The Fisher-Boy Urashima

Page 4, The Fisher-Boy Urashima

The legend of Fisher-Boy Urashima is filled with cultural significance in Japan, applicable to much of the nation’s Meiji history (1868-1912). The phrase “Urashima Jyotai” in Japanese culture refers to someone behind the times, lost to the ages. Japan’s history connects with the conflicts of the story. Modern versions of the fairy tale are now available online, but the plot remains the same. One such reimagined publication is “The Fisherman and the Grateful Turtle,” written by Essei Okawa. It is a retelling of the classic fairy tale published in 1985, a century after Hasegawa’s fairy tale.

Fisher-Boy Urashima is a complex story, containing themes of universal cruelty. Urashima is a brave and kind boy whose journey begins when he rescues a small turtle from distress. Later a young woman emerges from the ocean and invites him to come back to the Dragon Palace where her father, the Sea-God, lives and rules the creatures of the depths and promises to marry him. Three years later, Urashima confides in his wife - the Dragon princess - that he yearns to see the familial faces he abandoned ashore. The princess is apprehensive but provides him with a small box, which he may not open. Urashima returns to the fishing village to discover that 300 years have passed and no trace remains of his parents or former life. Disheartened, Urashima opens and unseals his fate. A white puff of air escapes the box and simultaneously Urashima’s youth escapes his body. He is suddenly old, a fossil by the sea.

The legacy of Urashima has also since been popular with scientists who study time relativity, citing something called “the Urashima effect”.The Urashima effect is more commonly known as time dilation. The concept is that time passes at different speeds for observers in different positions (“Time Dilation,” PBS). Other cultural folktales bearing similarities are the American story of Rip Van Winkle and the prominent Greek myth of Pandora’s Box.

Exhibit Created by: Emma Levin and Célia Martin