Tag Archives: Japan

The Bamboo Cutter

Context:

The informant–HO– is a third generation Japanese American 18 year old woman born in California who attended a weekly Japanese language school from age 7 to age 9. The tale was told to her by her grandmother (born in Japan) in English. I, the interviewer, am labeled as DJ.

Piece:

HO: So once upon a time, there was this little old man. He and his wife never had kids. So they were like very sad old people. And his job was to just like go out and cut bamboo all day, and then, like, sell it. So then one day he was like walking through the bamboo forest and was like, “Oh my God. Why does that bamboo look like the moon is shining directly on it?” Because it was. So he was like, “I’m gonna cut that bamboo down. It’s, like, I feel like it’s a sign.” And once the bamboo, like, falls down, he sees that, like where he cut it, there’s, like, a little tiny person like that big. Maybe, like, a few inches tall. And it’s just like a little lady. And she’s just, like, in there. And he’s like, whoa. You must have been sent from the gods cause you’re like a little child. And we never had kids. And then he takes it home to his wife. She’s like, “That’s a tiny kid.”

DJ: Wait, is it a kid or is it a woman?

HO: It’s like a tiny little girl, I would think. And then they’re like, “OK, well, we’re taking her in as our own.” And then- But then they don’t let anyone see her, obviously, because she’s, like, definitely smaller than the average baby. So several months later, she’s like the size of like a normal little girl, like a teen girl. Not 100 percent sure. And then they, like, have like a party where they, like, reveal her to the world. And everyone’s like, “Whoa. She’s the most beautiful person I’ve ever seen.” And they’re like, “Yeah, we know.” And then, like, news spreads fast because Japan is, like, tiny. So then everybody, like every man on earth is like, “Whoah, whoah, whoah, whoah!” They like travel to their little bamboo house and they’re like, “What’s up? Can I marry your daughter?” And the dad’s like, “No,” he’s like, “I’m not even, like, technically her real dad. So that’s why I’m telling you no.”

DJ: Oh, he tell people that he’s not her real dad?

HO: Yeah. Which is, like, really suspicious. That sounds like you stole her. Whatever. And then… And then he talks to his daughter in is like, “So like what do we do about all these suitors?” And she’s like, “I’ll pick one if they can do all these crazy tasks. And I don’t remember what any of the tasks are. So that’s my bad. But. Then, obviously, none of the men can do any of them. So she’s like, “OK, you’re all, like, not going to marry me. Because you’re the worst.” And then, like, the emperor, like, comes to see her and he’s like, “Well, what about me?” And she’s like, “No.” And he’s like, really disturbed by it because he’s like,”How could she say no to me, the emperor?” So then she’s just, like, lonely all the time and the dad’s like, “Well, it’s kind of your fault. And then she’s like, “Yeah, I know, but like the moon was just talking to me, and it told me that, like, my moon family is, like, coming back for me. The dad’s like, “No. No.” So then he calls up the emperor and is like, “Hey, we need to, like, we need to literally get all your guards and we’re blocking our house off because that would work against moon people” And so they like, guard the house. And the daughters like, “This is stupid, like. We’re otherworldly.” And then the moon people just, like, descend on a cloud, like, they have like a chariot on a cloud. They just like come down and are like, “Get in the chariot.” And she’s like, “All right.”And then she gets in the chariot. And she’s like, “Just think of me when you look at the moon.” And the dad’s like, “OK.” And then she just, like, floats away. And that’s the end.

Analysis:

This tale carries on a theme in Japanese folk tales of supernatural children hatching from plants discovered in the wild and taken in by an elderly couple. The tale is also a pre-science fiction narrative features extraterrestrial beings from another planet visiting Earth.

For a similar tale in which a child is discovered in a giant peach rather than a bamboo stock, see Momotarō (Peach Boy)

Blue Ghosts in Okinawa, Japan

AM: So, it was- like the first month or two when i moved to Japan and I was hanging outside at like…2am like at night in a park. Um, the military base we was staying on was built like near like Japanese Shrines and whatnot and they said that you know the shrines are haunted and there’s a lotta “superstitions” with those. So while we’re out hanging, there was like oh look- you can see a bluf- blue figure on a hill like on top of the shrine and when I looked over you- I saw like a bluish like glow from the hills where the shrine was and they said that this island is one of the most haunted places and that there’s a lot of spirits around.

VG: Woah. What island was it?

AM: Okinawa.

VG: Woah-

AM: And that is- it is very common to see those there… so we was like “yeah, let’s get the hell out of here.”

 

Background:

Location of Story – Okinawa, Japan

Location of Performance – Dormitory room, Los Angeles, CA, night

 

Context: This performance took place in a group setting – about 2-3 people – in a college dormitory room. This performance was prompted by the call for stories about beliefs, ghosts, or superstitions as examples of folklore. This story came after a few others. The one prior was specifically about a high school grade being cursed.

 

Analysis: One point of interest in this performance is the effectiveness of the subtlety of the description of the “spirits.” The only physical description the audience receives about these supernatural beings is that they humanoid in figure and blue. The color is particularly notable because, at least in my experience, I have always viewed the ghosts in ghost stories as being neutral toned or white. Therefore, this description was able to create a whole new image for me and draw me deeper into this performance. It also reinforces the foreignness AM might feel since he had just moved to Japan: not only is the location different but also all of the local lore. One might even go so far as to say that this story was presented with a negative conation despite having no description of graphic hauntings or threats. 

Kagome – Japanese Children’s Game

NC: There’s a Japanese game that children play called kagome, um…so it’s-it’s really similar to ring around a rosey in that…um…it was based on…experiments that people were doing, so Ring around the rosie is about um the disease the bubonic plague but um uh kagome is about experiments that people were doing um on the Japanese and they- they basically took children and they mutilated them I think that’s what it is. And um they would haunt people in the building like they would haunt the doctors and they would say um “kagome, kagome” and some other uh words and they would basically play that game in a circle and um that’s just like the ghost story behind that game.

 

Background:

Location of Story – Japan

Location of Performance – Dormitory room, Los Angeles, CA, night

 

Context: This performance took place in a group setting – about 2-3 people – in a college dormitory room. This performance was prompted by the call for stories about beliefs, ghosts, or superstitions as examples of folklore via a group message. NC approached me in person in response to the text and this is the second of two stories she presented. The first was about a monster who took the form of a beautiful, floating female head that had been decapitated and haunts a building. It was apparent that NC had just recently discovered this game because she was looking at her computer the whole time. 

 

Analysis: I think the comparison to “Ring Around the Rosey” is really effective here because it reinforces the idea that games or rhythm games are often counter-hegemonic and can critique a system under the guise of play. It is an indirect form of protest and also a way to be able to process the trauma of an experience such as this with humor and distance from the actual reality. On a different note, I really wished I would have NC where she discovered this game because I can understand stumbling upon a ghost story but not a traditional Japanese child’s game; I want to know where these are being documented online since she had her computer. 

 

Annotation: Upon further research, I discovered that the folk song element to this performance is actually much more essential to the folk game in other collected versions. For example, there is a documentation of this game in Highlights magazine for kids will additional information about how to perform the song. This version documents the chant as, “Can you guess? Can you guess? Who is right behind you? Could it be, possibly…” and then the participants would recite their names until “it says stop.” I could not identify what the “it” of this game is, but what is interesting to note here is that the word kogome is missing from this particular chant. This may very well because it is a translation, but for me, it demonstrates a lack of that historical context. The meaning is even more deeply hidden in the practice of the game. Additionally, Highlights includes the physical rules of the game, which involve being in a circle and blindfolded. See citation below for a PDF of the Highlights article.

 

Citation: Yasuda, Anita. “Kagome Kagome.” Highlights for Children, vol. 65, no. 10, 10, 2010, pp. 12. ProQuest, http://libproxy.usc.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.libproxy1.usc.edu/docview/756206958?accountid=14749.

Japanese New Years Traditions

Informant: The only other thing I can think about is some Japanese traditions. It’s very different over there than it has been in Oregon.

 

Interviewer: Yeah sure, which traditions are you talking about.

 

Informant: I mean, there’s New Years, Birthdays, School.

 

Interviewer: I think New Years would be good, I see it represented a lot in Japanese media so it’d be nice to have a personal account.

 

Informant: Ok. It’s similar to America in that there are a lot of fireworks to celebrate at New Years, but before New Years there are a couple of things we do different. Pretty much the entire city cleans up right before New Years, you know, to make sure it is a blank slate, a clean start very literally. Kids usually get money from their parents and sometimes grandparents, my parents would only give me money after I was done cleaning my room and part of the living room.

 

Interviewer: Interesting. Back home we also get money sometimes, but it’s usually during Christmas.

 

Informant: The other noteworthy thing off the top of my head is that basically everyone goes to the shrine on New Years Day.. Like, on January 1st. Usually we all go together, the shrine is always really ******* packed. But we stop by and ask for a good start to the New Year. Other than that… We also do New Years Resolutions, but you write them down and display them somewhere in the house. In my house we did little slips of paper that we stuck in a tree branch in the garden.

 

Analysis

I’d seen several of these traditions in anime, but I always wondered what happened in real life Japan. I’m pleased that most of the portrayals were accurate, and it’s also interesting to draw some comparisons with my experiences during New Years. Catholic families in Mexico also go pray on Jan 1st to receive a good beginning of the Year, however, the tradition is to go to a mass that happens at 12 am!

 

Fireball Ghosts

After college, my mom lived in Japan 7 years. She taught English to get by and apprenticed as a potter to gain experience. Growing up, she told me tons and tons of stories from her time there. I was always particularly interested in their spiritual beliefs. Specifically, those regarding ghosts.

Driving home from lunch one sunny afternoon, I ask her and my dad if they have any stories about the inexplicable that I could use for my folklore project. My mom starts:

In Japan in graveyards – because it’s… because everybody’s cremated it’s very common during typhoon season to see fireballs and whatnot. And that’s really because of the seepage of the rainwater into burial urns combining with the phosphorous of the bones and creating fireballs. But some people believe that they’re spirits and that the graveyards are haunted. So, yeah I guess. Some people believe it’s the spirits and other people believe it’s the phosphorous in the bones with the rainwater. It’s also very easy to imagine … you sort of feel different presences in Japan. Especially in subways in Tokyo. Because they’re very old, you can feel lots of spirits.”

This anecdote is particularly interesting, as it includes scientific explanation for a supernatural occurrence. Imagine walking home late one rainy night when you see fireball after fireball erupt out of a graveyard. That would be absolutely terrifying. Thankfully, my mother never told me this story as a kid, as it would have almost undoubtedly caused innumerable nightmares and late nights for her. Though she explains the fireballs, she still admits to feeling a very strong spiritual presence across the country as a whole. A presence no one can account for outright. Though some ghosts are easily explained, others are not.