Urashima Tarō the Fisher Lad

Hear this tale on Episode 65 of our Podcast, the Japan Archives.

Urashima Tarō the Fisher Lad
Urashima saving the Turtle. From an Otogi-zōshi picture scroll in the Bodleian Library collection

Urashima Tarō the Fisher Lad

Urashima Tarō the Fisher Lad (浦島 太郎) is a Folktale about Urashima Taro and a Tortoise.

Origins

The earliest versions of this Folktale appear in the Tango Fudoki where the character of Urashima is given the name Shima no Ko.1

Synopsis

Urashima Taro
Urashima encountering the children – Jinjō shōgaku kokugo tokuhon (the 3rd edition of Kokutei tokuhon) (1928)

One day Urashima Tarō on his way home discovers some children abusing a tortoise. The children not wanting to stop torturing it would only cease their antics when he offered to buy the tortoise from them.

He then placed it back into the ocean and watched it swim away.

The next day, he went out fishing and heard his name being called out at sea. He turned to see the tortoise in the water beside his boat.

He asks the tortoise onboard to dry, the tortoise then asking Urashima if he has ever been to the Dragon King’s Palace in the Sea. Climbing on his back the tortoise she takes him to the palace.

Urashima Taro
Urashima riding on the turtle —Ogata Gekkō, Gekkō zuihitsu (1887)

Arriving at the Palace he is welcomed, the tortoise revealing herself to be the Daughter of the King of the Sea. She reveals her name to be Otohime Sama and as he saved her life she will marry him, meaning he can live in the Palace with her.

After what he believes is a few days he says he must leave, as his elderly parents will be worried for him. Upset she tries to get him to stay but sadly fails to do so. As a departing gift she gives him a lacquer box called a ‘tamate-bako‘ (Box of the Jewel Hand).

Tied with a silken cord and tassels of red silk, he is told to never open it. He returns to shore, however, though the landscape is the same the people are not. Urashima returns home, his parents not there and asking a stranger where they are they reveal to him 300 years have passed. In his sadness he goes to the shore, opening the box thinking it will return him to his wife. However, a purple cloud comes out of the box, aging him vastly causing him to die.2

Footnotes

1. Kodansha. (1993) ”Japan: An Illustrated Encyclopedia”. Tokyo: Kodansha Ltd.
2. Ozaki, Y.T. (1903) “The Japanese Fairy Book”. Westminster: Archibald Constable & Co. Ltd.

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