Author Archives: Mintra Maneepairoj

Musubis and Chopsticks

Informant Background: This individual was born and grew up in Hawaii. His family is of Japanese and Chinese descent. He speaks Japanese and English. His family still practice many Japanese traditions, also many Chinese traditions. They celebrate some of the Japanese holidays. Many of the folk-beliefs and superstitious are still practiced. His relatives who are Japanese lives in Hawaii as well. He currently lives in Los Angeles to attend college.

 

Japanese rice balls, called Musibi, are never made as a perfect circle. They are can be in other geometric shapes. Because the spherical Musibi are made at funeral, so it is bad omen to make them in that shape out of context. That is why it is common to see them in triangular shape. You also cannot put your chopstick vertically into your bowl of rice or any food because that is what you do with candles and incent sticks at a funeral. You also cannot pass food from chopstick to chopstick. You’re supposed to put it down on a plate for the other person to pick it up….This is because during funeral people would sometimes pass the bones of the deceased by using chopstick…If you do any of these things, you will have bad luck and something bad will happen to someone close to you.  

The informant is from Hawaii but his family is originally from Japan. So he practices many Japanese traditions. These practices he learned from his parents and grandparents growing up as things that you must not do simply because it is only reserve for funeral time.

 

 

I never realized why the Japanese rice balls at restaurants come in triangular shape until the informant told me about the tradition. From experience rice balls always come in triangular shape no matter how it’s cooked. It is common to see it through Japanese movies and cartoons as well.

I heard about not sticking chopsticks into rice bowls from people of Chinese descent because of the same reason. I also heard it from a tour guide while visiting Japan for the first time.

This belief reflects the importance of funeral as an event, an exclusive event. There are many beliefs and traditions surrounding it and specific things you do only during funerals. To do something you would do at a funeral in everyday life is then bringing yourself and the people around you bad omen. It is clearly reflect in these beliefs and practice which parallel everyday life activities.

Japanese New Year’s Eve Traditions

Informant Background: This individual was born and grew up in Hawaii. His family is of Japanese and Chinese descent. He speaks Japanese and English. His family still practice many Japanese traditions, also many Chinese traditions. They celebrate some of the Japanese holidays. Many of the folk-beliefs and superstitious are still practiced. His relatives who are Japanese lives in Hawaii as well. He currently lives in Los Angeles to attend college.

 

At New Year’s Eve, it is a Japanese tradition that you eat long strand of noodles which signifies a long and healthy life. Next, you have to eat the sticky rice, mochi, which represent how your family will stick together. Then, you go to the temple where you can make a wish and pick up different kinds of blessed paper which represents different things in your life such as: safe travel, good study, etc. You do these things with your family, relative, and close friends.

Though the informant’s family migrated to Hawaii two generations ago they still practice Japanese rituals and traditions during important holidays. It is not only important that these rituals have to be performed, but also importance that they are performed correctly to bring the individual a good coming next year.

 

 

I believe that almost everybody have some kind of New Year’s Even traditions depending on the culture. New Year’s Eve is also one of the main periods of liminality since it is the transition period of one of the longest life cycle measurement. The New Year also signifies the end of something as well as the beginning. This tradition shows how food and everyday activity is made special during the liminal period as a way to create foreshadow of events or even a positive self-fulfillment prophecy(making a wish at midnight, drinking champagne, etc).

According to the informant the food consumed during this time of year is made slightly different but from the same ingredients as the food eaten every day. The form of the food becomes metaphor to many valued aspect in that culture: long life and family ties. Similar to other culture holiday traditions, certain foods are exclusive to those events and those events only.

The blessed paper is to foresee and start the New Year with good luck and goals for the coming year. I’ve observed on my trip to Japan once that there are many type of these paper that one can purchased: good luck, good grades, good relationship, pass an exam, get into university, etc. This reflects the idea of a “life fulfillment prophecy” where the beliefs that you will get good luck can help bring you good luck.

In this Japanese tradition to do all the traditions is not only to foreshadow a good year but also foreshadow a good year with your family. The idea that these rituals are done with people close to you shows how the transition period is not only important to the individual, but the collective as well.

The performance of these traditions also shows how some individual is reinforcing his cultural identity from his geographical origin without being there.

Pig Legend

Informant Background: This individual was born and grew up in Hawaii. His family is of Japanese and Chinese descent. He speaks Japanese and English. His family still practice many Japanese traditions, also many Chinese traditions. They celebrate some of the Japanese holidays. Many of the folk-beliefs and superstitious are still practiced. His relatives who are Japanese lives in Hawaii as well. He currently lives in Los Angeles to attend college.

 

In Hawaii, there is a tunnel that runs through the mountain. It was a site of battle in ancient Hawaii. It is to be believed that it is full of spirits of the warriors and the chiefs who died in that battle. The one thing you cannot do is bring pork…You can bring anything you want, but not pork. Pork is a big part of a lot of beliefs in Hawaii. Pig in ancient Hawaiian culture is depicted as a pig-god so to bring a dead pig is then to bring the god in dead form to the ghost of the people.  If you bring pork over that tunnel, your car will stop. The way to make it start again is to get rid of the pork somehow like throw the pig out the window. 

The informant stated that this is a knowledge passed to him through his grandparents as he was growing up in Hawaii. He said he never had direct experience with his car stopping but heard from others who forgot to follow the rule and had their engine stopped working.

 

 

This legend also shows different beliefs and perspective on how different cultures and places values different animals and objects to be sacred. In this case pig is considered sacred while for Hindus cow is sacred. Though these beliefs seem strange when looking in as an outsider, it plays a large role in the culture.

This legend also shows how the belief transcends generations and technological development through overlapping ancient warrior battle with sacred god-like animal figure with automobile engines. The legend also shows how the believability of the tale can be carried on through a memorate. If one car engine stopped over that tunnel while there is pork in the car, then the legend can continue.

The pig can also be considered as contagious magic. The pig/pork is an object that will be automatically cursed once put into the area. The pig/pork curse can be lifted once the item is discarded; the item is cursed, not the person or car.

Clock and Watch

Informant Background: The informant was born in rural parts of China called Hainan. She lived there with her grandparents where she attended elementary school. She moved to the United States when she was thirteen. She speaks both Chinese and English. She lives in Los Angeles with her mother but travels back to visit her relatives in Beijing and Hainan every year. She and her mother still practice a lot of Chinese traditions and celebrate Chinese holidays through special meals.

 

In Chinese you can’t say the word clock because in Chinese the word clock sounds the same as death. People usually point at the clock instead of saying it or called it “big watch,” “time,” “the time thing,” etc. If you end up saying the word then you have to apologize to the people around them for giving them bad luck.

The informant lives in the United States but still speak Chinese. She was taught about this ever since she can speak the language. It was emphasizing in the family and she found out it is practiced among her relatives and her friend’s family as well.

 

I think this is similar practice to the reason Chinese people avoid saying the word four because it sounds like they are saying death. Death, which is the unknown, is feared and avoided in everyday life. The idea of death is only mentioned and emphasized at funeral. The clock, in this case, has a nickname to avoid saying the actual word. Certain words that have overlapping sound are then muted for everyday life. The same way funeral rituals occur as a special event, words surrounding that particular event are prohibited to occur at any other time otherwise bad luck will enter your life. It is also similar to Western culture’s belief around the number thirteen where in a tall building floor 13 are eliminated.

I always find it peculiar that many everyday word and objects can have bad luck connotation through the way it sounds; also having to apologize for saying those words by mistake. This reinforces the idea of belief and how the truth value of it is irrelevant to whether or not it is practiced. Saying the word “four” or “clock” in Chinese would not bring bad luck but it would bring the belief of bad luck. I think that these traditions are carried through as accepted practice rather than the actual fear of the consequences.

Chinese Funeral Traditions

Informant Background: The informant was born in rural parts of China called Hainan. She lived there with her grandparents where she attended elementary school. She moved to the United States when she was thirteen. She speaks both Chinese and English. She lives in Los Angeles with her mother but travels back to visit her relatives in Beijing and Hainan every year. She and her mother still practice a lot of Chinese traditions and celebrate Chinese holidays through special meals.

 

Usually the family and relatives would gather for the funeral. The coffin would be in a room where it’s decorated with white flowers. The guest would give the host money in a white envelope to pay for the funeral. Usually Chinese people try not to use white envelope in normal life because white is the color of death…So they use white in this occasion…same as flower, Chinese people tend to give each other colorful flowers. The people attending the funeral would wear black or white.

One of the things I remember the most is that there are always these paper objects for burning. The paper will be folded and made into something like a house, a car, clothes, phone, etc. These things are made of paper so that they can be burned. It is believed that the stuff you burned will appear in heaven for your deceased. There are also gold and silver paper which represents wealth. You burn those as well. Most of the time all the family member would stack of the objects in a big pile and set off a large fire then they all stand around watching it burn….And then, later they would do the gold and silver paper individually. Everyone usually participate.  

Also part of a funeral ritual in Chinese culture is that you are supposed to leave the body for seven days before you bury the body so that the soul can be released. If the body is buried before the seventh day then the soul is trapped inside the body. This is also how many of these bodies become ghosts because their soul can’t leave the earth.

The informant said that this is a traditional ritual in Chinese funeral. She learned about this knowledge through her observation after participating in funeral rituals where people emphasize these practices. She said many Chinese funerals take place for seven days, in those different days many of the same repeated and some different rituals occur to lead into the last/seventh day where the body is then buried.

 

These traditions show the importance of funeral as a life event for both the individual and the family, more for the family since the individual is no longer present at the event. There also many rituals associated with the event that has to be executed correctly. Funeral as an event also shows family ties and connection of the deceased to the community. Those rituals are specific and take times and money.

This shows how the color white is used as morbid rather than in Western culture where it is use in wedding to represent the innocence and the purity of the bride. The white flowers, white envelop, and white clothing shows how white as a color have a negative connotation. This clarified a question I’ve always ponder about why Chinese people give out red envelop at Chinese New Year. Similar to other culture’s where the objects and rituals during funerals are exclusive to the event; in this case the color white is reserved for funeral rituals only.

The burning of paper objects is very interesting to me. It is the idea of homeopathic magic where “like” creates “like.” In this particular case the magic is then the transition to transfer those objects from the physical realm to the spiritual realm. I think that this practice also show fear of the unknown relating to the idea of death and the afterlife where the burning of family objects is a way to ensure some certainty in the afterlife. The burning of those paper objects as a ritual reflects how the objects disappear into the air like how the spirit did.

The burial after seven day as a belief is similar to other culture’s origin of ghost where the dead body did not receive proper funeral ritual. In this case being buried too soon would trap the soul in the deceased body. The deceased body and the soul then become a haunting ghost.

The ritual of waiting for seven days resonate the concept of number seven as a reoccurring theme in many Eastern and Western Culture: seven planets, seven days, seventh heaven, etc. It shows how the idea the seven planets as a measure of time and day in the calendar effect many rituals and life events in many culture.