A recent Japanese test of a mermaid mummy has reignited curiosity in the phenomena.
The discovery that scientists are testing a 300-year-old “mermaid mummy” to determine its origins has sparked curiosity in the possibility of mermaids in Japanese legend.
Mermaid stories, as well as their more dangerously alluring siren sisters, are deeply rooted in many cultures’ mythology and may be found in medieval art and modern popular literature all across the globe.
From ancient times, aspects of religion and myth related to the natural environment have been an essential component of Japanese culture and history. However, the mermaid as we know her in the western mind is absent from these narratives.
The creature is a human fish.
A ningyo (the term in Japanese is formed of the letters for “person” and “fish”) is a human fish monster with the mouth of a monkey that lives in the sea, according to Japanese legend. Eating the flesh of a ningyo was formerly thought to bring immortality in Japan.
One of these creatures is said to have appeared to Prince Shotoku (574-622) near Lake Biwa, north of Kyoto. Prince Shotoku was regarded as a semi-legendary character for his many political and cultural reforms, most notably for supporting the growth of Buddhism in Japan.
The monster was originally a fisherman who had trespassed to fish in protected waters and had been converted into a ningyo as a result of his misdeeds. With his last breaths, he begged the prince to forgive him.
The mermaid requested that the prince build a shrine where his horrifying, mummified corpse may be displayed to teach others the value of life. The Tenshou-Kyousha Shrine in Fujinomiya has remains that meet the definition of a ningyo, which are cared for by Shinto priests.
Mermaid sightings are uncommon in folktales, and the creatures are regarded as “hideous” portents of war or tragedy, rather than being objects of mesmerizing beauty.
The “dried mermaid” presently undergoing examinations was purportedly found in the Pacific Ocean between 1736 and 1741 off the coast of Shikoku, Japan, and is now housed in a shrine in Asakuchi. Researchers think the mermaid is a remnant from the Edo era after examining it (1603-1868).
Yokai (spirits and entities) and “live” terrifying animals were often shown as entertainment in traveling exhibits, akin to “freak shows” in the United States.
In Japan, there is a mermaid mummy.
When did the mermaid become a Japanese character?
Mermaids in Japan are no longer small-clawed creatures with a monkey’s body and a fish’s tail. It seems that the mermaid, as she is known in the west, invaded Japan in the early twentieth century.
This corresponded with an infusion of American culture from army posts at the outset of WWI, as well as the printing of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid in Japanese for the first time.
Writers and artists started to include this monster in their work, such as Tanizaki Jun’ichiro in Ningyo no nageki, The Mermaid’s Lament, 1917. In popular culture, the hideous image of the ningyo was replaced or combined with a seductive, distinctly feminine mermaid known as Mameido.
The challenge of enchantment has been addressed in literary and artistic portrayals (especially anime and manga) of the increasingly westernized mermaid. These have included the mermaid’s point of view and, in some instances, the person, usually, a man, who discovers her presence, bonds with her, and eventually is compelled to let her go.
With fresh stories attracting visitors to Japan’s southernmost islands, this new mermaid looks to have a place in popular culture.
On Okinawa’s Moon Beach, a bronze statue of a mermaid sits despondently on a rock, supposedly representing local stories of beautiful mermaids rescuing humans from the depths of a dangerous sea. The horrific picture of the ningyo, a half-human fish with a monkey’s mouth, is a long cry from this.