Nov 28, 2006

Unrespectable Mythology: The Htichhiker, Cursed Kleenex, and Hanako-San


You know the story of the Vanishing Hitchhiker, right? Today, I did what I thought was impossible- I scared someone with it. I thought that everyone and their dog had heard that story, but today I actually frightened one of my students with it. It's nice to know that if you haven't heard that story a million and a half times, the tale really does have a bit of ghostly "oomph" to it.
There's a lesson in our textbooks all about the past simple and past continuous, and urban legends are the topic of conversation. So, for one brief moment the textbook becomes much less like a staid english text, and more like The Transitive Vampire.
My student walked in, sat down, and looked at me. "I want to tell you a story," I said.
"Ok," she said.
"I was driving one night through a dark forest- there are plenty of those in Oregon -and was far away from town. It was raining a little and off to the side of the road, I saw a young woman with her thumb out." I mimed thumbing a ride.
"She wanted a ride?"
"Yes. I let her in. She didn't talk ver much, and I let her off at a house in town. But, when I got home, I noticed she'd left her jacket in my car." By this point, my student was fully able to tell that I was telling a "scary" story. I'd let my voice drop a little, let my left hand splay out on the table, and gestured broadly with my right. I might as well have had a flashlight under my face.
"What happened?" she asked with obvious anticipation.
"I went back to the house where I let her off the next day, and rang the doorbell. An old, old woman answered the door."
"An old woman?"
"Yes. I told her the jacket belonged to a young woman who lived there. 'there's no one like that here,' said the woman."
"What?" said my student.
"I was surprised, too," I said, maintaining my role as narrator, "But I saw woman's picture above the fireplace. 'Her,' I said, 'this is her jacket.'
"'There must be some mistake,' said the old woman, 'that's my daughter-" and here I looked my student directly in the eye and let it be known that I was pronouncing the zinger, "'she was killed twenty five years ago while hitchhiking!'"
"NO!" My student grabbed the ends of the table, and looked at me, startled.
"YES!" I said emphatically, "SHE'D BEEN DEAD THE WHOLE TIME!"
"YOU SAW A GHOST!" My student panted, and here eyes were approximately the size of dinner plates.
"No," I said, "I didn't. That never happened to me. That's an urban legend, a type of story, and it's the topic of today's lesson about the past simple and past continuous..."
In the prepared materials there were several other urban legends incorporated into the lesson, such as the Stolen Kidney Legend, the Hookhand Legend (one I've always found curious- If you had a hook for a hand, why would you try to open a car door with it?), the Man In the Backseat, and the ever-creepy Tale of the Babysitter.
I love urban legends,folklore itself is a fascinating area of study, and urban legends demonstrate that it's not just a hoary academic field exclusively about old German stories. Mythology is actually happening right now. And they have a weird creepiness to them- they come from nowhere, they star no one but stock roles, and the twists are as inevitable and often obvious, but they've got something to them.
So, I've yet to find a good website on Japanese Urband Legends, but I asked Hip-Hop about them, and he told me a few good ones:

A man was cleaning up one night around his restaurant, and found a stray dog rummaging through the garbage. The dog was mangy, dirty, and stank. The man hit the thing with his broom handle and said, "shoo, shoo." The dog turned to him, revealing a filthy human face, "don't bother me," it said, and went back to eating.

Apparently, this commercial is cursed, a la the video in The Ring. Admittedly, it's sort of creepy and weird, but the story goes that everyone who worked on it found only hideous tragedy, and that those who see it will face misfortune or death.

A husband and wife were on vacation in Paris, and the woman was in a dressing room in a boutique trying on clothes. The husband waited outside, and after some time, she didn't come out. He went inside, but she wasn't there. The dressing room was a blank square space, and he couldn't find her anywhere. He asked the boutique's staff, the police, everyone. No one could find his wife.
The man returned to Japan, and five years passed. One day, just as he'd finally gotten used to life without his wife, he saw her- in a carnival freakshow, missing her arms and legs.

And of course, Hanako-San.
Hanako-San is a very prevalent urban legend in Japan, and reminds me of Bloody Mary. The story goes that she was a small girl, one bullied and teased by all the other girls in her school. One day, she locked herself in the fourth stall in the girl's bathroom (the number four has negative connotations in Japan) and killed herself. Or she was murdered, the story changes.
Anyway, if you go into a school restroom at night, you can hear her crying. If you knock on the door of the fourth stall, you'll hear a faint voice give a small, cold "hai." She'll come if you simply say "Hanako-San" in a darkened bathroom, and she's rather curiously inspired a series of movies. Apparently, lots of little schoolkids are terrified of her and it seems that J.K. Rowling culled a bit from Japanese pop culture when she made Moaning Myrtle.

So, yeah. I got a fair amount of kicks today off learning about some Japanese urban legends. Incidentally, the lesson went great, with me and the student using all sorts of grisly and creepy examples to illustrate the past tense. More grammar lessons should have ghosts and such, methinks. Now, maybe I should go learn some respectable mythology while I'm here.

3 comments:

Eric said...

Scary ghost stories? This is what you're teaching your kids? Surprisingly, this is not a typical course of conversation for me here in the States. But maybe I'm unique like that.

The plastic tree is fine. It's the thought that counts. Remember A Charlie Brown Christmas? It's not about the quality of the tree, but the spirit behind the tree. And I don't want a box of kindling sitting in our living room.

Sydney said...

First, to Eric - step off the live tree, man! Shee-it!

Second, have you heard the one about the girl with the dog? If no, it's so so the scariest ghost story I've ever heard. Even though I know it, have heard it and told it numerous times, if I hear it while out camping or similar, I still can't sleep. I'll put the parts that change a lot in brackets; I'm sure you can guess what the variations are.

So there's this girl and she lives with her mother, her father, her [older brother] and their extremely loyal and happy [golden retriever]. The dog belongs to the girl and the girl alone - she's raised it from a puppy and it has long provided her comfort from nightmares, [a sometimes bullying older brother], and [the daily slings and arrows that can really get a girl down]. The dog used to sleep on the girls bed, and the foot, as though she were standing on its back in her sleep. But now that she's gotten a little older, she's too long and it's too big, so it sleeps under the bed. Every night before she falls asleep she drops her hand down to feel the dogs wet nose, scratch behind its ears, and then it licks her hand. When she has a nightmare that wakes her, all she has to do is drop her hand down and the dog will lick it and nuzzle and she'll feel safe and be able to sleep again.

One night she wakes up not long after going to bed, drops her hand down, and the golden retriever obligingly licks her fingers, dispelling the sense of unease one has from a nightmare one can't quite recall. A couple hours later, she wakes again, startled out of sleep by a terrible dream. She drops her hand down, but there is no warm lolling tongue to meet it. She calls the dog's name; nothing. The girl gets up to get a glass of water instead. In the bathroom, she fills her glass in the dark. The mirror seems foggy, even in the low light filtering in from the window, which seems strange. She turns on the light and met with the horrifying reflection of her beloved pet [hung and eviscerated] in the shower. On the mirror, in blood, is written.... humans can lick hands too. [Also, her whole family was murdered.]

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