Sunday, October 20, 2013

October is Spookey Month: Some neat Japanese beliefs: You may find mei mystifying | The Japan Times

You may find mei mystifying | The Japan Times

This is a timely Halloween-related article by Mark Schreiber in that it covers the language of some Japanese beliefs, or superstitions.  I tend to favor the former term because of a folklore class I took years ago where my instructor taught the word "superstition" is a bit loaded.  Or has negative connotations.  I can't remember which aspect she stressed the most, but the point she made while discussing nomenclature-- that as a folklorist, your job is not to judge belief but simply to catalog it and research to understand its origins and meanings-- has stuck with me.  Schreiber's linguistic explanation of the Japanese word meishin just makes me long for that classroom again.  I'd love to discuss some of Schreiber's examples with that professor. She was very cool and open to turning the class into a forum for sharing because she absolutely loved what she was doing.

She made us read some fascinating books, too, all of which I kept after the semester instead of selling them back for beer money the way I did with almost every other required text.

My starting point for studying folklore was my lifelong fascination with "friend of a friend" tales.  You know, urban legends.  My friends and I grew up absolutely believing in Halloween apples with razor blades in them and hippie babysitters cooking infants in the oven.  Sometimes I think I really screwed up my life by not pursuing this interest on a professional level, rather than as just a hobby.  I'm not saying I'd have contributed much to the field, but I would have at least satisfied my curiosity and gotten paid to do so.

My favorite Japanese urban legend is Hanako and her haunted toilet, but just about any belief interests me.  Number-related ones.  Good luck finding an examination room labeled #4 at a Japanese clinic.  But other numbers have significance, too, and whenever I meet a new one, I try to find out as much as I can about it.

For example, just yesterday my wife and I were discussing the lousy weather and how it had her down.  She's working her butt off at three jobs and she's just plain tired.  Some of this she ascribed to this being her unlucky 33rd year.  The year you turn 33 is one of those ill-omened years.  Why is your 33rd year considered unlucky?  Is it any 365-day period before and after the birthday itself, or is it only the year in which you actually turn 33?

I'm disappointed we didn't have a chance to go into all that because we had other, more pressing things to discuss, but this belief is ingrained enough in her family her mom asked her to delay our wedding for one year to avoid the 33rd year misfortune.  That was news to me.  I knew, though, we chose our anniversary date to avoid inauspicious ones, which you can read about more in Schreiber's article.

In the meantime, make sure you have a full tank of gas if you and your partner park out at Lover's Lane, and if you have a Doberman as your animal companion, check its mouth in case of choking.  If you're in Japan, you should probably just stay out of school restrooms altogether.

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