Urashima Tarō

Urashima Tarō

The legend of nihongo|Urashima Tarō|浦島太郎 is a Japanese legend about a fisherman who rescues a turtle and for this is rewarded with a visit to the Palace of the Dragon, or Ryūgū-jō.

Variants of this story have developed throughout Oceania and the actual origin is unknownFact|date=June 2008.


The name "Urashima Taro" first appears in the 15th century (the Muromachi period), in the book "Otogizōshi", but the story is much older, dating back to the 8th century (the Yamato period). These older books, such as "Nihon Shoki", "Man'yōshū", and "Tango no Kuni Fudoki" (丹後国風土記) refer to Urashima Taro as "Urashimako", though the story is the same. This represents a change in Japanese naming customs; in the previous eras, -ko (child) was used for both male and female names, while in later times it was mostly a female name element, replaced with -tarou, (great youth) in boys' names.


One fine day a young fisherman named Urashima Tarō was fishing when he noticed a small turtle being tormented by some children. Tarō saved it and let it go back to the sea. The day after a huge turtle approached him and told him that the small turtle he had saved was the daughter of the Emperor of the Sea, who wanted to see him to thank him. The turtle magically gave Tarō gills and brought him to the bottom of the sea, to the Palace of the Dragon (Ryūgū-jō). There he met the Emperor and the small turtle, who was now a lovely princess.

Tarō stayed there with her for a few days, then he was caught by the desire to go back to his village and see his aging mother, so he asked her permission to leave. The princess said she was sorry to see him go, but wished him well and gave him a mysterious box which she told him never to open, for whatever reason. Tarō grabbed the box, jumped on the back of the same turtle that had brought him to the Palace, and soon was home.

But everything had changed. His home was gone, his mother had vanished, the people he knew were nowhere to be seen. He asked if anybody knew a man called Urashima Tarō. They answered that they had heard someone of that name had vanished at sea long ago. He discovered that 300 years had passed since the day he had left for the bottom of the sea. Struck by grief, he absent-mindedly opened the box the princess had given him. Out of it came a cloud of white smoke. He suddenly aged, his beard grew long and white, and his back bent. He was now a very old man. And from the sea came the sad, sweet voice of the princess: "I told you not to open that box. In it was your old age …"

As always with folklore, there are many different versions of this extremely famous story. In one, for example, after he turned into an old man he took the body of a crane, in another he ate a magic pill that gave him the ability to breathe underwater. In another version, he is swept away by a storm before he can rescue the turtle.


A shrine on the western coast of the Tango Peninsula in northern Kyoto Prefecture, named Urashima Jinja, contains an old document describing a man, Urashimako, who left his land in 478 A.D. and visited a land where people never die. He returned in 825 A.D. with a Tamatebako. Ten days later he opened the box, and a cloud of white smoke was released, turning Urashimako into an old man.

Later that year, after hearing the story, Emperor Junna ordered Ono no Takamura to build a shrine to commemorate Urashimako's strange voyage, and to house the Tamatebako and the spirit of Urashimako.


The story influenced a number of works of fiction and movies. Among them are "Urusei Yatsura", "Love Hina", Doraemon, "Cowboy Bebop" [cite episode
title = Sympathy For The Devil
episodelink = List of Cowboy Bebop episodes
series = Cowboy Bebop
serieslink = Cowboy Bebop
network = WOWOW
airdate = 1999-12-16
season = 1
number = 6
] and "RahXephon". [Izubuchi, Yutaka (scenario) and Kiryu, Yukari (screenplay) "RahXephon" TV series episode 3] It is retold in and used as the basis for the short story “Another Story” by Ursula K. Le Guin, published in her story collection "A Fisherman of the Inland Sea", named for the character of this story. Urashima Tarō himself is a character in the video game "Ōkami".

The oldest known animated adaptation of the tale premiered in 1918. [ [http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2008/03/28/2201373.htm 90yo Japanese anime recovered] ]

During the 1970s, VARIG, a Brazilian airline, used him in a series of commercials, with the turtle bringing him to Brazil. After a while, he enjoys his stay, but grows old and longs to return to his home in Japan, so a woman (presumably the princess) gives him a box with a airplane ticket home, which when he opens also becomes much younger.

Time dilation in other cultures

A Japanese science fiction author, Aritsune Toyoda, explains the story of Urashima Tarō through the Twin paradox derived from Albert Einstein's theory of relativity.

Similar stories also exist in the Middle East, appearing in the Arabian Nights.

In Europe the most famous is the Irish legend in which the bard Oisín is taken to Tír na nÓg.

"The Voyage of Bran" is also similar to this story.

In English there is the tale of the ancient Briton King Herla [ [http://www.maryjones.us/ctexts/map1.html King Herla and the Wild Hunt] ] , from "De Nugis Curialium". King Herla spends three days in the dwarf kingdom, and returns only to discover that many centuries have elapsed.

In India, the Srimad Bhagavatam describes how King Kakudmi and his daughter Revati spend a short time visiting Brahma and return home to find 27 catur-yugas (see yugas or Ages of Man) have elapsed, and not only everyone they knew is dead, but even their names have been forgotten in the mists of time.

Intriguingly, King Kakudmi and his daughter Revati are inhabitants of Kusasthali, a kingdom beneath the ocean. Note the similarity of the reference to the Dragon King and his daughter, who inhabit the Palace of the Dragon (Ryūgū-jō), also located in the ocean depths.

In American literature, Washington Irving's Rip Van Winkle also conveys a similar idea.

Notes and references

ee also

*Tamatebako, an origami cube that causes the aging of Urashima Tarō in some versions of the story.
*Pandora's box, a magic box which spread disaster when open in Greek mythology.
*"King in the mountain", several legends of people hidden away in time.
*"Rip van Winkle"
*"The Picture of Dorian Gray"

External links

* [http://www.rickwalton.com/folktale/japan03.htm Urashima Tarō] (in English)
* [http://www.adamlilith.net/japan/urashima/urashima.htm The legend of Urashima Tarō in 24 images painted on a wall near Lake Saromarko in Hokkaido]

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