USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘legend’

The Dojo Temple (Dojoji): A Japanese Legend

The following is a conversation with SS that details her interpretation of the Japanese legend about the Dojo Temple (Dojoji in Japanese).


SS: The story is about the Dojo temple; the title comes from a temple that forbid women from entering. Women were considered to pollute the sacred religious space. There’s a story that surrounds this temple where at a nearby, I think it was an inn, a woman was running the inn, you know, like, a little house that she was letting people stay at and she’s running it, a beautiful monk comes, and they fall in love, or maybe not exactly in love, because she seems to be really interested in him and he promises her that he will come back after he goes to this religious pilgrimage to Dojoji, this temple. Well, it turns out that he was just using that as an excuse because he got scared of her, so he goes away. But the woman gets really angry when she finds this out and turns into a serpent and then chases the guy until he gets to the temple and hides in this, kind of like, bell, and the serpent coils around the bell and burns him to death. So, there’s a lot of variations of the story but this is like the main part. So, you can see the story can be very dramatic and the Japanese perform it a lot, so you can see it in Kabuki theater, Noh theater, puppet theater, etc., etc.


EK: Would you say this is a legend or more of just a story?


SS: Well, it’s kind of hard to say. It’s been retold a lot in narrative form, performance, and so on, it’s all over the place, it’s been around from medieval to early modern Japan, which is from like eleventh century to 1868. It first appears in a religious text, so it could be a story that was made up to alert men of the danger of women, that they kind of pollute the sacred space. But then people became fascinated in the serpent itself. So, like in artworks, they’re not at all interested in the moral of the story that was important for probably the religious community very early on, but [instead] in the serpent that keeps on becoming this dramatic highlight.


EK: Where did you first hear this?


SS: I mean it’s one of those works that you read in school, like, one of those works that keeps coming up when you’re teaching pre-modern literature. It’s just all over the place. It’s actually associated with a specific region, like there’s and actual temple and a space, so I think, there are lots of different ways to access or come in contact with it. I grew up in Japan too, so I also know the story pretty well.


My Interpretation:

I believe the story that SS is a legend, in that it has questions of factuality but occurs in the real world. It seems that there are several variations of this story out there as well. SS noted that its origins are in religious texts and it’s also told by word-of-mouth, as well as performed in many different Japanese theaters, all of which I’m sure have their own interpretations or performances of the story. It seems that back when the story was first thought up, women were not thought of very highly of, as the legend presents the woman as pollution to sacred spaced, as well as a serpent creature. A serpent symbolic of being sneaky and deceitful, like the snake in the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

I suppose that this could have been fable at the time for men to hear in order for them to watch out for women who would “cause” them cheat on their wives or manipulate them into doing bad things. Overall, I think it’s an easy legend to repeat, so although there is most likely lots of variation to the story, the way it flows has helped the main plot remain similar over thousands of years.

Gestation, birth, and infancy

The Legend of Boto Cor De Rosa- The Pink Dolphin

The following is a conversation with KL that describes her interpretation of the Brazilian legend of the Pink Dolphin (In Portuguese, Boto Cor De Rosa).


KL: So, basically, this story is popular among all Brazilians and it’s about a man who is said to have actually been a Pink Dolphin who would come out of the river and transform into a human. So, when he would come out of the water he would be dressed in all white and he would go to parties, acting like a human, and he was a very fertile man so he would impregnate a bunch of women in the village. So, there are a lot of conspiracies in Brazil about whether or not this is true, so some people do believe this is true, as crazy as it seems.


EK: So how did you learn of the story?


KL: Yeah, so this was told to me when I was on exchange in Brazil by my host parents right before I went on a trip to the Amazon Rain Forest. It’s just something cool that a lot of Brazilians tell, I was also told the story when I was in the [Amazon] rain forest, so it’s just a story that everyone kind of knows.


EK: So, it’s a pretty popular oral story then.


KL: Yeah, it’s pretty popular, if you asked around in the area, I’m sure someone would know. It’s one of those word-of-mouth things; it started in an Amazon village, the Amazon River was where he (the dolphin) was said to come out of, and now everyone knows, and different Brazilians will tell you their version of it or what they know about it.


EK: So, then what do you get out of the story?


KL: Yeah, I think that it shows that Brazilians place a lot of cultural emphasis on nature, like humans’ connections to nature, animals, and I think it’s really cool. It’s just an interesting story that shows that their culture is very much centered around family and nature and those connections.


My Interpretation:

I would have to agree with KL; it seems that Brazilians have a huge cultural emphasis on nature and family. Brazil may not be the wealthiest country in the world, but with this culture, they don’t place as much value in wealth as, say, Americans do. With the Amazon Rainforest in their backyard, there is so much nature to explore and appreciate. I believe the pink dolphin is only native to the Amazon River.

The Pink Dolphin who turns into a man to impregnate the women of the village shows the emphasis on family and fertility as well. However, it is interesting to me that the dolphin/male does not stick around after impregnating the women to my knowledge, so that could also be a statement on gender roles in Brazil. In most stories that I have encountered that are like this, though, it is often the female who is stuck with the child and the male who continues to impregnate multiple women, so it could also just be a theme of these types of stories.


Dead Bodies in The Rock River: A Legend

The following is a conversation with JK that describes his interpretation and knowledge of the legend that dead bodies are dumped into the Rock River in Rockford, IL.


JK: So, Rockford [Illinois], is this small town but is actually one most dangerous cities in Illinois and one of the worst cities to live in in the country (U.S.A.). But anyway, the worst part is the West side, kind of in the downtown area, it’s super sketchy there, it’s like the hood. So, there’s this river called the Rock River that flows through the city close to the bad part of town, I don’t know really where it starts or ends, but basically, it’s really gross looking and murky and dirty, no one swims in it or fishes or anything; it’s just nasty looking. So, there’s this legend that the river is full of dead bodies that have been dumped from murders downtown. And tbh (to be honest) I’m pretty sure dead bodies have been pulled out of there. So, like, because of that, no one swims in the river. And it’s kind of funny and ironic because some of the nicer houses in town are on the river, but the last place I’d ever want to live is on the river for this reason.


EK: So how did you learn of this legend? What does it mean to you?


JK: I think it’s something that every kid picks up if they grow up in Rockford. I remember learning it in Kindergarten or First Grade, some corrupted little kid probably told me, and it spread like wildfire. But if you ask any kid from the area, regardless of the school, it’s just a legend that everyone knows; kind of like common knowledge. I’ve definitely passed it on to people before, haha.


My Interpretation:

The legend of dead bodies showing up in the Rock River seems like it can travel fast in a smaller town, especially because it has a lot of shock value. I’m sure some kids even tell it as a ghost story around Halloween. I also assume that the legend plants uncertainty in a lot of people, especially those who don’t live right by the river and are unfamiliar with the area; where the area goes from being the good part of town to “the hood.” The fact that JK believes that people have actually been found in the river, regardless of whether the person found was the result of a murder, a suicide, or an accident, it makes the river that much more eerie to citizens in the area, and helps the story spread like wildfire among kids in grade school who are looking to share the “next big thing” with their friends. When JK told the story, he told it very eerily/spookily, as if it were the perfect Halloween story.

Tales /märchen

The Legend of the Fox in Japanese Culture

The following is a conversation with SS that details her interpretation of the legend of the fox in Japanese culture.


SS: So, in Japan the fox is called ‘Kitsune,’ and in a lot of stories and literature and folklore, the fox is, like, a bad omen. In a lot of narratives, if characters are traveling and come across a fox, they’ll turn back or go a different direction. They’re also known to shapeshifters, so they can turn into humans. There’s actually one story about these two men who are travelling, and one is always suspicious of the people they come across on the road, thinking that they’re all foxes out to get them, that they, like, are just foxes transformed into humans. So, it’s almost like a supernatural creature, especially in the Early-Modern period of Japan.


EK: What do you make of this legend of the fox, then, as you grew up in Japan?


SS: Foxes were one of those things that were worshipped on everyday level, not really in religion, but more of just like a folk practice, to bring things like successful business and so on. You can see little local shrines or like little houses with tiny fox figures in them, so I think it’s all over the place, this belief in foxes. I think it reflects the, kind of, way that foxes can be sneaky, you know like ‘sly as a fox,’ sort of thing.


My Interpretation:

In my experience with literature and different cultures, foxes seem to be a mischievous character, especially in Japanese folklore. They can either be a friend or foe, depending on how you treat them/the circumstances that you run into them. They tend to be trickster characters. Like SS said, we even have the saying “sly as a fox.” How the Japanese look at the fox during travel reminds me of how the Irish look at black cats as a bad omen before travel.

I’ve never heard of the fox being able to shapeshift into human form nor being worshipped like they are in Japan, though. It seems like Japanese culture sees a power in the fox that other cultures don’t. They view the creature as something that could either give them a gift of wisdom or trick them in some way, therefore they pay their respects to the animal through worship so as to make sure they aren’t tricked.

Folk Beliefs

The Bay Area: The Toys R Us Ghost


My informant is a 21 year old student from the University of Southern California. This conversation took place in a university dining hall one evening. The informant and I were in an open space, and the informant’s significant other was present and listening to the conversation, as well. The SO’s presence, is the most likely reason that the informant was much more dramatic and told the legend quite jokingly, as if for the purpose to get laughs out of both me and the SO. In this account, he explains a legend of a ghost in his town that he doesn’t remember who he learned it from: “Everyone just seems to know about it.” This is a local legend, and has also been reported on Mercury News, SFGate, and a series of blogs. This is a transcription of our conversation, where he is identified as A and I am identified as K.



A: Before the bustling suburb of Sunnyvale grew to its imminent heights that now houses Amazon and Google offices, it was once a sleepy little farm town in Silicon Valley, where tech was replaced by fields and farms and orchards. One day, this man (as it was explained to me) was out in the field, in one of those like, you know, he has some kind of labor agreement with the farm… So he’s hacking away with his hoe, and this guy injures himself. Turns out he bleeds out into the field and dies. Decades later, there’s now a Toys R Us here… long story short, this guy who self-maimed himself with a hoe and bled out… he hunts, this uh, Toys R Us. Even though Toys R Us just got bought out, before that, all the ghost hunter people would come into Sunnyville to see this ghost. He would come into the aisles at all hours of the night, pretty crazy stuff… You can say Sunnyvale’s not sleepy anymore!

Don’t sleep on Sunnyvale….

K: Ok, what did you take away from this story?

A: Um, I think especially in areas like suburbs, when there’s not traditionally a lot of culture, people latch on to certain stories, just to impart some kind of history onto a town that otherwise wouldn’t necessarily be that notable.

K: What effect did this story have on you?

A: I still shopped at Toys R Us, but honestly I heard it after I stopped shopping, but I still do play with Legos just as a disclaimer.



I thought this story was particularly interesting and ended up looking it up to find out more about this ghost. As it turns out, this ghost has made quite a name for itself in the Bay Area. Just like my informant said, this ghost worked the land as part of a labor agreement, where he would have housing in exchange for his work. However, what my informant didn’t mention was the fact that this ghost fell in love with the daughter of the family that owned the land; she eventually ran away with a lawyer, breaking his heart. Distracted by the pain of his broken heart, the ghost ended up hurting himself with one of his tools and slowly bled to death, thus leaving his unsettled ghost to roam the land.

Years afterwards, many people came to the newly built Toys R Us that was constructed on top of the land that he worked to ghost hunt for him., but it seems that this story has re-emerged under the new context that Toys R Us is now shutting down. It seems that this story has a new relevance, where people can now interpret this story in the death of people, but also in the death of companies. Many of the new articles wonder whether or not the death of Toys R Us will also result in the disappearance of the ghost. However, the ghost’s story is separate from Toys R Us’s: he was clearly wronged by a member of the family that owned the land, and his haunting is meant to instill guilt in the owners of that land. Furthermore, ghosts are believed to be tied to the soil, not the structure that they resided in, so it’s most likely that the ghost will remain and that for those that were hopeful that he would leave, they will have to continue to remember the wrongdoings of the daughter that broke his heart.


For more on this ghost story, please refer to this article below:

Dowd, Katie. “Will the Death of Toys R Us Kill off This Famous South Bay Ghost Story?” SFGate, San Francisco Chronicle, 17 May 2018,

Folk Beliefs

Why Pineapples have Eyes – Filipino Legend

“Once upon a time, there was a hardworking woman who lived with her daughter, Pina. They were quite poor, and lived in a hut in a village. The mother worked all day and night in order to make a living for her and her daughter, but Pina never helped her mother with anything. The daughter was extremely lazy and spoiled and only played in the backyard. And whenever her mother tried to get her to do some errands, Pina always made some excuse that she could not find the thing that she needed to do it. Because of this, her mother just ends up doing the work herself.

The mother fell ill one day, so she called out to her daughter to make her some food, porridge. The girl did not listen to her and continued to play. The mother yelled again, and finally the girl stood up and headed into the kitchen. She asked her mother how to make the porridge, and her mother said that all she had to do was to put water in a pot with rice, boil it, and stir with a wooden spoon. Pina goes into the kitchen, and the mother can hear a lot of clanging and drawers banging, followed by the sound of the back door opening and closing. The mother called out to her daughter, asking Pina if she made the porridge. The daughter replies, saying she did not because she could not find the wooden spoon. The mother flies into a rage and says ‘I wish you had a thousand eyes so that you can find what it is you are looking for.’

The mother finally gets up and makes herself porridge. She cannot hear Pina playing anymore, and assumes that her lazy child had gone to her friends house. After this, she goes to bed. Days pass by, and she does not hear from or see Pina at all. She beings to think that her daughter ran away after what she said. When the mother recovered, she looked everywhere for Pina, and failed to locate her. She begins to regret the things she said to her daughter and is afraid that she will see Pina again.

One day, many months later, she is sweeping the backyard. She stumbles across a strange plant growing where her daughter used to play. She pulls it out of the ground and finds a yellow fruit that is covered in a thousand eyes. She realizes what she said to her daughter, and realized that this fruit was actually her daughter. To honor her daughter, she names this new plant Pina. The fruit began to grow everywhere and became popular around the world.”

Context: The informant, SP, is a half-Filipina American living in Rhode Island. SP was discussing various Filipino legends that aim to explain certain phenomena that are large part of Filipino culture. SP heared this legend from her mom, who is a Filipina immigrant. Her mother told her this legend when they were cutting pineapples, and it stayed with her as because it was so interesting to her. SP’s mother also commented on the fact the laziness of the daughter and how she got turned into a fruit because of it.

Analysis: This legend follows a lot of the various components and styles of folk belief. One of the important aspects of folk belief and legends specifically, is that it is a way to explain everyday phenomena. In this case, the legend aims to explain why pineapples have their famous “eye” appearance. Pineapples and other tropical fruits grow naturally in the warm climate of the Philippines, so it is understandable that folk belief will arise that involves an important part of Filipino culture. For example, there is a Native American legend that aims to give reason as to why bears do not have tails. Certain bear species are endemic to the western United States, so many indigenous Americans see these bears as having important spiritual and cultural significance, and thus many legends and myths have arisen. Certain phenomena that seem to be dissonant to the rest of nature are what is being explained by many folk beliefs and legends; they aim to bring order and explanation to an imperfect and confusing world.

Along with this, this legend also reflects the parenting style that many Filipino parents practice. Children are supposed to be extremely obedient and help their parents in any way that they can help to “repay” their parents for all they have done for them. In this case, the disobedient and lazy child causes a great inconvenience to her mother,  so she ended up being turned into a pineapple. This has a lot of significance for what disrespect towards one parents entails in the Philippines.

Folk Beliefs
Tales /märchen

Struwwelpeter – German Folktale to Frighten Children

“Struwwelpeter is the villain in the story, and is about a boy that does not want to cut his nails despite his parents advice, and he is warned of the villain/demon type figure–Struwwelpeter–who has curly blond hair, at least that is what he looked like in the book. He also had very, very long fingernails, and wore this sort of tunic outfit with pants.

So basically, if the young boy refused to cut his nails, his parents told him that Struwwelpeter would come. The boy refused to cut his nails, and Struwwelpeter came in the middle of the night. He cut off not only the boy’s nails but also the boy’s fingers, so he didn’t have any fingers.”

Context: The informant, ML, and myself were talking about the stories that we were told as children that would keep us in line. The informant, being of German descent told me this story that scared him as a child. Struwwelpeter is a German folktale. His mother was read this story as a child, and she used to be terrified by it. This story teaches a lesson in a very brutal, typically German way, according to ML. Most of the German children’s folktales are pretty gruesome, and follows the nature of German parental “advice-giving”. ML’s grandfather used to tell him that the way to get a child to not go near the stove was to hold one of their hands over the burners and possibly singe their hand a little bit, so that it would hurt and they would know that touching the stove in the future would hurt.

Analysis: I agree with ML’s insights as to the pattern this folktale follows. One of the most famous collections of German folklore was the Grimm’s Fairy Tales. The stories, while still reminiscent of the tale circulating in German oral history, were “cleaned up”–removing violence and sex–to cater to a wider, and younger audience.For example, Rapunzel was supposed to be impregnated by the prince who visits her tower, but later editions of the Grimms removed this reference to sex, particularly the pre-marital kind. However, the tales from which the Grimm’s stories were derived from children’s folklore aimed to scare the youth into abiding by certain rules and obeying what their parents and society told them; in this case, you must cut your nails if you want do not want to be mangled by this terrifying demon figure.

Along with this, the context in which ML was taught this folk belief shows how folklore can change over time. The informant was told the story by his mother in a way that shows that she was told this story to scare her as a child, but she was not going to use the same story to scare her child. In this way, ML’s mother is no longer spreading this belief as something that the informant should be believing, but rather as a way to connect with her child. Folklore is shown as a way to connect various generations together through similar experiences; in this case, the reluctance for children to cut their nails is somewhat universal. For another version of this tale, see Spence, Robert, et al. Struwwelhitler A Nazi Story Book by Dr. Schrecklichkeit (Philip and Robert Spence). Autorenhaus-Verlag, 2014.

Folk Beliefs
Tales /märchen

Krasue in South Asian Folklore

NC: So there’s this story about crossaway or crosu (Krasue) I don’t know exactly how to pronounce the name but in southeast asian folklore she is supposed to be a very beautiful woman and she’s only a head, so she’s a decapitated head and her entails are hanging out and she’s supposed to float around uh a building- a haunted building or something um she’s- I think she’s searching for something and she might also kill anyone who comes into the building. That’s all I’ve heard about it.



Location of Story – Southeast Asia

Location of Performance – Dormitory room, Los Angeles, CA, night


Context: This performance took place in a group setting – about 2-3 people – in a college dormitory room. This performance was prompted by the call for stories about beliefs, ghosts, or superstitions as examples of folklore via a group message. NC approached me in person in response to the text and had just discovered this creature herself. 


Analysis: Krasue is physically unlike any other “monster” or creature I have heard of before. I was particularly interested in the dichotomy between the woman’s beauty and the grotesqueness of her lower half. For me, this hints at a commentary about how women are viewed around the world globally: her head is attached but her body has been ripped apart by what exactly? If women often fall victim to objectification, then it makes sense that this lore would depict her “body” has being completely consumed by something else or at least lost to something or someone besides herself. Additionally, the fact that she is bound by a building, confirms the archetypical “domestic” woman, but the threat she poses to anyone else trying to reside in her household disrupts this stereotype and protects the space as her own.


Neighborhood Voodoo Tree

Context: The informant is a 51-year-old man who has lived in Memphis, Tennessee for his entire life. When asking him about legends or stories that he was told as a child, he remembered this one. He does not remember who exactly told him about the lady who lived on his street, but he assumes it was one of the kids who lived near him in his neighborhood.

Piece: “There was a woman that lived in a house on my street growing up and, it was different from every house in the neighborhood. It was poorly kept. There was a tree in the corner of the yard, a small wider kinda, wild looking tree. There were these things hanging in the tree. I seem to recall them looking like crudely constructed ghost figures. They were made out of some sack material and they had small distorted faces drawn on them. There were strings tied around them.  I was told that they were voodoo dolls. That was the first time I heard about Voodoo dolls. People would say that if you went in her yard, she would make a voodoo doll for you that looked just like you, and she could control you with the doll. She could control you to perform tasks for her. If she stuck a pin in it, you would feel pain. If you lit them on fire, they would burn. There is something very strange about this house, and looking back on the events, I would not be surprised if the woman was actually a practitioner of voodoo. My perception is that most of the area where I lived around was new construction, but I could feel a distinction with this one house.”

Analysis: When I asked the informant what he thought about this story, he immediately responded by pointing out the fact that his neighborhood consisted almost entirely of white families. He remembers the woman being African-America and elderly and thinks this is what led many of the children in the neighborhood to believe she practiced voodoo, of course in addition to the mysterious tree. In much of the popular culture during the 1970s, the customs of voodoo were often presented through a prejudiced lens which deemed it a lesser, more primal practice as opposed to the more popular religions of the time. You would also rarely see a white person performing voodoo in film, tv, or literature. Oftentimes when a community or group is presented with something that they are unfamiliar with, they will create some explanation in order to fill the void of uncertainty. In this case, children may have seen the mysterious figures on the tree which did look very similar to the voodoo dolls presented in pop culture (confirmed by the informant) and immediately assumed that was what they were.

Annotation: For another version of voodoo dolls see:

Reuber, Alexandra. “Voodoo Dolls, Charms, And Spells In The Classroom: Teaching, Screening, And Deconstructing The Misrepresentation Of The African Religion.” Contemporary Issues in Education Research (CIER), vol. 4, no. 8, 2011, p. 7.


Pele: The Hawaiian Volcano Goddess

Abstract: Pele (pell-ay) is the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes. The reason this is both a myth and a legend is because the story takes place in both the real world and outside of it. The origin story of how volcanoes in Hawaii came to be and the fact that Pele is a goddess and acts sort of like Greek Gods reason that she is mythological. However, she is a shapeshifter that normally takes the place of an older woman on Earth, so this would make her a legend.

 Background: DM is a 20 year-old  Hawaiian American going to college in California. She grew up her entire life in Hawaii and is very accustomed to the folklore there. She can not trace back the origin of the folklore or when she learned it because it has surrounded her for her entire life. After one piece of Hawaiian folklore came up on a work retreat, I asked her to share the most important ones to her on a later date. DM compares the Hawaiian gods, like Pele, to Greek mythology. They all have their own responsibility on Earth. She dives into the effects of what Pele can do from a story from her father. 

About Pele:

 DM: She is the goddess of volcanoes and takes many forms, but her most common form is an old Hawaiian lady. For context, the only volcano that has a chance of erupting is Kileaua on the big island. Anyway, my dad’s cousin was getting married there, and they were driving home from some party or something a few days before the wedding. And on the main highway, they see this old Hawaiian lady with long gray hair walking on the side. They thought maybe it was Pele, but they were scared so just kept driving. And then on their wedding day, the volcano erupted.

S: So is she someone to be scared of in person like does she cause immediate danger in human form?

DM: Well, I mean, she is a fiery goddess, but she isn’t dangerous. But like you’re supposed to be nice to her, and when they didn’t pick her up she reacted. There are some legends that when a volcano erupts, the lava will go around houses of people who have been nice to her.

S: But like, how do you tell her apart from any other old Hawaiian woman?

DM: You don’t.


Interpretation: Pele seems to have undeniable power and garners a lot of respect from the people of Hawaii. The lesson underlying this goddess is to respect your elders. Especially when told to young kids, Pele seems like a mean old lady that can destroy your house and kill you in a fiery pool of lava if you do not show kindness. Since no one really knows what she actually looks like, the people of Hawaii must learn to be nice to all elderly women or possibly suffer the consequences. This portrays Hawaii to be matrilineal and caring of the females, especially the elders, in the community. If Pele was only a myth, there would be no real lesson to treat elders with respect. Since she take the form of an old lady, and, at this point, becomes a legend, citizens will apply the respectful manner to almost all old women to not take any chances of having a really bad day with some lava.


For more on Pele, see Legends and Myths of Hawaii by David Kalākaua, 1888, page 46.


Kalakaua, David. Legends and Myths of Hawaii. Book On Demand Ltd, 2013.