My informant was born and raised in Japan, but moved to America to finish her college degree at the University of San Diego. She told me about a childhood custom that is common among Japanese families.
“In Japan a little daughter and dad shower and bath together is normal–with son too. People from other countries say that’s disgusting. (But) it’s because normally dads don’t have time to communicate with their kids cause the work, so bath time is perfect time to have kids time to them. We did until I was 7 or something.”
I knew she had an older brother, so I asked if her dad would shower with both of them simultaneously or one by one. Her response was:
“Both! But that’s only when we’re little like 3 or 4. After that let’s say probably when I’m taking the bath my dad join me after. We just talk and play in the bathtub. Maybe he help me wash my hair, but not the body.”
I thought it was interesting how my informant pointed out how other countries saw this custom as strange, and felt the need to provide an explanation (almost in a defensive manner). I think it is because in Western culture it is more commonly heard of for mothers to take baths with their children since they are the ones to have given birth and are the “caretakers” of the family. A father taking a bath with his child–especially a daughter– could be interpreted as inappropriate or even as sexual abuse.
However, baths are a huge part of Japanese custom. Japan has numerous public bathhouses located all over the country, varying from rural to urban areas. These bathhouses have large communal baths that are typically segregated by gender. Visitors comfortably bathe and walk around nude in front of complete strangers. With this information in mind, I was not surprised to hear that it is typical for children to bathe with their fathers.
My informant was born in South Korean, but moved to America when she was 16 years old. She explained to me how when she first moved, she was very confused by some of the cultural differences including hand gestures.
In America, we wave people over with our palms facing up. A similar motion that is common in western culture to beckon someone over is curling the index finger. However, in Korea both of these are considered extremely rude and degrading. They typically use the same hand motions to gesture over dogs.
Respect is a huge attribute in Asian culture. It is deeply rooted in family and demonstrated formally through gestures and language. Therefore, using the “American wave” on a human is equivalent to treating or calling them an animal. Koreans will signal people over by having their palm face down, and using a little “digging” or small swimming motion with their hand. Another way to describe it would be having your palm face down and waving it up and down vertically. If you tried calling a cab in Korea using the Western style wave, you would undeniably be rejected and ignored.
At first, my informant thought that Americans were “kind of arrogant and snobby.” She didn’t realize that there would be a significantly different meaning in something as trivial as gesturing someone over. She eventually caught on that people were not intentionally trying to be rude, and that it was just part of western culture to call people over using the palm facing up.
This made me really think about how important it is to be culturally aware, especially while traveling. There are so many little differences that may seem insignificant, but is actually really important to recognize. It helps us better understand our global peers and can prevent us from accidentally offending others.
My informant is African-American and is from Boca Raton, Florida. Her family practices Judaism, so she explained to me a part of their funeral ritual:
“We do this thing called Shiva. Basically it’s like you sit in your house and people bring you food. It happens for seven days, so it’s like a week of mourning. People come by whenever and they bring all sorts of food as a way to say sorry. It includes friends and family. It’s like, if you’re Jewish you just know that they’re going to have a Shiva, so you should stop by and bring them food. Usually there’s a lot of people there because once someone passes away usually the mourning house will get a lot of visitors. It’s kind of like a.. not like a social like you go there to socialize. But you go there and you’re eating a little and chatting. You could stop by and there’s no one there.”
As we’ve learned in class, death is a rite of passage. It is a transitional process where the deceased moves from the living world to the world of the dead. According to my informant it sounded like shivas are not entirely somber and grim, but have some light-heartedness to it as well. From other funeral rituals I’ve heard of, it seems like the gathering of people is the most shared attribute regardless of whether or not it is to mourn together or reminisce and celebrate the life of the deceased.
“Because I’m Greek Orthodox, we have a service the night before Easter. What we do is, the priest turns off all the lights in the church and then we have candles. And we say ‘Christ has risen and truly he has risen’ in like eight different languages. ‘Khristos Anesti. Alithos Anesti. Christ has risen. Truly he has risen.’* and all these different forms of languages for about an hour and a half. It’s just a symbolized of I think inclusivity. We just wear our church clothes. Like my mom always says, ‘Dress as though you’re going to God’s house.’ Everyone is in more ‘happier’ colors since it’s Easter”
My informant is a member of the Greek Orthodox Church. She is deeply connected to her church and still practices her religion faithfully. I thought it was interesting to hear how her family celebrates Easter because I personally am Presbyterian, which is a branch of Christianity. We only celebrate Palm Sunday and Good Friday prior to Easter. I have never heard of a celebration being held the night before Easter. This service is referred to as the Paschal Greeting in Greek Orthodox custom. I really liked the idea of chanting “Christ has risen and truly he has risen” in multiple languages as a representation of inclusivity. However, I will admit having to do that for an hour and half seems extremely tedious. My informant on the other hand seemed enthusiastic about the ritual, proving her patience and loyalty to God.
“A general idea shared by Indians is that daughters are the most important in the family. Like they bring prosperity and wealth for families, so they are sacred. So for me as a daughter, I’m not supposed to touch anyone’s feet. Another thing for daughters is blessing new things like when we bought a new house, my parents are super Indian and did prayers. But I was the first one to walk into the house because I bring good luck.”
I was surprised to learn that daughters of Indian households are so valued. Although my informant said her family practices and observes a lot of traditional Indian customs, she could not find an explanation for why Indian daughters are so treasured. They are treated like goddesses because they are considered as the Goddess Lakshmi—goddess of wealth, fortune, and prosperity. Despite this elevated status, sons are still preferred over daughters. When daughters get married, they get passed along to a new household; however, when sons get married, they don’t leave and remain in the same household.
Sons are probably valued more because they have the title of breadwinner, while daughters are meant to marry and be sent off. These are all clearly religious and socio-economic factors that influence the attitudes toward sons and daughters. To my informant’s family, the belief that having her walk into a new house first will bring good luck is rooted in religious belief. However, to others it may seem like a simple superstition. This made me realize how subjective the process of defining superstitions are, and that religion and superstition can be tied closely hand-in-hand; however, no matter how similar the two ideas may seem, they are still fundamentally two different types of beliefs.