm prevents them from getting home. Mosaku—the father of Minokichi—suggests that they should find a cabin in the mountains to stay in to hide from the storm, and they do just that. When Minokichi wakes up the next morning though, he sees that Mosaku has been frozen to death, and a beautiful lady in white—that’s Yuki-Onna (雪女; lit. “snow woman”)—is standing over him. She finds Mosaku very handsome so she does not kill him and lets him go, but she says, “You must promise you will never tell anyone about me, or else I must kill you,” and then she disappears.

Years later Mosaku falls in love with a woman, and they get married and have children and everything. But the wife doesn’t age. One night Mosaku tells his wife, “You know, you are so beautiful in such a magical way. Every time I look at you, I remember this one time I met a snow lady just as beautiful as you, and she spared my life.”

Mosaku’s wife becomes angry, exclaiming, “That Yuki-Onna was me!” She wants to kill Mosaku but she didn’t want to hurt her children too, so she spared his life once again, and disappears.

Informant had studied abroad in Japan and considers herself more Japanese than Chinese or American. She learned such folklore from her Japanese friends.

The story of Yuki-Onna seems to have been adapted into a number of fictional materials, possibly because of the motif of the evil but beautiful white-clad woman that kills men, but also possibly because of the plot twist.

Folk Dance
Kinesthetic
Musical

Seijun Suzuki Eisa Dance

Eisa is a traditional Okinawan folk dance, and it uses small handheld drums called paranku. People used to dance eisa during traditional festivals, but now it is just performed for cultural entertainment. It is closely related to taiko.

An old member of our taiko group is now with L.A. Shisa, a local eisa group, and she recently came back to teach us this song. She danced to it and had us follow step by step, and eventually we performed “Seijun Suzuki” in our annual Spring Concert for the first time.

The funny thing about this song is that it is based on a hip-hop song by Blue Scholars that is named after a famous Japanese movie director called Seijun Suzuki. Another alumni of our taiko group remixed the song “Seijun Suzuki” to combine local Angeleno culture and taiko’s Japanese roots.

Seijun Suzuki Eisa

The informant is the Executive Director of her taiko group, so she is knowledgeable about the group’s repertoire and the stories behind most songs.

Not only is this contemporary eisa piece similar to the pop-culture mashups that are the craze on YouTube, the way the informant’s taiko group learned Seijin Suzuki was also very performative too, since the L.A. Shisa member had taught them through performance.

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