Tag Archives: money

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.

Don’t Whistle Away Your Money

My informant, KM, explained that Russians believe it is bad luck to whistle under a roof because you are whistling your money away.  This is a very strong belief in Russia.  KM learned this superstition from her Russian American friend and roommate.  Thus, no whistling occurs in KM’s home.

KM saw this superstition in the motherland when traveling in Russia in the summer of 2012.  KM was was on a USC trip with eighteen American students.  KM and her travel companions were walking outside on a street that was under construction.  The sidewalk on which they were walking had overhead scaffolding–basically a roof outdoors.  One of KM’s friends began to whistle when walking beneath the scaffolding and immediately received dirty looks from the Russian passersby.  KM later realized that her friend was receiving stares from the Russians because he was whistling under a roof.  My informant then told her friend and the whole group that whistling under a roof is bad luck.

This belief demonstrates that money is important to Russians and not to be whistled away.  It suggests that Russians do not have a care-free attitude towards their money.  It also demonstrates that Russians have a strong belief in their superstitions.

A Penny Saved is a Penny Earned

Informant: “One thing that I remember my grandfather [S] saying to me multiple times, it was ‘[Informant’s name], a penny saved is a penny earned!’ And, so he grew up in the great depression, and that was some really tough times in America, and he saw all the hard things his parents had to do, and he as a kid had to do, and that caused people in his generation to feel like, if you find a way to save money, you know, not spend money you don’t need to spend, then that’s as good as earning extra money because that meant that you had that much money still available to you. I remember when I was little, we would go to California to visit him, and everyday they would be looking in the newspaper, cutting out coupons, looking for what the deal was, looking at the ads… basically figuring out everything for everything they were going to buy, where they were going to buy it from. If they were going to go out to dinner, they would make their dinner decision based off of who had a special, who had a coupon, who had a discount, those sorts of things, with the mindset of if they were going to spend money, but there’s a way to figure out how to spend less, then that’s just as good as making more money at your jobs. I find that I tend to think in the same way, where if I can figure out a way to spend less money, then it’s just like I just made more money from my job.”

Informant is a middle aged banker who frequently travels internationally on business, and is a father of three. He identifies as ‘American’, although his mother is of Czech heritage. He grew up in Oregon and Washington and currently lives in the Midwestern United States.

Collector Analysis: This particular proverb serves to provide financial advice, in this case the importance of spending money wisely. It is interesting how nowadays this particular proverb has almost a different meaning to it based on the fact that a penny today is considered to be nearly valueless, whereas in the time period where my informant first heard this proverb, pennies were not an insignificant amount of money. In this regard, the proverb may not have aged particularly well, but it is still a valuable piece of advice regardless.

Don’t Take Any Wooden Nickels

Informant: “One saying that my Grandparents use to always tell me was…’Don’t take any wooden nickels’. This was this weird thing where I didn’t even know what that meant, I didn’t even know what a wooden nickel was. I think this goes back to tougher times in the U.S. where there were places that as part of your change or what have you, they would give you a wooden nickel, not a real nickel. It was some sort of promotion or thing like that where instead of giving you the real change which would be a few cents, they would instead give you a wooden nickel, and you could take that wooden nickel and go back to that place of business and use the wooden nickel as if it was five cents. Except… a real copper penny and a real nickel, you could use anywhere, and if you or I had a real copper penny or a real nickel from back in the 20’s or the 30’s today, not only would it be worth at least its face value, but it would be worth a lot more than that! The wooden nickel, unless there’s some collector out there, the wooden nickel is worthless. So the idea was as you’re buying things from people, as you’re entering into business arrangements, don’t get duped, don’t sell for anything less than being paid real money, because you don’t want to be cheated or gypped, and that wooden nickel might turn out to be worthless, so it would be foolish to take it… I think my grandfather was really just trying to pass down his ideals on how you needed to be smart with your money to [me], careful with your money, and not get duped. Because it’s hard to make money, and if you lose the money you have, especially when he grew up and lived through [the Great Depression] it was really bad if you lost your money. There was no safety net, your whole family might be having problems, and so you had to be careful. What’s really interesting was he always told me to never take any wooden nickels, and later in life he gave me some of his coins from his coin collection, and included in the coin collection he gave me was a wooden nickel.

Informant is a middle aged banker who frequently travels internationally on business, and is a father of three. He identifies as ‘American’, although his mother is of Czech heritage. He grew up in Oregon and Washington and currently lives in the Midwestern United States.

Collector Analysis: The first significant thing to consider is the fact that this is a proverb about money, told by an individual who works in the finance field, which is probably a bit telling in and of itself. This collector thought that the informant’s explanation of and analysis of this proverb was interesting. Previously, this proverb has been interpreted as if the person taking the wooden nickel did not know that it was a wooden nickel, and thus the meaning of this proverb we be “don’t let yourself get tricked”. However, the knowledge that this proverb originated in a context where the person taking the wooden nickel knew that it was a wooden nickel changes the meaning somewhat. Specifically, the meaning then becomes something more along the lines of “never take a promise of payment when you could instead take the actual payment”.

For another usage of this proverb, see cited work below:
M.S. Clark “Don’t Take Any Wooden Nickels”, Thorndike Press, 2003.

Pigs Bring Wealth

Pigs Bring Wealth

The Informant:

She was an elderly who came to the U.S. in the early 1990s. Although Christian, she says she still believes in this superstition a little bit.


돼지 꿈구면 행운이다.

돼지는 한국에서, 이 뭐냐, 돈이야. 옛잘에 모든 사업 아니면 일하는분들은 돼지머리를 잘라서 절을 하는거야. 절하다가 코에다가 돈 집어넣고, 입에도 넣고, 귀에다 넣고, 아므튼 늘수있는데에다 넣는거야. 

If you dream of a pig it’s good luck.

Long ago, a pig is a form of income. It is equal to money or wealth. People who ran businesses or stores would cut off a pig’s head, lay it on a table, and bow down to it. While bowing down, as a sign of worship, they would stick money in its nose, mouth, ears, anywhere on the head that they could. They did this so that they would succeed and become rich.


Dung Dreams

Dung Dreams

똥싸는거는, 옛잘에 소가 똥을싸잖아, 소가 길에있는것들 다 막 먹고 똥을싸. 사람들은 지나가다가 길에 많이 이것저것 잃어버리잖아. 그래서 그것들을 소가 먹고 똥을싸. 소 똥에 엽전 (coin)이 나오는거야. 소 똥을 뒤집으면 밑에 엽전있을수있는거지. 똥이 좋다는 얘기는 소 똥이야 사람 똥이 아니고. 오직 소 똥.

 Long time ago, everyone had cows, everyone who farmed. The cows would walk along side the road, the same road as humans did. When humans traveled, they naturally dropped things here and there. The cows would eat this up, whatever it was. And so when it pooped, there was a chance that yeobjeon, coins (the form of money back then) could turn up. That’s why dreams with cow dung are a sign of good luck – not human poop but only cow dung.

Canadian Tradition: Money in the Birthday Cake

Contextual Data: We had gone out to celebrate my friend’s birthday the day before, and just out of curiosity, I asked her if there were any specific ways that her family celebrated her birthday. She mentioned that she was Canadian and there were some specific quirky things that her family did that were part of larger Canadian traditions. I asked her to explain one, and the following is an exact transcript of her response.

“Okay, so I’m Canadian. All my relatives are Canadian. I was born in Canada. Um, and there’s lots of, like, kooky Canadian traditions that after I moved to the States I realized, like, ‘This isn’t something normal people do.’ Like everyone doesn’t do that here, like, American people don’t know what I’m talking about—whatever. So, um, one of the things I had, like, growing up was, um, on my birthday—or all the birthdays in our family, basically—my mom would make, um, a Layer Cake. So it might be, like, a chocolate cake or whatever. Um, in the cake she would put money. And so she would take coins—wash them, obviously [Laughs]—That’s so… You would usually take, like, um—in Canada the money’s sort of like, you have Loonies and Toonies, so dollar coins and two dollar coins, so there would be like a few of those—it’d be like a really big treat. And then there’d be lots of like quarters and nickels and dimes and stuff. And she’d take these and wash them off and wrap them in wax paper [Presses hands together, miming sandwiching coins between two pieces of paper]. And then when the cake was done, she would take the two layers and insert the coins straight through the cake. Um, and then, put the icing over it and cover all the holes, so you didn’t know, like, where the money was. And, um…Also, there would be another little object—we usually used a button. And so that would be in the cake—with the money. And that would be in one piece of the cake, so only one person would get it. And usually, I think, in the tradition—like I know so many. I think like, this isn’t just my family. It’s Canadian—or probably not all of Canada, but like a big tradition where my relatives talked about this when they were little, too. Like my grandparents and stuff. So I think traditionally, like if you get the button or whatever else was in there, um, you’re an old maid. Or like, ‘Bad luck for seven years’ or something. But obviously for us as kids, my mom changed it to like, ‘It’s a birthday! If you get the button you’re lucky!’ And it’s like good luck if you’re the one who didn’t get the money and got the button, and um, yeah. It’s kind of just like a fun way that, um… It was like really easy. It’s not a lot of work to, like, put money in the cake, but it was like really hot—everyone loved it. I remember as a kid, um, after I moved to the States, when, like, I was hanging out with American kids, they were just like, ‘What? Like, I’ve never had money in a cake before. I want my mom to do this.’ And it was kind of… It was cool. It was really cool.”

– End Transcript – 

When I asked my friend why people might do this, she said that it just kind of seemed like a fun way for people to celebrate a person—it contributes to that air of festivity as everyone walks away from the celebration with a sort of “party favor.”

Part of the reason for performing this tradition, though, also seems to be the element of superstition and  the idea of a birthday as a  transition into a new year, particularly with the good luck/bad luck surrounding the “other object”; people will either be fortunate or cursed in the upcoming year. In particular, in her family, in which the button is seen as a sign of good luck, this tradition also seems to be a way of encouraging people to look forward to the unknown—they might not know what they’re going to get, but more often than not, it is something fortunate and worthwhile.

She says it is a fun surprise that her family still performs with her younger brother, but part of the reason it has seemed so weird to her American friends is because they point out that it is kind of a choking hazard. She can’t imagine it taking off in America because it is such a litigious society, and the tradition could be seen as one that endangers children, though she thinks that misses the point of it being about the fun, “everybody gets to participate in the celebration” aspect of it.

“You look like an Indian that just struck oil.”

“It means that… if somebody says it to you, it means that you have recently come into some type of money. And you have spent it all on clothing. You’re all fussed up.  You have bought a lot of expensive clothing and you are wearing it.  It’s like you’re wearing your money.”

The informant heard this from her father.  He used to always say it when she and her sister would get dressed up to go out for something.  He thought it was funny.  The informant said, “He was making fun of you dressing up.  He didn’t like to get dressed up so he would put ‘dressing up’ down.”

The informant said she would only ever say the proverb around her immediate family because she thinks that it is racist, but the informant remembers her father saying it as a pleasant memory.  As a child, she did not understand the “racist implications,” and she thought it was funny because he was joking around and happy, and he didn’t do that all that often.

I have never heard this proverb before probably for the same reason that my informant does not like to repeat it.  I have heard proverbs that spread a similar message that usually discourage people from showing their wealth to others.

Burning money at Chinese funerals

Informant: “When someone passes away you burn money so that they can spend it in the afterlife. My grandma recently passed, so my mom burned money on specific days. It happens three times I think, it’s very structured. That way, they can use it in the afterlife.”

Me: “Is it real money?”

Informant: “I don’t think so… I’m pretty sure it’s paper with money numbers written on it. It looks like old money. But basically they believe that the spirits can still walk the earth and influence people and have an impact on us, so you want them to be happy. It’s a respect thing. That way you can ask them for favors later. I know they also burn mini fake wooden TVs.”

Analysis: Upon hearing the story from my informant, the first thing that came to mind was the ancient Greek tradition of putting a coin underneath the tongue of a person so they could be ferried over the River in their journey to the underworld.

This fake money is actually called “Joss Paper”, and resembles money used in ancient times by the Emperor. It is usually made of bamboo paper or rice paper. Some of it is wrapped up like gold bars, and it is commonly burned with incense. In more modern folklore, it is believed that this money will go into a bank account that the deceased can access in heaven.

Often, the money must be folded before it is burnt. This is in order to distinguish it from regular money, for burning regular money is considered unlucky in most countries in Asia. The origin of this practice comes from regional folklore in China, and may have evolved from leaving food and incense at the Buddhist altars. However, Buddhism typically discourages burning money as they believe to deceased travels to the “Pure Land”, where there is no need for material things.

“When you toss a penny into a fountain you can make a wish.”

I first heard this belief from my father, who would always take me to the Placentia Library on Sundays to read books together, when I was in second grade, about seven years old.  Outside, there was a large fountain that was beautiful and I loved to play around it.  One day my father handed me a penny and told me to toss it into the fountain. When I asked him why, he told me that whenever I toss a penny into a fountain of water I can make a wish and it’ll come true.  At the time I believed him, although I soon realized that this wish was much like the Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus, and making wishes after blowing away the seeds of a dandelion.  However, making a wish in a way lets me let go of something that I really want.  Now whenever I make a wish it is to release something I’m holding inside, and it feels like I’m lifting a burden off my chest.

This wishmaking is reflective of an optimistic, yet creative society where one can dream whatever one wishes.  It also goes along with the United States’ futuristic worldview, where one can do whatever he or she wants as long as he or she tries hard enough.  Dreaming and wishing is only the first step to achieving those goals.  I believe that this wishmaking is a very useful tool for helping people find out what their true inner desires are.  You know that what you want most is what you wish for, so all you have to do is wish, then work to make that wish come true.  I think this is also why it is appealing to many people as well, because the idea of wishing anything they want and having it granted without the work that goes along with it is a nice feeling, but it also help them figure out what they really do want in life at that moment.  I also think that the idea of wishing with water came from the idea of the wishing well where one could make wishes into a well but it somehow evolved into a fountain.