General Information about Item:
- Customary Folklore: Korean Superstition
- Language: English
- Country of Origin: Japan
- Informant: Sunglim Kim
- Date Collected: November 5, 2018
- Sunglim Kim was born and raised in Seoul, Korea until the age of 17. Her family origins are Korean. When she was a junior in high school she moved to the United States, and went to high school in Seattle, Washington. She then went to UC Berkeley for her undergraduate degree, went back to work in Korea for a few years, and then came back to the United States to get her masters degree at the University of Kansas, and then went back to Berkeley for PHD. Currently, she is a professor of Korean Art and Culture, in the department of Art History at Dartmouth College. This is her 7thyear teaching at Dartmouth College. She is a mother of two children.
- Social Context:When Sunglim Kim was young (around the age of 5 years old) she remembers wanting to cut her toenails one night, but her mom came in and stopped her because of this superstition. Sunglim Kim was ignorant to this superstition at the time, and this was the first time that her mom explained the superstition that will be described in the item section below. Sunglim Kim was terrified by the superstition, and it prevented her from cutting her toe nails or finger nails at night for the rest of her youth. She had terrible nightmares about rats turning into monsters and haunting her because of this superstition. She said that most of her friends at the time believed in the superstition as well when they were young, so they also did not cut their toe nails at night. Sunglim Kim now will cut her toenails at night, because she no longer believes in this superstition. However, she will always make sure that the lights are on when cutting her nails, to make sure that her nails do not get on the ground.
- Cultural Context:This superstition is deeply prevalent in Korean culture. It is a variant of a similar Japanese superstition about cutting fingernails at night.
- If you cut your toe nails or fingernails at night then rats will eat the toe nails off of the ground. The rats that now have a piece of you will be able to transform into you, and also can take your soul. Cutting toenails in the daytime is acceptable, but it is still important to not leave any toe nail clippings on the ground, since the rats will still be able to eat them at night.
Associated file (a video, audio, or image file):
Transcript of Associated File:
- “They don’t allow me cut my nails, like toe nails or finger nails at night. And they said, the rats will eat them, and they can transform into you.”
- The informant was very confident about the fact that this was a widely held belief. She believed in the superstition for a while when she was young, and said that all of her friends believed in it as well. She then stopped believing in it when she was older, around the age of 11 she said.
- I found this superstition very interesting and entertaining. I was surprised by how widely held a belief it was in Korean culture, and that it had crossover from Japanese culture. It is an example of contagious magic in Korean culture, however in Japanese culture it is not an example of contagious magic. In Japanese culture, the variation is that if you cut your fingernails at night, then it opens up a way for bad spirits to enter your body through the fresh cut in your fingernails. In Japanese folklore, bad spirits are only around at night, so that is why you should not cut fingernails at night.
Collector’s Name: Kipling Weisel
- Korean. Superstition. Cutting Fingernails. Contagious Magic.