USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Japan’
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
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.

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.

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.

Customs
Humor
Narrative

A Very Blind Engagement (Japan)

My grandmother was first told this story by her mother-in-law, my great-grandmother, roughly fifty years ago.  The account is actually about my great-grandmother and how she met her husband, my great-grandfather.  Ever since she heard the story, she has retold my aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters and other relatives as a piece of interesting family history.  With this entry, my goal is to illustrate the “telephone effect,” or alteration of the original story, that can occur after only three generations by interviewing my grandmother and my brother.  My brother has heard the story from both my grandmother and my mother, so his version is expected to be different from my grandmother’s.

The story as my grandmother tells it goes like this:

Your great-grandmother, Mitsuno, was born in Hiroshima and was the eldest child in her family.  Because she was the eldest, she was responsible for her younger siblings, so she stayed at home while her siblings went off to school everyday.  One day, when she was in her twenties, she heard about an opportunity to go to the U.S. and meet a husband.  She was probably eager to experience life outside her hometown.  She was given a picture of her husband-to-be and took a ship to Los Angeles.  He was from Hiroshima too.  It was common back then to marry within your region of Japan…  It was frowned on to marry outside your city… But anyways, when she got off the ship… Boy, was she surprised!  He was much older than the picture!  So… she got right back on the ship and went back to Japan.  Well, your great-grandfather, Sakuichi, went all the way over to Japan, found her and convinced her to come back to the U.S. with him.  She eventually did, they got married and lived in Los Angeles.  But it certainly wasn’t a happy marriage!

When I interviewed my brother, the story was altered a bit and also condensed:

I don’t think I’ve heard that story in a couple years or so… I interviewed Grammy for one of my Asian-American classes.  Um, I don’t really remember who it was or how we’re related to her, but it happened during the early 1900s, when there were early forms of ‘mail order brides’… Basically I think she wanted American citizenship, so she blindly traveled from Japan to the States to meet her husband.  When she got off the boat, she took one look at him and convinced the boat crew to take her back to Japan.  I guess he didn’t just take that lying down, and he sailed to Japan to bring her back….”

The two versions of the story present the same plotline, but are noticeably different.  My grandmother offers more information and descriptions, while my brother omits specific names and also adds some other details.  My brother seems to put it into his own context becuase the last time he said he heard the story, he used it to relate to an Asian-American Studies course.  These contrasting stories are expected though, since my grandmother knew my great-grandmother and learned the story first-hand.  Yet, still, my grandmother’s version may be very different from my great-grandmother’s account, and that account may be very different from my great-grandfather’s account.  After just three generations since the original story was told to my grandmother, only the “punch line” of the narrative has survived.  The case study demonstrates the multiplicity and variation that commonly defines folklore and how stories are transformed over time.

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