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Story ID:9838
Written by:Frederick William Wickert (bio, link, contact, other stories)
Story type:Musings, Essays and Such
Location:Any Any USA, China, Japan
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By Fred Wickert

I often am amused at the different superstitions I encounter through life. There are some most of us are familiar with such as it being bad luck if a black cat crosses your path, seven years bad luck if you break a mirror, bad luck to walk under a ladder and so on. Some we tend to encourage among our children. For example, when they lose a baby tooth, telling them if they sleep with it under their pillow the tooth fairy will leave a dime for it. Then they be sure to put a dime under the pillow and remove the tooth after the child goes to sleep. That was my generation. Now days they get a dollar or more.

Some times in my travels I run across something new to me that I have not heard before. I remember being stationed in Okinawa during the Korean war. One day we noticed there was more activity among the natives than usual. There was also an atmosphere of excitement. You could just feel it. We asked our interpreter what was going on.

He explained that day was like our Halloween. That night all the dead were supposed to come out from the grave and walk around. The evil spirits were also expected to come out and do evil things. At the market place many of the little shops were doing a big business in selling incense and small bundles of grass. They had been treated with special spices and smoke and had been blessed by a Holy Man. They placed these over every window and door to keep out the evil spirits and if they had the money they bought extra to tie on to wire stakes stuck in the ground along the sides of the path leading to their door.

That night when the sun went down the villages went dark and there was no activity to be seen. I had never seen such quiet. Not even a light was seen in any of the houses. Those people were genuinely frightened.

The Okinawan's had another custom based on superstition I found interesting. It was the way in which they buried their dead. They cut up the bodies and placed them in an ornate jar with a lid on it. The jar was about 30 inches tall. They placed it inside a small cave and then rolled a large stone or block of concrete over the door to seal it up. The door itself was usually about three feet high and never more than four feet. Approaching the cave was always a large flat stone area about 8x10 feet. Occasionally it was concrete.

On the day they had the funeral, again on the day they expected all the ghosts to come out at night and on the anniversary of their burial, people went to the grave. A little ceremony was performed. Then a small bouquet of flowers, three to six bottles of sake and a bottle opener with one bottle already opened, some rice and some of the finest cake or cookies and a new pair of sandals were left at the grave.

It was their superstition the deceased might want to eat and drink these goodies and the shoes were in case the deceased wanted to go somewhere during the night. The wild rodents ate the rice and cookies and cakes, and the American GIís when out of money close to pay day and already half drunk, went looking for these graves to consume the sake. It supported the belief of the natives greatly to find that sake consumed.

Last night I was talking about these things with a young Chinese friend of mine. He grew up in Minnesota and I believed he was American born but he was not. His family moved to Minnesota when he was a child but his first few years were in China.

My friend told me the people in some parts of China do the same as the people in Okinawa with the bundles of grass and other things. He told me when he was three years old he used to yank the cats tail. One day the cat had enough and went after him. He was injured just beneath his eye. He was taken to live for a while at his grandparentís house. They did not have a cat.

Near the home of his grandparents he observed a tree with a number of dead cats hanging in it. He asked about it and was told that cats had nine lives. If a cat was buried when it died like a dog or a horse, it could not rest in peace. It was going to have to die nine times. The only way to prevent this and allow the cat to rest in peace was to hang the deceased cat in a tree. Only then could the cat rest in peace.

He later learned in a province farther to the North they had a different superstition. There they buried the cat and then planted a grape vine over it. They believed the grape vine developed tangled roots and the roots will grasp the cat so it will stay there. In that way the cat can rest in peace rather than having to die another eight times.

Finally I am reminded of my wife, Tae. Tae was Japanese and I met and married her in Tokyo. After arriving in the USA I was stationed first in Orlando, Florida. We looked for about a week before finding a house to rent. When we moved in I discovered her going from room to room, throwing a hand full of rice in the corner of each room. When I asked her why she was doing that she informed me the Japanese believed when moving in to a new home, to insure good luck one must do that.

I canít say it didnít work because my family in my life time had two fires in their home. Mom didnít throw any rice in the corner. Tae and I had 56 years of marriage before she passed away. We never had a fire in all those years. She threw rice in the corner every time we moved to another house.
The Japanese people say it brings good luck. They do it every New Yearís day too.

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