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Folktales: The Fisherman and the Sea Princess

The tales of Japanese folktales are retold by me with the illustrations and lore supplied by my knowledgeable Japanese wife.

The Tormented Turtle

A long, long time ago, when the land of the rising sun was barely dawn. A young man, in his early twenties, tanned dark, and muscled hard by the hauling of the fishing nets was returning to his home shore.

The sound of laughing and young voices carried in the salt breeze. As he drew closer, he saw three children crowded on their haunches, around a large sea turtle. One was prodding with a large stick, another was knocking their knuckles on its back, and the last was in awe as it investigated the large amphibian.

folktales-the-fisherman-and-the-sea-princess

The fisherman approached cautiously and became clearly distressed at the torment it was receiving. He asked them to stop but this only seemed to make the children more determined. So he pulled out his purse and pulled out some coins. The rattle and glitter bought their attention and a little haggling later, they ran off with their little minds already spending their windfall.

The Vision

He checked over the large turtle and it seemed relatively unscathed. As he pondered, the turtle raised its head and its eyes caught those of the fisherman. A flood of thoughts and visions kaleidoscoped.

A multitude of sea creatures, some of which had been liberated from his nets, and some that he had never seen before. Though most of all, it was those that were shaped like humans, gliding with the current, towards and from, what looked like a city, grounded on the sea bed - lights twinkling in a myriad of colours.

Then the vision dissipated and the clearness of the beach returned. The turtle had disappeared, its slow prodding footprints embellished in the sand, leading to the sea.

The Fish Song

In the telling of this tale, the animated versions often play the fish song.

In the telling of this tale, the animated versions often play the fish song.

The Return of The Turtle

It had been a few weeks since the vision and like a splinter they dug in and they were well and truly lodged. Fish flopped onto the deck of the boat, it was a good catch and had been ever since the incident on the beach. A few were still hauling on their part of the net - they were complaining that it was heavy and they needed more help. He raced over, and collectively they tugged with a roar and the contents spilt onto the deck.

As the fish slid out, it revealed, the turtle. The turtle, once again, caught the eyes of Taro and those visions rushed quickly back to the front of his consciousness. Strange sounds coalesced into what seemed like a request and the most glorious vision of the prettiest woman he had ever seen beckoned to him. Without awareness Taro had moved over to the turtle and noticed that it was saddled with a silver corded rein. As he touched the cord, a strange vibration trickled over him and the turtle carrying him dropped into the sea.

Japanese folktales are known as "Mukashibanashi" (tales of long ago).

Japanese folktales are known as "Mukashibanashi" (tales of long ago).

The Palace of the Sea Dragon

Taro woke up and his visions spiralled into reality around him. He was inside what looked like the bottom half of an hour glass. The room was large enough to fill half his village and it was lavishly decorated. Sea creatures, sea plants and humans who wore gills on their necks, magnified by the transparency of the frameless all encompassing window. His head felt dizzy with all this fantastic information it was trying to process until it was again distracted by a wonderful crystal like voice. He turned towards the voice and there before him, a veil was dropped, eyes piercing, emerald eyes beset with a deep green hue. A cowl uncovered, tumbled dark ebony hair, draping lazily around the shoulders onto a bejewelled tunic inlaid with precious stones.

The daughter of the sea dragon was delightfully amused by her guest's reaction. He was a handsome man, dark skinned, his body shaped by the efforts of his endurance. She herself, unknown to Taro, had also found him intensely attractive - ever since she had shared the transfer of thoughts from her sea turtle ambassador. Taro's presence, here and now, erupted a flurry of emotions. Her lifelong training of being a princess and heir to the deity quickly took control as she introduced herself.

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Taro's Request

The princess was generous. He sat on the royal tables as a honoured guest, eating the finest foods and sampling the vintage and prestige drinks that had been harvested from the royal vineyards. She dressed him in the finest clothes, tailored to perfection.

And yet, even though he was grateful for the generosity of the princess, he felt lonely without the life he once knew.

The princess listened and understood. She handed him a small box that was well wrapped and she told him it contained a reflection of what he once was and under no circumstances should it ever be opened. The sea turtle came and then dropped him on the beach where they had once met before.

The Gift of Life

The Gift of Life

The Return

Taro walked up the beach to the point where the village can be seen but instead of the faces, families and even the homes that he once knew, everything was so much different. Talks with the locals and eventually the head of the village told of an ancient tale of a fisherman, over a thousand years ago, who went missing during a calm fishing trip, the tale told of a sea turtle who had carried him away.

Taro was lost, and felt even more desperately lonely than he had ever felt before. He ran back to the beach but the tide had carried away any evidence of the sea turtle. Then he remembered the box, the small box, that the princess told him, contained a reflection of what he once was. It was still there and he remembered her words that "...it should never be opened...".

He pulled on the knots, and even used his teeth to loosen the bindings. Then he pulled off the lid, and then the many centuries that had passed caught up with him.


Japanese folktales do not necessarily have a "...happily ever after." They concentrate on teaching real lessons of life rather than 'justice always prevails'.

Japanese folktales do not necessarily have a "...happily ever after." They concentrate on teaching real lessons of life rather than 'justice always prevails'.

(For more Japanese folktales why not visit my hub Folktales: Yukinko, the Snow Maiden.)

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