Author Archives: eliseeva

Haunted Tunnel in Japan

Context:

The informant is a 23 year old Japanese male. He was born in Nagoya, Japan where he spent the first half of his life. When he was 13, he came to the United States to attend high school and has been living in California ever since. The informant currently resides in Inglewood, CA and works in animation.

There is a certain tunnel in Japan, I forget where it is, but it goes through a mountain and it’s haunted. There is a story that gets told a lot of a man driving his car and on his way to the tunnel. And he know about the tunnel, he knows that people say that it’s haunted. He’s not someone who really believes in ghost stories and therefore he proceeds. He’s halfway in and nothing has happened. 

So he thinks to himself:

Of course, all those ghost stories were fake. There’s no such thing as spirits.

And as soon as he thinks that, he hears a lot of banging on the side of his car! And he’s terrified. And his car stops. The thumping stops as well. He tries to start his car and turn it around for about 10 minutes, and there is nothing. He is absolutely terrified. But after 10 minutes, his car starts again and he is able to keep going. Later on, he goes to a gas station, and in Japan, gas station attendants fill up your car. The gas station attendant is wiping down the body of the car (they also clean your car), and he tells the man: 

Sir, you have a lot of handprints on your car.

The guy gets out himself and he notices that there are millions of handprints all around his car, and is shaken. The attendant is cleaning, and wants to make sure that it’s spotless, says to the man.

You have one handprint that I cannot get to, because it is inside your car…

And that’s the end of the story.

Analysis:

This is your typical ghost story; they can be found in nearly every culture. Some of them revolve around a certain person, specific time, and/or place. This ghost story is very location specific. They can be based on real life events, for example the informant said that they think that the tunnel was once surrounded by a city, but the citizens may have died in some tragic way, though they weren’t sure themselves. It is difficult to find the root of truth in a ghost story, because they are so eagerly shared, be that around campfires, sleepovers, power outages, etc., that people change the story every time they tell it to make it even scarier. The informant did not remember where exactly this tunnel is located, possibly because over time, that detail was omitted so that the story would be applied to multiple tunnels, therefore more easily frightening the listeners.

Baba Yaga

Context:

The informant is a Russian-American-Bulgarian woman who spent the first half of her life in Russia. She currently resides in Boston, MA and the interview took place over zoom in which I interviewed her about the Russian folklore that she grew up with and that she feels represents the Russian people and culture.

Transcribed and translated from an interview held in Russian

Baba Yaga is this old mean witch that lives on the edge of the forest in a hut that stands on chicken legs. This hut can turn in different directions, so the hero comes to it and says “Hut, hut. turn your back to the forest and your front to me” So it turns and allows the hero to enter and speak with Baba Yaga. She’s evil so she can mess with you, lie to you, send you in the wrong direction. She flies in a mortar, holding a broom. 

Analysis:

The figure of the older, evil woman/witch is one that pops up a lot, especially in European folklore. Be that the evil stepmother or an evil witch, the purpose of this archetype remains largely the same: to impede the hero in their journey or to somehow cause them harm. This probably mirrors society’s general disapproval of an older, unmarried, childless woman by portraying them as “evil hags”. Even in the case of a stepmother, she almost always made out to be malicious, possibly because she is not the hero’s biological mother and usually has hers or her own children’s interest at heart rather than the hero’s.

Ilya Muromets

Content:

The informant is a Russian-American-Bulgarian woman who spent the first half of her life in Russia. She currently resides in Boston, MA and the interview took place over zoom in which I interviewed her about the Russian folklore that she grew up with and that she feels represents the Russian people and culture.

Transcribed and translated from an interview held in Russian

“One story is that of Ilya Muromets. He was a bogatyr (a character in older folklore equivalent to medieval knights) who spent the first 33 years of his life just sleeping on this stone oven not doing anything. Then came a moment where he had to help protect the country from invaders and it turned out that he was in fact this strong, brave, capable warrior. This story shows a trope in Russian folklore that the Russian people may not be really useful in everyday, mundane tasks but are very effective in extreme circumstances.”

She then proceeded to go into more detail of the typical bogatyr character in folklore

Bogatyr is a common character in Russian folklore. Like I said, they are often compared to medieval knights, but they do differ in some important ways. First off, the knights always served their king, but a bogatyr is more of an independent folk hero. Usually a very strong one (physically).  It is also important to note: knights were real, bogatyr wasn’t. Just a piece of Russian folklore.

Analysis:

The version of the character of Ilya Muromets can be found in folklore throughout the world. Other notable oicotypes are Lancelot, Heracles, and many more.

This does reflect an actual tendency of the Russian people. Historically, Russians have been very successful when it came to protecting themselves in wars where their land was being attacked. The two most famous examples being when Napoleon and Hitler tried to attack Russia and failed.

Five Petal Lilac

Context:

The informant is my father. He is a 55-year old white male and spent the first 26 years of his life in the Soviet Union (Moscow). He, like many others in the USSR was raised as an atheist, and his whole family (including himself) has a background in the sciences; therefore he is a very logical, analytical individual. 

The following conversation took place as a part of a larger conversation about Russian folklore during a road trip from Southern Utah to Las Vegas.

Transcribed and translated from an interview held in Russian

“A silly superstition that was common among students – though it was mostly my family, my mother, that did it often, kind of as a joke but kind of not – was that you take lilac – a flower with four petals and on rare occasion you find one with five petals- and it was considered that if you find a lilac with five petals right before an exam then you’ll perform well.”

Analysis:

This was the only piece of folklore my Dad could think of when asked about folklore surrounding school or university superstitions or legends. While I’m sure there was more that he couldn’t remember, he pointed out that because he was surrounded by young, non-superstitious people studying subjects in the STEM field, it may also just be the case that there was less folklore to spread because of the logical, evidence-based nature of the scientific field.

Sirin, Alkanost, and Gamayun

Context:

The informant is a Russian-American-Bulgarian woman who spent the first half of her life in Russia. She currently resides in Boston, MA and the interview took place over zoom in which I interviewed her about the Russian folklore that she grew up with and that she feels represents the Russian people and culture.

Transcribed and translated from an interview held in Russian

“In pagan folklore, there were these mythological creatures of three birds: They were known as Sirin, Alkanost, and Gamayun.  I cannot really remember what the distinguishing features were for all of them. I believe Gamayun, I think, is known to be able to tell the future. I do not know a lot about it, but I once heard a song in which it is said that the bird tells the future. Anyway, a more familiar character to me in Russian folklore is that of the Zharptsitsa, it’s like this fire bird that many characters in folktales always seek to find and claim for themselves. I don’t know the origins of this bird, but my guess is that it originates from these older mythical birds.”

Analysis:The immediate oicotype that springs to mind with the Zharptsitsa  is a phoenix. The one main difference being that the Zharptsitsa does not rise from its ashes after it dies. It is unclear of these two originate from the same root, or if they were just created in the folklore of different cultures and happen to have similar features. It is quite likely. Birds exist worldwide, as does fire. Combining the two in folklore to create a legendary creature can occur in more than one culture.