USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘underwater’
Legends
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Urashima Taro – Japan

When my father was still in school, he went to the library and read a book about Urashima the fisherman. 
Urashima Taro was a Japanese fisherman, and it was a folklore legend that the Japanese all read and got in their storybooks.

Urashima was known in his village as a good man.  One day he saw a group of boys torturing a turtle, and saved the turtle from their cruelty.  A few days later when Urashima was fishing, the turtle came back and invited him to the Dragon Palace, which was a magical kingdom under the sea.  So Urashima hopped on the turtle’s back, and was taken to the underwater palace.  When he got there, the turtle transformed into a beautiful princess named Princess Otohime.  He stayed as her guest for a few days, then asked Otohime to take him back to his old mother.  Otohime tried to keep him there, but Urashima had duties as a son.  So, when he left, Otohime gave Urashima a box called the Tamate-bako and told him never to open the box.  He promised he would not open the box.  When he came back out to the ground, he found out that his town was changed and his mother wasn’t there anymore.  He realized it had been at least 100 years since he went underwater to the palace. He didn’t know what else to do, so in the end he opened the box.  Smoke came out all around him and made him into an old man, and he died from old age.  The box was what made him stay young, and when he opened it he became his real age.

My father thought that Urashima was a beautiful name, but he didn’t know that in Japanese Urashima was a male name.  He was thinking that just because we have a strong Spanish influence in my country, the Philippines, that anything that ended with an “a” would be of female gender, and anything that ended in an “o” would be of male gender.

This folk story is very important to my grandma’s identity, as she was named after Urashima the fisherman.  Her father took out the “h” and named my grandma “Urasima,” as he thought it was a unique, female name.  She told me that when she was a little girl, she used to be teased by her schoolmates for her unusual name.  In the Philippines, children are often named after saints, as the Philippines is a predominantly Roman Catholic country.  When she went to be baptized, the father refused to baptize her because of her name, so he gave her a new one.  So my grandma is baptized under the name Josefa, but registered as Urasima in the city hall.  She never liked her name, and now just goes by “Racing,” which is still just as unusual in her eyes.  So she has a very negative connotation with a story that I myself really enjoy.  I can respect Urashima for his choice to leave an “ideal” life to honor his duties as a son.  There is a loyalty and respect for his parents that is also very common in the Filipino culture.  So while my grandma looks at the inspiration for her name in a negative light, I see it in a more positive light.

Since I knew my great grandfather first found this story via book, I knew that it had to be published somewhere.  I couldn’t find a version that was published in my great grandfather’s time, as there are so many modern adaptations in children’s books and such, but I found a translated version of a Japanese fairy tale book originally published in 1945.  That’s the oldest version I could find.

Dazai, Osamu. “お伽草紙 (Otogizōshi).” Trans. Ralph F. McCarthy. Otogizoshi: The Fairy Tale Book of Dazai Osamu. Chūō-ku, Fukuoka: Kurodahan Press, 2011. Print.

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