Author Archives: Breanna Barnhart

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.

Hockey: After a Trade, The Player Must Be Shaved

“I’ve heard that in the NHL, when a player is traded, his new teammates shave him from head to toe.”

My informant says he first heard of this ritual when he was on a hockey team while in high school in the 1980s.  He says that hockey is full of superstitions so initiation rituals are common, especially for rookies and traded players, but not necessarily for hockey veterans.  Some “newbies” go willingly and others are sometimes forced by their teammates.  He also explained that if this ritual is still practiced, it is one of the mild forms of initiation; others can be pretty sexual, grotesque and/or humiliating.  Nevertheless, this hazing tradition appears to be a type of purification ritual that literally cleanses the player of anything and everything he physically had while playing for his previous team.

Urban Legend: A Dead Body Hidden in a Hotel Mattress

 “Once there was a couple who decided to get away for a couple days.  They decided to stay at a motel and as soon as they entered their room, it smelled horrible, like maybe a rat died in there.  So, they complained to the front desk, but the concierge assured them that the room was just cleaned and the cleaning staff and even the previous occupant never complained about a smell.  The couple then asked to switch rooms, but the motel was in the middle of nowhere and completely booked.  There was nothing they could do about it, so they started to track down the smell for themselves.  The smell was coming from somewhere near the bed.  They looked under it, behind it, behind the bedside tables and still couldn’t locate the smell.  Finally, they decided just to check underneath the mattress.  When they pushed the mattress off, the found a rotting human body in the box spring.  The body was there for days, maybe weeks until it was found.”

 

My informant is from Pasadena, California and first heard the story when she was in grade school in the 1990s.  She heard it from her friends at school and also saw it in a comic book version of urban legends that she read when she was younger.  While researching this story, it turns out the story is very popular.  My informant’s version is very similar to other’s I came across online.  All the stories involve a couple, a foul smell, a search to find the smell and the discovery of the body.  However, other versions include different descriptions: the couple is on their honeymoon, the story takes place in Las Vegas, the cleaning staff cleans the room while the couple is off sightseeing (but the smell remains when they return) and sometimes there is no complaint, just a discovery.  The story of the body in the mattress has many different versions, but nonetheless, is the same story.

The most surprising and interesting discovery I made during my research was the fact that the exact same incident occurred at a Travelodge in Pasadena, CA in July 1996!  I first found this information on Snopes.com, which prides with the statement: “the definitive Internet reference source for urban legends, folklore, myths, rumors, and misinformation.”  According to Snopes.com, the motel staff discovered a woman’s body ten days after her murder after multiple complaints from occupants.  In another source, the body was found by a Honolulu native, while she and her brother were on vacation (“The Body in the Bed”).  Although unreliable sources, the two websites illustrate common variants found in folklore.  In order to really confirm the urban legend from Pasadena, I went to the City of Pasadena’s online archive.  The archive only publishes the headlines of newspapers, but the title “Body found in motel room identified: Woman, 23, is named using dental records,” dated to August 2, 1996, verified this story.  The urban legend was most likely a popular story already, so the incident may have simply been a reenactment of the legend.  Furthermore, the event may have also revived the story, which is why my informant heard it while in grade school during the 1990s.

 

Emery, David. “The Body in The Bed.” About.com Urban Legends. 20 Apr. 2012. Web. 24 Apr. 2012. <http://urbanlegends.about.com/od/crime/a/body_in_bed.htm>.

Sharfstein, Daniel. “Body Found in Motel Room Identified : Woman, 23, Is Named Using Dental Records.” Pasadena Public Library. City of Pasadena. Web. 20 Mar. 2012. <http://ww2.cityofpasadena.net/Library/PNI/pniAuthor.asp?page=1&pagesize=100&showAll=&calltype=sort&searchtype=&Pattern=&sortOn=subject&sqlQuery=qauthor+%27%25sharfstein%2C+daniel%25%27>.

“The Bawdy Under the Bed.” Snopes.com. 18 Mar. 2010. Web. 20 Apr. 2012. <http://www.snopes.com/horrors/gruesome/bodybed.asp>.

“If You Step on a Crack, Then You’ll Break Your Mother’s Back!” (Annotation)

My informant first heard the American expression when she was in elementary school.  The saying is pretty popular and is easily recognized by most Americans.  She says that she commonly used the expression on the playground at school or while playing with friends.  Also, it is not something that you merely say, but “is a rhyme that you kind of sing.”  She remembers saying the phrase while hopping over cracks.

When she was younger, my informant explained that it was not something that she necessarily believed.  She had stepped on plenty of cracks and nothing bad ever happened to her mom.  However, she did say that it was considered bad luck.  However, my informant was and is not very superstitious.  So although she knew the saying, she personally did not think it was bad luck, “especially since there were so many cracks on the ground at [her] school!”  My informant, now an elementary school teacher, also said that she has overheard her students using the expression as well.  The American proverb seems to still exist and remains a traditional “playground” proverb.

The famous adage has been used and continually reinforced in film.  The 1988 children’s movie The Land Before Time shows a variation of the expression with the character “Ducky” saying: “Don’t step on a crack, or you’ll fall and break your back.”  Nevertheless, the scene shows how it is used in child’s play.  The characters Ducky, Cera and Littlefoot hop over cracks as they rhythmically say the line.  The movie, made almost twenty-five years ago, is still popular among kids today, especially for those who become interested in dinosaurs.  The Land Before Time’s popularity helps perpetuate the continuation of the well-known American adage.

           

The Land Before Time. Dir. Don Bluth. Perf. Pat Hingle, Gabriel Damon and Judith Barsi. Universal, 1988.

“Between A Rock and A Hard Place” (Annotation)

My informant said he has heard his parents say this expression ever since he was little; however, he did not understand the meaning behind it until he was “probably a teenager.”  He says it refers to “being in a tough spot,” or getting caught in a predicament where either of the two outcomes are unfavorable.  The expression “between a rock and a hard place” presents a visual to this dilemma.  He also mentioned a synonymous expression: “picking the lesser of two evils.”

In 2004, Aron Ralston used this phrase for the title of his autobiography, which retells his experience while “canyoning” in the Utah desert.  For Ralston, “between a rock and a hard place” sums up the predicament he found himself in after a boulder trapped his arm.  While hiking deep into the Utah desert, away from regularly used trails, Ralston suddenly fell into a ravine and a boulder crushed his arm.  He was forced between two options: amputate his arm himself or die from thirst or starvation.  After being stuck in the ravine for over five days, he finally decided to cut his arm with a dull knife.  Therefore, “between a rock and a hard place” is a play on words and quite literal interpretation of what happened to him.  Ralston’s book also influenced the 2010 movie adaptation 127 Hours, starring James Franco.  The popularity of the movie brought even more fame to Aron Ralston’s book and continued to circulate the American saying.

127 Hours. Dir. Danny Boyle. Perf. James Franco. Fox Searchlight, 2010.
Ralston, Aron. Between a Rock and a Hard Place. New York: Atria, 2004. Print.