Residence: Arcadia, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: February 11, 2017
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Japanese
Aubrey is a Japanese-American currently attending ELAC. She plans to transfer to UCSD to pursue a bachelor’s in Marine Biology because she intends to protect the marine environment with her university education. She enjoys drawing, watching anime, attending sports games with her dad, and playing with her dogs.
So every morning on New Year’s Day, Japanese people would go to a shrine. They would toss in yen in this, like, designated area where you’re supposed to toss yen. And then you ring this large bell, bow, clap your hands twice, and you pray for good luck…And also some people choose to buy these small papers with messages called o-mikuji and some papers have really good luck, some papers have really bad luck. The papers that have good luck you’re supposed to keep so that the good luck will stay with. And the papers that have really bad luck, you’re supposed to tie them on a tree that’s in the shrine area so that the bad luck can stay away from you.
Background Information about the Performance from the Informant
The informant first performed this ritual at a Shinto temple during her trip to Japan on New Year’s Day in elementary school. She remembered this custom because she enjoyed fortune-telling practices and the concepts of second chances and casting away bad luck on a tree.
Context of the Performance
I interviewed the informant in my house.
In Japan, people perform these actions—ringing the bell, bowing, clapping twice—at temples for various reasons. The three main reasons are to draw the god’s attention, to ward off spirits, and to express their gratitude and respect for the god. Found in various temples and shrines throughout Japan, o-mikuji are strips of paper that grant fortunes ranging from a great blessing to a great curse. They predict one’s chances with various aspects of life: health, love, success, etc. However, when the prediction is bad, it is custom to fold the strip of paper and attach it to a pine tree. This custom originates from how the Japanese character for “pine tree” (松 / matsu) sounds like the characters for “to wait” (待つ / matsu), with the concept being that the bad luck will wait by the pine tree.
My Thoughts about the Performance
I found the Japanese custom for praying at a Shinto temple interesting, because I never knew what the reasons were for people ringing the bell, bowing, and clapping. I also thought the idea of placing bad luck in the form of strips of paper, or o-mikuji, on pine trees amusing. I did not realize that this custom was built on a sound pun, but I appreciate the fact that the custom provides several chances to a person for good fortune.