Informant: So I work in for a publishing company called Kaya Press, and it focuses on the Asian Diaspora, so it publishes Asian authors mostly. And well, it’s logo, you can find it online if you go to Kaya.com, and their logo is a tiger smoking a cigar, or smoking—I think originally it was supposed to be a pipe, but they updated it to be more modern. Although I think they should have kept it as a pipe because now it just looks like a joint.”
Me: “What does the tiger and whatever its smoking symbolize, or why is that the logo?”
Informant: “So we got the idea from the Korean mode of storytelling. Like instead of starting their folktales with ‘Once upon a time,’ like in the Western European tradition, they started ‘Back when tigers used to smoke.’
The tiger is just, I guess it some sort of culturally important image, and by invoking that image, it goes back to some mystical, legendary days. Yeah…I don’t know too much about it or about Kaya’s link to the tiger, but I suppose the idea behind the logo is that we celebrate literature and strive to pull from Asian culture, so it makes sense that we’d like, incorporate the beginning of folktales into our logo. And I think it does give it some legend-like quality or mysticism anyway, because you don’t like really see tigers smoking.”
Me: “Do animals typically smoke in Asian folklore?”
Informant: “I’m not really too sure. Like, I guess it was just limited to when they started their tales, but I don’t really know.”
“When tigers used to smoke” is quite the mystical beginning and would appropriately set the tone for any magical or supernatural folktale, as well as any that involved animals. It has an even more distant connotation than the Western “once upon a time,” because it personifies the tiger and allows him to do something very sophisticated. In a sense, there is a story within that opening itself, and it
Unfortunately, that Korean folklore may be lost to many people as they become more and more used to the typical “once upon a time.” The Kaya Press, which my informant mentioned, acknowledges this and helps to revive the smoking tiger with its logo and dedication to publishing Asian authors. This not only allows for increased globalization and spread of different cultures, but also allows the saying to remain intact, albeit through a visual form instead of a spoken or written one.
Also, Kaya Press is updating the phrase itself, by modernizing the tiger to be smoking a cigar instead of a pipe, as they had done so before. It’s documented proof of how a piece of folklore can transform throughout the years so it can reach a wider audience, although my informant did lament this fact. She claimed the tiger smoking a pipe would have been more impressive, although who knows, that may not have been what it was originally intended when the story opening was coined in the first place.