Tag Archives: rice balls

Omusubi Kororin (The Rolling Rice Ball)

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.

Original Script

So an old man was eating rice balls for lunch and he accidentally dropped them into this hole. And the man goes to see where the rice ball went and in that hole he hears like a bunch of mice singing, “Yay, yay!” And then the mice see the old man they’re like, “Oh thank you for the food. You’re so nice. Let’s give you a souvenir. Yay!” And they say, “You can either choose this small box or a large box as a souvenir.” So the old man chooses the small box and when he goes home the small box has a bunch of money and gold inside and since he’s so nice he gives the money and gold to all the people in the town. Then his next-door neighbor hears about this and becomes like super jealous. Then he tries to copy what the old man did and he puts the rice balls in the same hole and the mice were also, “Yay, happy, thank you, you’re so nice!” And then one of the mice asks what he wants for a souvenir. The old man imitates a cat and he tries to scare the mice so they go away and the mice get mad and they attack the old man and they kill him.

Background Information about the Performance from the Informant

The informant heard this folktale from her grandparents as a bedtime story when she was just a small child. She remembered this tale because of the violent ending and because she likes eating onigiri, or rice balls.

Context of the Performance

I interviewed the informant in my house.

In Japan, parents would often teach their children important lessons and values through folktales. The lesson of this narrative is that a greedy man never prospers; it teaches children to not be selfish and materialistic.

My Thoughts about the Performance

Considering this is a story mainly directed at children, I was startled to hear such a violent ending. The folktale was very entertaining overall, but I did not expect the villain, the other old man, to die. However, there are many variations of this folk narrative; one alternate ending is that the old man escapes the mice’s den only to be accidentally hit on the head by his wife’s stick, and another is the old man successfully escapes the den without gaining any treasure.

For another version of this folktale, see:

“Omusubi Kororin – The Tumbling Rice Balls.” Morgan Schatz Blackrose International Storytelling. Trans. Morgan S. Blackrose. N.p., 20 Aug. 2016. Web. 26 Apr. 2017. <http://www.schatzblackrose.com/blackrose_web/pdf/Omusubi%20Kororin.pdf>.

Qu Yuan

Sophie is an international student from Taiwan. She is pursuing a B.S. in Computer Science at the University of Southern California. She hopes to find a career in computer security and plans to stay in the United States, specifically Los Angeles, to work. She enjoys watching anime and learning; from USC-sponsored workshops, she has learned how to code and create chat bots.

Original Script

So, in ancient Chinese times, there’s this poet whose name is Qū Yuán. And he wrote these really great poems and he’s also this really successful government official but then the emperor died. The new emperor doesn’t like him, so the emperor banished Qū Yuán. And then he got to this river and he was really sad and he just wrote his last poem and then jumped into the river and died. But the people around that area were really sad because he was this really good government official and then they just threw all this zòngzi, which means “rice dumplings,” and threw them into the river so that the fish would just eat the rice dumplings and not Qū Yuán’s body so he doesn’t get eaten. So yeah, and uh, Duān Wǔ Jié, which is Mid-Summer Festival, we eat rice dumplings to remember this great poet.

Background Information about the Performance from the Informant

The informant hears this story every time she attends the Dragon Boat Festival near the summer solstice. At the festival, people re-enact the tragic life of the poet and minister, Qū Yuán, up to his death. It is a folk legend that the informant grew up hearing as a child, and it holds heavy historical importance to her.

Context of the Performance

I interviewed the informant in a study room at Parkside IRC.

Qū Yuán is a famed and respected Chinese poet and minister from the Warring States period of the Zhou Dynasty. Known for his contributions to classical poetry and verses, he served as a role model for scholars and officials during the Han Dynasty; the public admired him for staying true to his principles unto death. In certain regions of China and Taiwan, people commemorate the death of Qū Yuán in the Dragon Boat Festival. They believed that the locals rowed through the Miluo River on dragon boats to retrieve Qū Yuán and tossed zòngzi, or balls of sticky rice, into the river to save the poet’s body from being consumed by the fish.

My Thoughts about the Performance

While I have read about Qū Yuán in history books, I did not realize his legend was also considered the origins of dragon boat races and zòngzi. It was fascinating to hear about this famed historical figure, who is still celebrated today, and the legacy he left behind. I also find it interesting that he is commemorated only in certain parts of China during the Dragon Boat Festival. In other parts of China, such as southeast Jiangsu, people celebrate Wǔ Zǐxū at the festival; in northeastern Zhejiang, they celebrate Cao E.

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.