Japan: Urashima

You can read the story of Urashima in prose form in the Japanese Fairy Tales unit for this class: Uraschimataro and the Turtle.

[Notes by LKG]

This story is part of the Japanese Mythology unit. Story source: Romance of Old Japan, Part I: Mythology and Legend by E. W. Champney and F. Champney (1917).


On a dreamy day in springtime I sailed forth to Suminoye,
O’er the hills of jade-green water to the strand of beaten gold;
And as there I lingered, musing on its ancient vanished glory,
I bethought me of the story by the hearthstone often told,
How the fisher Urashima, the bonito ever questing,
O’er the hills of jade-green water past the bounds of sea did roam,
And for seven long suns together, oaring onward, never resting,
Came not back to Suminoye, nor returned unto his home.

After long and fruitless questing, Urashima, melancholy,
Drew, from out the jade-green water, a great tortoise suddenly!
But the tortoise is a symbol of long life, you know, and holy,
So he spared the sacred creature and returned it to the sea.

Fanned by zephyrs, lulled by wavelets, Urashima fell a-dreaming,
When to him there came a vision of a maid surpassing fair,
Came the daughter of the dragon, on his face her radiance beaming,
With the glory of the sunset in the halo of her hair.

Urashima, Urashima,” whispered low the dragon’s daughter,
“For that thou didst spare the tortoise, little deeming it was I,
Come thou with me to my castle down beneath the jade-green water,
With thy flower-wife, Otohime, e’er to live and ne’er to die!”

Then in joy laughed Urashima and his heart leapt with elation,
For ne’er before had he beheld a maid so wondrous fair,
And right willingly he yielded to her winsome invitation,
So the daughter of the dragon led him to her elfin lair,
To the palace of the dragon, where the nixies guard his treasures,
In the land of ceaseless sunshine down beneath the jade-green sea,
Where they dwelt for generations in a round of endless pleasures,
Never aging, never dying, ever young and ever free.

And he might have dwelt for ever, with his flower-wife enamoured,
Had not longing stirred within him home and kin once more to see.
“I would fain go to my father, to my mother,” thus he stammered,
“After one fond look upon them, I will come again to thee.”

Thus he spake, and, sorely troubled, Otohime answered sadly,
“If unto the Land Immortal to return thou e’er wouldst hope,
Here again to live forever, I thy wish do grant thee gladly.
Take this talismanic casket, but beware its lid to ope!”

Strongly did she thus enjoin him, loudly swore he to obey,
And at dawn they fondly parted and he journeyed on his way;
On his way to Suminoye, oared he on the ocean old
O’er the hills of jade-green water to the strand of beaten gold.

But when once he reached the harbour where his home was wont to be,
Naught he saw of Suminoye, not a hut did he behold;
Though he sought from dawn to sunset not a vestige could he see,
Naught but hills of jade-green water and the strand of beaten gold!

Then his heart was rife with wonder and in anguish he did wail:
“In the space of three short summers since I left my village here,
Can it utterly have vanished, leaving naught to tell the tale?
Were I now to ope the casket, would it not again appear?”

And forgetting, reckless fellow, every caution, in dismay
Loosed he then the silken cordage that the magic casket bound,
Whereupon a fleecy cloudlet issued forth into the day,
Talisman of life eternal mounting heavenward from the ground!

Urashima ran and shouted, waving wild his sleeves in air,
Of a sudden then he tottered and fell writhing to the earth,
Withered, wrinkled, old, enfeebled, spent of breath and white of hair!
Tie, who erst had been so youthful, comely, strong, and full of mirth,
Now from life fore’er departed on the strand of beaten gold,
By the hills of jade-green water where stood Suminoye old.

(700 words)

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