Tag Archives: Fisherman

The Fisherman and the Golden Fish

It’s about a fisherman, and his wife that are living very humbly by the ocean. And uh … one day the fisherman goes down to the ocean and uh .. he uh .. casts his hook into the ocean and he catches a golden fish. And this fish, when it’s caught by the fisherman says, “Listen, if you let me go I’ll give you anything you want”. This is a Russian folktale. And the fisherman says, “Well, let me consult with my wife”. And so what he does is he goes back, and uh … he asks his wife what she would want, and she says she really wants a trough. You know what a trough is, it’s like a vessel almost. It’s a vessel made out of wood. A very humble request. And the fisherman says to the fish, “All we want is a trough. My wife just wants a trough to put stuff in, maybe flour or vegetables or something”. And the fish says, “No problem, no problem”. And so the fisherman goes back home and there’s this beautiful brand new trough uhh … in front of his wife. Now this repeats, because the fisherman, this is all folktale, he catches that fish again at another date down the line. And the fish says, “You know, listen, please let me go. Whatever you want I will provide”. And so he consults with his wife again and the wife says, “Hey, you know this is a big opportunity, I like, I like a new house. You know this hovel we’re living in doesn’t do it”. This progresses, the fisherman keeps going back and it goes from the trough, to a new house, and then it translates or devolves into something even bigger than a new house like a new cow or something like that. And he keeps going back to the fish, and he catches it, and finally the wife says, “Hey listen, I would like to be, … I think our wish should be that I should be the Queen of Russia”. They call it Tsaritsa. And the fish says …, the uhh fisherman goes back after he catches the fish, and sure enough the fish is tired of all these requests. There are many of them, they keep escalating. And uh he says uh .. “Just go back home, and your wife will get what she deserves”. And so he goes back and she’s in the same miserable state … as the uh inception of the story, because she had overextended her requests.

Background: This informant’s family is from Russia and he grew up in the US. He eventually taught Russian at a university. This piece is an example he has come across after studying Russian folk belief.

Interpretation: This story shows both the value in compassion, and that you should not be greedy. The fisherman is initially rewarded for showing kindness, it is only when he abuses this ability to get rewarded does he have all his rewards taken away. It also might say something about the right to the crown as that is the wish that breaks the camel’s back as it were. Basically the story warns against taking advantage of others and doing good out of greed instead out of kindness.

The Fisherman and His Wife


Informant: So anyways, it’s something to the effect of, I don’t remember it very well but it was, it was part of a theater thing that we did and apparently it’s a very old story where, like a fisherman catches like some magic fish that, he and his wife were kind of down on their luck, and the fisherman catches a magic fish and the magic fish gives him a wish every time he catches it, but the fish doesn’t like being caught. So, he gets, he gets them like I don’t know, just kind of enough to feed themselves for like however long they want to be fed because they were kind of born destitute and like need it. And he gets it. And then his wife starts to ask for like, more and more and starts to live a more and more lavish lifestyle, so every day he goes back and catches the fish and wishes for some new thing and the, and eventually the fish just gets fed up with it and takes everything away. And it’s kind of, I don’t know if I would call it, yeah sad, I guess it’s a little bit sexist because it’s one of those like “women are gold diggers” or whatever. That’s basically what the message of it is, but I guess in a larger sense, in just relating to the audience members regardless of gender, it’s just “don’t ask for too much” and “don’t get, don’t get caught up in wanting more when you already have everything you need.”

Context: The informant learned this story from a theater group in New Jersey, where he was told that it was a theater story. It had been passed down from other actors. This story was recorded by the Brothers Grimm in 1809 (Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Von dem Fischer un syner FruKinder- und Hausmärchen (Children’s and Household Tales — Grimms’ Fairy Tales), final edition (Berlin, 1857), no. 19.). That said, it likely has origins outside of the New Jersey theater community.

Analysis: I tend to agree with the second analysis given by the informant, with the sentiment of “don’t ask for too much.” While it is technically the wife’s desire to have more, that doesn’t mean that the husband isn’t also wanting the same things. At the same time, I also feel like the tale could show how hard work and persistence can lead to getting your goals (at least before they are taken away). Essentially, the idea is to know when one is successful enough to stop taking advantage of others to garner more success when it’s unnecessary. Overall, the idea of complacency and assuming that you can keep all good things is a theme of the tale that resonates with me, especially because of the emphasis on capitalist ideals in America.

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.

Russian Proverb about a Broken Wash Basin

“Do you want to go back to your broken wash basin?”

This Russian proverb comes from a fairytale, which my informant recounted to me:

“This is a story about a golden fish. An old man, very poor, lives in a cottage next to the sea. He goes to fish, and he catches in his net a golden fish. And she talks to him in a human voice, and she says, ‘Old man, let me go, I’ll give you whatever wish you want.’ The old man is a kind person, and he says ‘Oh, go little fish, swim in the sea, I’ll find other fish to eat.’ He doesn’t ask for any wish. So he comes home, and he sees his wife, an old woman, sitting near their cottage, which is falling apart, and she’s trying to do a wash, but she washes the clothes in a wooden basin and it’s falling apart, there is a big hole in it, it’s broken. And he tells her the story about how he caught the golden fish, and how she said that she can do any wish he wants. And the old lady is furious; she says, ‘I can’t even wash the clothes, the basin is broken, and you let her go!’ So, he wants to make his wife happy, he goes to the ocean and calls for the fish, and he says, ‘Can you make my wife happy, can you give my old woman a new basin, which is not broken?’  He comes, and he thinks his wife will be very happy because she got a new wash basin. But she’s furious—she says, ‘You could ask anything you want, why do you ask for a basin? Ask for a new house, don’t you see the house is falling apart, there are holes in the roof?’ So he goes back, and he says, ‘I’m sorry, fish, can you please give us a new, nice house?’ The fish says, ‘Okay, you go to your wife.’ So he goes home, and instead of his old, falling-apart cottage, there is a beautiful new house. He thinks his wife would be happy, but she is furious. She says, ‘Why do you ask just for a regular house? Ask for a palace with servants! Nice clothes, nice dishes, everything. I want to be a noblewoman!’ So, as you can expect, he goes back, he gets her a palace with servants and all that, but even that is not enough. After some time, she wants to be a queen.  Okay, she became a queen, to cut the story short. The old man doesn’t recognize her. She doesn’t want to associate with him, she doesn’t want any of the servants and all of these people to know that he is her husband. So, he is some lowly worker in the yard, sweeping the yard, while she is the queen in the palace, with servants and all that. So, some time passes, and she calls him again, and she says, ‘I’m tired of being a queen. I want to be a Tsaritsa of all of the seas and I want the golden fish to be my servant.’ The old man goes, and he says, ‘There’s nothing I can do. That’s what she wants.’ Suddenly, there is a horrible storm, and the fish just went away. So he comes back, and here is his old house, falling apart, and his old woman is sitting with a broken wash basin.”

Q. When would somebody use this proverb?

A. Let’s say a person did something for you, or did you a favor, and you demand more and more and more—he could say it. It’s like saying, “Look. Stop it.” Instead of pointing out that a person demands too much, this is a nicer way to say it. Usually, people like their childhood memories and fairytales, so they won’t feel antagonistic.

Q. Do you feel that in Russian society, people use proverbs more than they do here?

A. Yes—Russia doesn’t have much mobility, and in a society that’s very stable, it’s easier to have proverbs that move from generation to generation. The culture is homogeneous, so people know what you mean.

Annotation: Russian writer Alexander Pushkin wrote a poem about the story of the golden fish, entitled “The Fisherman and the Golden Fish.”

Pushkin, Alexander. “The Fisherman and the Golden Fish.” Trans. Irina Zheleznova. Russian Crafts, 1998-2007. Web. 26 April 2012. <http://russian-crafts.com/tales/golden-fish.html>.

This tale has also been featured in multiple works of Russian art, including lacquer boxes:


The Legend of the Wildman

The Legend of Wildman

According to my informant, there is a place called “Devil’s Bay,” which is a little bay on the Alaskan peninsula. It is hard to fly down there or even drive there; the best way to get to this place is to boat in or floatplane in. Thus this location is very secluded. In this location there is a man who is described as a mix between a bear and a man. This creature stands on its legs, is very hairy, and has blood-red eyes. This creature also feasts on human beings. This legend is very popular legend in Alaska. 

My informant stated that one of his friends and his crew mates  were fishing in “Devil’s Bay;” they soon encountered this creature while they were exploring the hills of this place. They stated that they were chased out by this red-eyed creature. Thus they got in their skiff and returned to their boat and reported this incident to their captain. The captain of this ship was telling the commercial fishing boat, that my informant was on about this encounter, as the captain thought it was hilarious that his crew members were so frightened. However later in the night, while the ship was still anchored in “Devil’s Bay,” the captain heard a noise at the front of the ship, which woke him up. He went to check what this noise was and was alarmed to see the “Wildman” climbing the anchor line to get on the bow. Thus the captain rammed the boat in gear and left the bay immediately at night and radioed this to the ship my informant was on. My informant and other witnesses have claimed they heard this captain’s report and were terrified due to the fact that whatever this creature was, it attempted to climb onboard. 

My informant shares this legend to warn people about “Devil’s Bay,” due to the Wildman’s aggressiveness. He also stated that he could not sleep due to how scared he was of this report on the radio, due to the fact that it tried to climb the anchor line. My informant stated that the creature could be a bear or another creature. My analysis is that this is another version of a legend quest for fishermen, due to to the location only being able to be reached by boat. It is also another version of the yeti or bigfoot, howver what is interesting is that there is a specific report by natives that this creature enjoys feasting on humans. This creature is in the end an interesting adaptation of bigfoot as this creature has blood red eyes, can climb and swim, and also eats people.