USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Japanese’
Game
general

Banzai

My informant is a twenty-three year old man who is half-Japanese, half-Mexican. He grew up more with Japanese culture, and was very eager to share the folklore he knew from this culture. The following is from when I interviewed him in the USC Village.  

 

Peter: “My mother and grandmother would do this thing during walks. We would yell ‘Banzai!’ and they would pull my arms in the air while I jumped.”

 

Me: “What does ‘banzai’ mean?”

 

Peter: “I’m pretty sure ‘banzai’ is a war cry. Warriors would yell it while bayonet charging… so it’s kinda funny that we would use it for something so lighthearted and playful. It literally means ‘May you live ten-thousand years.’ Actually, the ‘may you live’ is inferred because ‘banzai’ just translates to ‘ten-thousand years.’”

 

My informant then helped my find the Japanese script and translation with my computer so I could add it to my entry:

~Original script: 万歳

~Roman script: Ban-zai

~Translation: (May you live) ten-thousand years

 

I then asked my informant if he had any other thoughts to add or any other meaning ‘banzai’ has to them.

 

Peter: “I was taught that this is something to yell when jumping into a pool or body of water. It’s basically the Japanese version of ‘cannonball.’ [He chuckles]

 

Analysis:

While I have heard ‘banzai’ being used on the playground as a child, I have never seen it used in a structured play format. In Peter’s account, ‘banzai’ is somewhat like a game: his maternal figures shout it and lift him to assist him in jumping high. It’s also amusing that ‘banzai’ translated later in his life to something fun to yell while jumping in a pool. To me, ‘banzai’ denotes daring in able to have some fun.

 

Folk Beliefs

Reincarnation

My informant is a twenty-three year old man who is half-Japanese, half-Mexican. He grew up more with Japanese culture, and was very eager to share the folklore he knew from this culture. The following is from when I interviewed him in the USC Village.

 

Peter: “My grandparents aren’t devout buddhists, but my grandparents would use reincarnation to get me to behave as a child. They would tell me that if I’m a good person– a kind person– I’ll get a good second life… But if I’m mean or treat people poorly, I’ll come back as a cockroach! [He chuckles at his own ephaptic shout of ‘cockroach’] Now that I think of it, my grandparents would also bring up karma in this way.”

 

Me: “Karma?”

 

Peter: “Yeah, like, you are rewarded when you do things for people. People often do things for you in return. Or if you do something good, something good will happen to so. Same for the bad.”

 

Me: “Has Karma or Reincarnation influenced your life in other ways, or has it affected your own philosophy?”

 

Peter: “Well, some of my professors gave me letters of recommendations for USC. So… I rewarded them with gifts to thank them for what they did. As far as karma goes, I think it sticks with me — whenever someone goes out of their way for me, I make sure to make up for it in the future. It really makes me appreciate and value the people who do good things for me.”

 

Analysis:

I think this is an example of a folk belief/superstition being passed down to a generation that has repurposed the belief to fit his modern surroundings. My informant is not buddhist, but he has found the beliefs of karma and reincarnation useful to shaping his own view of the world. He chooses to reward those to help him because he wants to make everything equal the same way karma is said to make things equal.

 

Folk speech
general
Musical

Yo Sun-Sun Ikimashou

On a few occasions my informant, Peter, has taken my hand and rhythmically chanted a short, japanese phrase while swinging our arms back and forth. I never knew what he was saying or who he had learned it from until I asked to document it. The following is from when I interviewed him in the USC Village:

 

Me: “Can you explain that thing you do where you swing our hands while sing-chanting in Japanese? What is that?”

 

Peter: “Well, when I used to go on walks with my grandmother, we would hold hands and swing them while chanting this over and over again: ‘Yo sun-sun ikimashou, yo sun-sun ikimashou.’”

 

Me: “Could you please translate that for me?”

 

Peter: “The ‘Yo sun-sun’ part does not have a real meaning…”

 

Me: “Can you extrapolate on that?”

 

Peter: “It’s like, ‘la, la, la” in English. It’s just sing-songy.”

 

Me: “And the second part?”

 

Peter: “That means, like, ‘Onward, here we go…;’ but in a pleasant way.”

 

My informant then helped my find the Japanese script and translation with my computer so I could add it to my entry:

~Original script: 行きましょう

~Roman script: Ikimashou

~Translation: (A nice way of saying) Let’s Go

 

Analysis:

I’m so glad my informant chose to share this with me. I now know a little more about his cultural background and how that comes into play in his everyday. I’m also honored that he has done this with me when we hold hands. I think it means he feels connected to me, and wants to replicate the happy feelings he got from his grandmother in me.

 

general
Legends

Bamboo Baby

Folklore:

This story starts off with a poor old man in Japan who goes up to the mountain into a bamboo forest to collect bamboo. The old man makes a living by selling items made out of a bamboo. In the forest he finds a shiny piece of bamboo, which he decides to cut down. Inside the bamboo he finds a baby girl, he takes this as a sign from the gods to raise the baby. As the little girl grew up she became renowned throughout the country for her beauty, through her beauty  her family was able to gain wealth. Eventually the family gained mass amounts of wealth to move from the countryside to the city, they moved to the city as the father wanted her to marry a rich man. In the city many wealthy individuals including the king wanted to marry her for her beauty. However the girl was unhappy because she hated the superficiality of the men and unconsciously called out for help. When she called out for help she remembered she was originally from the moon, and the people from the moon had heard her cry for help and were coming to bring her back on August 15th. While the girl was unhappy in the city she did not want to return to the moon, she wanted to return to the countryside and live an ordinary life. So her family hired an army to prevent her return to the moon but failed and in the end the girl was forced to return to the moon.

Background & Context:

This folktale was collected from a current freshman at USC. It was collected in a casual context over lunch after class one day. She is an international student who is ethnically Japanese but grew up in various places in Asia. Before coming to USC she lived in Singapore for seven years and before Singapore the longest she lived in a country was Japan for five years. She learned about the folktales through school as folklore was part of her school curriculum and in textbooks.

Final Thoughts:

This story was interesting and gave an important message. The message I got from the story is directed towards parents, saying you don’t alway know what’s best for your children and you should take into consideration your children desires. I believe this is the moral of the story because the old man wants his daughter to marry a rich man so she can be happy but all the daughter wants is to live a comfortable ordinary life. As the father did not listen to the daughter she suffered the consequences and had to return to the moon. This could have been prevented if the father had not pushed the daughter to marry a wealthy man and let her pursue her own desires.  

 

Legends

Swan Girl

Folklore:

This story takes place in Japan and starts off by a old man who goes up to the mountains and finds a swan caught in a trap. The old man frees the swan who flies away after being freed. Later that night after the old man has returned home to his wife when they both hear a knocking at their door, it is a young girl who is lost. The old couple invites her to stay the night and provide her with a meal. As the young girl has nowhere to go the old couple adopts her. They provide the girl with her own room next to living room, one day she brings out a beautiful piece of fabric for the old couple. She keeps creating these beautiful piece of cloth and the old man is able to sell them in town for a lot of money. One strange thing the girl does is makes the old couple promise is to never come into her bedroom when she is making the cloths. The old couple agree because they believe she does not want to be disturbed when she is working. However one day the young girl starts to look haggard and tired so the old couple becomes concerned and decide to peek into her room when she making the cloth. Inside the room they see a swan plucking out its own feathers to make the beautiful fabric. When the swan notices the old couple she flies away leaving behind the beautiful fabric.

Background & Context:

This folklore was collected from a current freshman at USC. It was collected in a casual context over lunch after class one day.  The student is an international student who is ethnically Japanese but grew up in various places in Asia. Before coming to USC she lived in Singapore for seven years and before Singapore the longest she lived in a country was Japan for five years. She learned about the folklore through school as folklore was part of school curriculum and in textbooks. The message of this story she says is, “what goes around, comes around” referring to the old man helping the swan first than the swan returning later to help the old man.

Final Thoughts:

My thoughts on this story is that hold an important message. The message I believe the story holds is treat others how you want to be treated. As the old man helped the swan in the beginning of the story and in return the swan came and helped the old man.

 

Legends

Momotaro

Folklore:  

This is a Japanese story called Momotaro which translates to “peach” or “first son”. One day a grandma and grandpa find a giant peach in the river, they take the peach home to have for dinner. When they cut open the peach a baby boy comes out of it and they are overjoyed because they have always wanted children. The boy grows up to be very strong and one day goes off to fight the demonic ogres. On his way he meets a talking dog, a monkey and a bird who decide to help him fight the ogres. They all go to the island where the ogres reside and attack the ogres. When they defeat the demonic ogres they return home as heros and with many treasures taken from the ogres.

Background & Context:

This story was told to me in a casual interview style 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. This student has grown up listening to these stories as bedtime stories or just for entertainment. These stories were told by her parent or grandparents who reside with her family.

Final Thoughts:

My thoughts on this story is that it seems to be a popular piece of folklore as I have heard different variations of this story before. The moral of this story is what goes around come around because the old couple happily raised this little boy who eventually helped them in turn by defeating the demonic ogres and bringing back riches.

Annotation:

Another place you can find this piece of folklore is in the children’s book Peach Boy: A Japanese Legend by Gail Sakurai.

Legends

The Rolling Rice Ball

Folklore:

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.

 

general
Legends

The Goddess and 1,000 Sandals

Folklore:

This is a Japanese story about a goddess who comes to visit earth. When she visits earth she goes swimming in a lake naked leaving her clothes on a rock. A man sees her swimming and falls in love with her so he steals her clothes and hides them. The goddess cannot leave earth without her clothes, so the man helps her to his house. Eventually they fall in love and have children, but she soon finds the clothes the man hid and leaves earth with their children. The man wants to join his wife and children and learns he can join them if he makes 1,000 straw sandals and buries them. The buried sandals will grow into a beanstalk that will allow him to leave earth, so the man makes 1,000 sandals and buries them. A beanstalk grows from the sandals and the man climbs the beanstalk. At the very top he realizes he can see his wife and kids but cannot reach them because the beanstalk is not tall enough to reach. As the man had miscounted and had only mad 999 straw sandals.  

Background and 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 direct Japanese translation for the title of the story. She also told me this story is suppose to be an origin story for the four seasons but she cannot remember the rest of the story.  

Final Thoughts:

This is a popular story in East Asian culture because I have similar stories with similar aspects but with major differences. I believe this story is telling the listener about true love because even though the man lied and stole from the goddess she was still willing to forgive him and let him join her outside of earth. While I do not agree with the message of the story, it is romantic and entertaining for the listeners as they feel pity for the man.

 

Legends

Tongue Cut Sparrow

Folklore: 

This is a Japanese story titled Tongue Cut Sparrow. It starts out with an elderly couple the old man is kind, while the old woman is cruel. The old man has kept a sparrow in their home but one day the sparrow eats the old woman’s rice glue she becomes very angry so when the old man leaves for work the old woman cuts off the sparrow’s tongue. Chasing the sparrow flies away. When the old man returns home he hears about what has happened to the sparrow and goes into to the woods to search for the bird as he is worried. In the woods the old man finds the sparrow with his family. The family of birds perform a dance for the old man to show their gratitude for caring for their family member. They also offer him a big or small box to pick from and bring back home, the old man takes the small box stating it is easier to carry home. When he opens the box he finds it filled with money, the old woman sees this and decides to search for the sparrows. Once she finds the sparrow and his family they also offer her two boxes, but she takes the big box. In the end when she opens the big box she finds it filled with bugs and monsters.

Background & Context:

This story was told to me in a casual interview style 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. This student has grown up listening to these stories as bedtime stories or just for entertainment. These stories were told by her parent or grandparents who reside with her family. She explains to me that rice glue is crushed up rice people used in the past for glue. The moral of the story is be kind to all creatures and share with others. My informant also explained that she did not remember the original Japanese for the title of the story.

Final Thoughts:

I agree with the student’s perspective that the moral of the story is to be kind to all creatures and share with others and I would also add that another underlying message is don’t be greedy. As the old man was rewarded for being kind and sharing with the sparrow, he was also rewarded again by not being greedy and picking the smaller box. While the old woman was punished for being greedy and taking the bigger box. Overall this story holds many different important life messages.  

 

general
Legends

Peach Boy

Folklore:

This story is a Japanese folktale and begins with an old woman going to the river to do her laundry, at the river she finds a huge peach floating down towards her. Inside the peach she finds a baby boy and decides to raise him with her husband. The old couple names the boy “peach” and he grows up to be a very energetic boy. When the boy grows older he decides to save the village from the demons who torment them. To get to the demons he must journey to the mountains, for the journey his mother packs for him four mochis. During his journey he eats one mochi. He meets a dog and convinces him to join him against his fight with the demons by giving him a mochi. He also meets a peacock and monkey who join him, as he offers them a piece of mochi. Eventually they arrive at the demons hideout and waits for the demons to get drunk, when the demons are drunk the boy and his animal companions attack. While the boy is strong the animals use their individual strengths to fight, an example being the peacock who uses his beak to peck at the demons. In the end they defeat the demons and take the demons treasures back to the boy’s village.

Background and Context:

This folklore was collected from a current freshman at USC. It was collected in a casual context over lunch after class one day.  The student is an international student who is ethnically Japanese but grew up in various places in Asia. Before coming to USC she lived in Singapore for seven years and before Singapore the longest she lived in a country was Japan for five years. She learned about the folklore through school as folklore was part of school curriculum and in textbooks. In the story she refers to the boy’s name as peach but is traditionally peach in Japanese. However she does not recall the Japanese translation for the name. She also explains what a mochi is, a traditional Japanese rice cake usually shaped into a ball.

Final Thoughts:

My thoughts on the story is that it gave an important message. The message of the story is be kind and good to others, as all the characters in the story are rewarded for their good deeds. Examples being the old couple who take the boy in and raise him as eventually he saves their village from demons. Another example being the boy as he gives each animal a mochi so they decide to help him in his journey. Other morals that can be taken from this story is don’t be afraid to ask for help as the boy asked the animals he just met to help him defeat the demons and they agreed. Overall the story is an interesting and unique intriguing it’s readers.

Annotation:

Another place you can find this piece of folklore is in the children’s book Peach Boy: A Japanese Legend by Gail Sakurai.

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