Author Archives: Frances ONeil

Fairytale – Japan

“Peach Boy is the story of how a brave boy came to be. There was an old couple in the countryside who were lonely because they were unable to have children. One day the old woman was down by the river and a giant peach came floating along. She brought it home for dinner and was pleased to show the old man when he came home. As she was taking a huge knife to cut into the peach, a voice for from inside yelled, ‘No! No! Don’t cut me!’ Suddenly a baby boy came out of the peach and said he was sent to the old couple to be their son. The old man and woman were very happy and named the boy Momotaro, which means Peach Boy. They loved him very much and raised him as their own.

At the age of fifteen Momotaro wanted to go on an adventure to prove his gratitude for all the things he had. He told his father he wanted to go to Ogre Island to defeat the wicked ogres who had caused so much trouble in their land. The old couple were very proud of their son’s bravery and suited him up in armor with a sword and sent him along his journey with a lunch of dumplings. Momotaro headed for the sea and came across a dog who growled and barked at him, but Peach Boy gave him a dumpling and told the dog he was going to fight the ogres on Ogre Island. The dog said he’d go along with him to help.

Momotaro came across a monkey who started to fight with the dog, so Peach Boy gave him a dumpling and told him where they were going so the monkey joined them. They came across a bird who was about to start fighting with the dog and the monkey so Peach Boy gave him a dumpling and told him where they were headed so the bird went along too. So Peach Boy led the dog, monkey, and bird and they got in a boat to Ogre Island.

When they got to Ogre Island they could see the ogres had a very strong fort. The bird flew over and pecked at the ogres eyes and heads, the monkey clawed and scratched them, the dog bit them, and Peach Boy cut them with his sword. They had a big battle against the ogres and were able to defeat all the ogres. They promised Momotaro never to do bad things again, and before Peach Boy left, they brought him all the treasure in the fort. So Peach Boy and his three little friends brought all the treasure back to his house, where they were greeted by the happy old couple who were so glad to see their son alive. And now they were rich too and they all lived very happy altogether.”

Lori told me how she had seen this fairytale reenacted on several occasions because her two sons have been in children’s plays about Peach Boy many times over the years. She explained that because of her boys’ Japanese heritage from her husband, they were involved in many Japanese-American community affairs where Peach Boy is well known. She said she always uses Peach Boy as an example for her sons to have courage and confidence, telling them, “Be brave like Peach Boy. Be brave like Momotaro.” She explained that “taro” is used in names of first-born sons in Japanese families. Also, that “momo” means peach, and it is also used to describe girls’ breasts, as in “look at her momo’s.” But she clarified that Momotaro is named because he came out of a big peach.

This fairytale comes up in an article in Asian Folklore Studies journal written by Klaus Antoni. The article confirms Lori’s assertions that Peach Boy is a role model for her boys to be brave. Antoni writes that the story of Momotaro has been an important tool used by the state to propagate nationalist ideas in schools. The fairytale of Momotaro has been included in school readers as a means to exemplify a strong sense of nationalism and pride in the military, an important asset during times of war. Antoni goes on to detail how Momotaro reaffirms the Japanese value of family honor in bringing good fortune to a family name through virtuous acts of bravery and courage.

In addition to Peach Boy being a heroic role model for young boys to look up to, this fairytale also touches on issues of sexuality. Because “momo” means breast, this story can be read as a coming of age story to the point of reproductive maturity. Lori had said that the old couple were lonely and sad because they did not have children, possibly feeling inadequate because they could not reproduce a child of their own. This story then explains the importance for young boys to be brave and strong in order to grow up to be a sexually reproductive man in order to pass on his family name. Having a hero who is connected with the anatomy of the opposite sex can symbolize his reproductive success, and gives boys an early start on concerning themselves with sexual maturity.

Annotatoin: Antoni, Klaus. “Momotaro (The Peach Boy) and the Spirit of Japan: Concerning the Function of a Fairy Tale in Japanese Nationalism of the Early Showa Age.” Asian Folklore Studies. 50.1 (1991): 155-181. 29 Apr. 2008. <>.

Marching Call – Santa Monica, California

“I left my wife with twenty-four children,

Down in the kitchen with starving conditions

Without any gingerbread left, left, left, right, left.”

Siobhán told me she first learned this marching call from our grandmother when she was a girl of about five years old. She learned it in Santa Monica, CA, but told me it was possible that our grandmother had learned it in Texas where she grew up. She explained to me that this marching call is said most often when you want to march together on the same foot. She recalls learning it when she and our grandmother would take walks around the neighborhood together, and our grandmother would call out in a voice of military precision this rhyme in a staccato and brisk manner. She described how you have to start marching with your left foot when you say “left” in the first line, and each step is taken in rhythm with the call, landing on a specific syllable. The steps go on: “left” (left foot), “wife” (right), “twen-” (left), “chil-” (right), “Down” (left), “kitch-” (right), “starv-” (left), “-dit-” (right), “-out” (left), “gin-” (right), “left” (left), ‘beat’ (right), “left” (left), ‘beat’ (right), “left” (left), “right” (right), “left” (left).

Siobhán believes this marching call was our grandmother’s way to turn an ordinary walk around the neighborhood into an adventure.  Like the speaker in the rhyme, it is an admirable quality to make sacrifices to help your family in need. The speaker’s courage is alluded to with images of men leaving home to join the military to protect their country and their family with the hopes of a better future. The speaker must be brave enough to leave his starving family on their own while he can fight for a better tomorrow. Siobhán not only explained how patriotic our grandmother was, but also how proper she was with mannerisms such as posture. She explained how the tone with which our grandmother called this out almost forced your shoulders back and chest out as you marched with exquisite poise.

I can recall when my grandmother would say this, and often times she would also start it when we setting the table for dinner or completely other household chores. It was her way to call us to attention and stay focused on completing our chores as young girls. In this respect it is worth noting the gender divide insinuated by the marching call. The speaker, male, has to leave his wife – in the kitchen with the children. This speaks to gender roles of men and women; men being the protector and provider of the home, while the woman rears the children and is responsible for household duties. This marching call is effective in teaching children qualities of family values, courage, and their identity based on gender.

Riddle – Santa Monica, California

“Brothers and sisters, I have none. But that man’s father is my father’s son.

Who am I?”

Answer: the speaker

My mother, Tica, first heard this riddle from her father when she was a young girl of about 10 years old. She said he would say it at dinner parties and social gatherings as a mental challenge for the guests. She described the social setting as a showcase of his wits, continuing to amaze guests with his bountiful supply of brain teasers and puzzles. He would ask it in a straightforward and stern manner, almost commanding you to answer correctly. He would give his audience as much time as they needed to venture their guesses, and would only reveal the answer if no one could answer correctly. He would acknowledge a person when they answered correctly, but many times he would have to reveal the answers of many puzzles to shouts of, “Oh, of course!” She said he seemed to retain a sense of pride when he stumped his audience and had to enlighten them.

My mother described my grandfather as the quintessential patriarch who you could always go to for advice. This riddle therefore, was a way for him to not only show off his wisdom and intelligence, but a friendly way in which he could gain trust from his family by entertaining in recreation with them. This riddle can be looked at as a search for identity and the quest for independence and individuality. Because my grandfather was the one proposing the riddle, it implies that he has found a sense of identity and independence can thus be sought after for guidance. This riddle establishes a generational gap in a coming of age and self-discovery motif.

When my mother first said the riddle, my initial response was Jesus. The mention of “father’s son” brought images of a Heavenly Father and his son Jesus Christ. Therefore this riddle can also carry with it religious aspects as well. The significance of religion in my Catholic family is very profound. Thus I would also say that this riddle also implies the importance of faith in establishing one’s identity. Faith can also provide much-needed guidance in addition to that of a wise and experienced mentor such as a grandfather. This riddle therefore symbolizes the passing of knowledge and wisdom from individuals of different generations with the support of faith along the way.

Legend – Los Angeles, California

“Now our high school was very corrupt; there were many injustices and mean teachers, it was very unfair. We had a savior who came down upon us to help us in times of need. Not everyone believed in this savior, but I know for a fact that he was real. Some say he would come down whenever a teacher would give out too much homework, or if a student was sent to the Deans’ office. When this would happen, the ‘Phantom Shitter’…(chuckles)…would defecate in the desk drawer of the teacher.

“No one knew who this ‘Phantom Shitter’ was. Then one night the Dean had stayed a little after hours and was walking the halls when he saw a figure. The Dean called security to help get this person and they saw the figure go into the elevator. They thought this was great, because there was only two floors at our school, so they could run up the stairs and wait for him to come out of the elevator. Well, when the doors opened up, all that was inside was a steaming pile of human feces in the middle of the elevator.

“To this day, no one knows who he is, and that’s the closest anyone came to seeing the ‘Phantom Shitter.’”

Jason told me this legend in a very suspenseful and entertaining performance at work. He told me he went to Loyola High School in L.A., an all boys private Catholic school. He said that he and his friends would talk about this legendary ‘Phantom Shitter’ whenever they felt they were being wronged by their school authorities. They would joke and laugh together as part of the fun was actually trying to convince one another that this legend was real.

Jason believed that this legendary hero was indeed meant to help him and his classmates get through the toils and stress of high school. He said that because they could laugh and joke about such an absurd thing as a phantom who pooped in the school, they would forget, for the moment, their responsibilities and demands of high school. This legend was a fun way to ease the pressures of stressful times during high school.

Jason’s telling of this legend was very amusing, and it made me think that this was his and his friends’ way of poking fun at the teachers and deans from high school. Imagining that the authorities that made their high school career so strict were having to run around and deal with a defecating phantom would be very entertaining. It is possible that this legend allowed the boys to go against the regiment of authority during their transition to young adulthood. Their rebelliousness is a common characteristic of adolescent youth who are searching to reach maturity. This legend seems to embody the anti-authoritarian attitude of adolescents coming into adulthood in a humorous and still child-like way.

Superstition – Spain

“Con salud!”

“With health!”

“Go with good health!”

Chris told me she learned this phrase from her mother-in-law, who is a Sephardic Jew and frequently speaks in Spanish or Yiddish. Chris explained to me that this saying is most commonly used to wish a person luck or congratulations when they have made some accomplishment. The example she used was when a person was planning on buying a new car that you wish them, “con salud!” She explained that her mother-in-law commonly uses it as a farewell and in response to someone’s plans or goals.

Chris explained that the significance in this phrase lays in the superstition of the “evil eye.” She said that the evil eye is always watching and is the bringer of bad luck. The evil eye is used as a scapegoat to make sense of the inexplicable. She said that if a person was suffering from cancer, that “it must be the evil eye.” She said that the phrase, “con salud,” is supposed to ward off the evil eye and protect the person who it is said to. Chris also explained to me that it is common for Sephardic women to wear jewelry with eye charms on them. She said that bracelets or necklaces with eyes as the charms are also supposed to ward off the evil eye. She also described how some ornaments and decorations for the house have eye symbols on them to protect the home. She noted the coincidence that wearing the symbol of the eye is supposed to protect you from the evil eye. This, she said, was in reference of God sparing the first-borns of the families who painted lamb’s blood over their door during the plagues of Egypt, in what is now called Passover. She tied this superstitious phrase to a traditional Jewish celebration and common cultural trends among Sephardic Jews.

This phrase reminds me of the tradition in Hispanic cultures to say “salud” after someone sneezes. The English counterpart for that would be “bless you,” or “God bless you,” implying that you need to protect your soul in order to live a happy and healthy life. The importance of faith in God is apparent in this Sephardic phrase, equating good health with a soul nurtured by religion. This phrase is therefore endearing and an expression of love for the ones you say it too. To me, it says “I wish for you the love and grace of God so that your enriched body and soul may live a healthy and fulfilling life.” This is such a simple phrase, and yet it seems to carry with it a great deal of meaning. It is a true expression of love and good luck to those whom you care for.