Urashima Taro, a 1300-Year-Old Japanese Folktale (An Ancient Time Traveler)


If a turtle suddenly started talking and offered
to take you on its back to a magical place. Would you go? Think carefully. On today’s episode of Folktales Gone Wild,
we’re gonna talk about one of the most famous Japanese folktales: Urashima Taro (浦島太郎). But not only that, we’re gonna point out
some weird things about the story. Things that don’t make sense. And then I’ll reveal an ancient, less known
version of the story, and the stars will align and the world will make sense. First, the modern version. One day, our young fisherman Urashima Taro
sees some kids abusing a poor turtle. Feeling bad for the turtle, he buys it from
the kids and releases it into the sea. A few days later, Urashima Taro is out fishing
and he sees that same turtle swim over. The turtle speaks. Urashima Taro is surprised. The turtle speaks Japanese without a turtle
accent. It offers to take him to Ryugujo (竜宮城),
the Dragon Palace under the sea. The turtle sinks beneath the waves with Urashima
Taro on its back, and soon he finds himself floating in front of a grand underwater palace. A princess they call Otohime (乙姫) comes
out to meet him. She thanks the kind-hearted fisherman for
saving the Japanese-speaking turtle, it must have been a high-ranking turtle, and repays
him by allowing him to stay at her palace for a while. Just don’t use her razor. Not everything is communal Kevin! Urashima Taro enjoys the beauty and luxuries
of the palace for a time. It’s not clear how long he stays, but it’s
enough for him to grow homesick and he tells the princess to let him return. She tries hard to convince him to stay, but
he would not relent. Finally, she acquiesces, and gives him a parting
gift and a warning. The gift is a jeweled box, and the warning
is that he should never open it. And so Urashima Taro gets on the turtle who
speaks perfect Japanese and returns home. Or so he thinks. It’s the right location, but the wrong everything
else. His home is nowhere to be found. Same with his parents. After talking to the locals, the truth emerges. It seems time works differently within the
Dragon Palace. Though he only spent days or years in the
underwater palace, centuries have passed in the normal world. Urashima Taro has lost everyone and everything. Ignoring the princess’ warning, he opens
the box. He watches as white smoke escapes, carried
off by the wind. Then Urashima Taro’s black hair turns white
and his smooth skin turns thin and wrinkled. He has become an old man, the punishment for
a promise broken. So if you’ve been paying attention then
you would notice some weird things about this story. If you haven’t been paying attention…
how dare you, drop and click the like button an odd number of times. Here are 3 things that don’t make sense. One. Why does the princess want him to stay so
badly? The story doesn’t mention any romance between
the two. She’s just being a good host and repaying
his kindness. You would think letting him stay for a few
days or years would be enough. Trying so hard to prevent his leave went beyond
being a good host. Two. What kind of a gift is that? Who gives a gift that can only hurt you? It has no upside. It’s like if someone gave you a box of chocolates
but when you open it, it’s just s–t inside. Like he just s–t in a box, closed it, wrapped
it up and gave it to you. But why did you give this s–t box? Three. Why does he open the box? There is no reason to. Is he just curious? That’s way too random. It would have nothing to do with the rest
of the story. Now whenever people ask about weirdness in
these stories, I usually respond with “because folktale,” but in this case we may have an explanation. It could be, there was an original version
of the tale, but over time, parts of the story were lost or changed. It could be. And it is. Because I already looked it up. If we go all the way back 1300 years ago to
ancient times, we find the oldest version of this story that we know of. And it answers all of our questions. And the changes in the story give us a glimpse
into changes in Japanese society regarding relationships between men and women. In the ancient story, his name is Ura no Shimako. It doesn’t say anything about him being
a fisherman, but it does say that he is a hottie oh boy. You couldn’t take your eyes off him. One day, he gets on a boat to go fishing far
from land. When he finally catches something, it’s
not a fish, but a five-colored turtle. His surprise intensifies as the turtle transforms
into a ravishing young woman. She says, “I was swimming in turtle form
and saw a handsome man fishing alone. I had to come say hi. Do you fish here often?” He says, “Okay okay you can buy me a drink.” She says, “It is love at first sight. I swear eternal love that will last until
the end of Heaven and Earth and the sun and the moon. Tell me quickly, will you accept me?” He says, “Of course, turtle mama.” It turns out, she is a divine being, an immortal. She makes Shimako close his eyes, and when
he opens them, a huge island appears before him. They have been transported to the mythical
island of Mount Horai (蓬莱山). If you know your Asian legends, you’d know
that Chinese Emperor Qin Shi Huang sent his subject Xu Fu to find the elixir of immortality
on Mount Horai. If you don’t know your Asian legends, I
have a video about it. The island looks magical. The ground sparkles like stars. In fact he even meets 7 children who were
the stars of the Subaru constellation, which is the Pleiades in English. Shimako learns that turtle mama’s name is
Kamehime (亀姫), Turtle Princess. The princess takes him to her palace, where
her parents and the community throw a big ol kegger, and the two become husband and
wife. For 3 years, Shimako lives a life of luxury
talking to turtles and immortals and star children. But then he grows homesick, becoming more
morose by the day. He finally tells the princess he wants to
go home for a while to visit his parents. She doesn’t take this well. “Only 3 years have we been together, and
you already want to leave, just to see your parents? How can you stand to be away from me, even
for a little?” Try as she may, she cannot convince her dreadful
husband to stay. So she gives him a jeweled comb box, and tells
him that if he doesn’t forget her and wants to see her again, he just needs to hold the
box tight. But he must never open it. Following the rules will prove that he really
loves her. With that, she makes him close his eyes, and
when he opens them, he’s back at his village. Obviously, everything has changed. He learns that 300 years have passed. After moping about for a time, he starts to
miss his wife, the Turtle Princess. He holds the box tight, but he is so sad that
he forgets the promise and opens the box. And that’s when his beautiful face and body
turns old and he realizes that he has broken his promise and can never see his wife again. Now we can see that the ancient story is a
love story. Tell me in the comments which story did you
prefer? One thing, in ancient Japan, the comb represented
a woman’s spirit. The princess doesn’t give him some random
box, it’s a comb box. It symbolizes her spirit sealed within. This ancient story answers our questions. One. She isn’t repaying his kindness, they’re
in love. That’s why she tries so hard to make him
stay. Two. The box is a test of his devotion, rather
than the worst gift in the world. And three. He opens the box because he longs for her. Remember, a comb box was said to contain a
woman’s spirit. The story places love above everything else. Ancient Japan had a lot of stories where a
couple would fall in love, get married, and then tell their parents afterwards. The relationship was first and foremost their
choice, not their parents’ choice. Shimako and the Turtle Princess choose each
other first, it’s not a marriage arranged by their parents nor does it require their
parents’ consent. Shimako’s parents aren’t even there. It’s more important that the community accept
the couple rather than just her parents. And then, Japan went through changes. Chinese culture came to Japan, including Confucianism. Confucianism had a lot of rah rah male power,
and we see the story change with the times. Duty to your parents was a Confucian virtue,
so the whole falling in love and getting married without your parents’ consent thing disappeared
from the story. When the princess blasts Shimako for wanting
to visit his parents, clearly she places their marriage above his duty to his parents. Also, speaking so brazenly to her husband
would have made Confucius’s head explode and patriarchy fall out. Not only that, it’s a story where a woman
falls in love, propositions the man, introduces him to her family, and has a public declaration
of love. What kind of a woman would have been so uppity? Over time, this whole love aspect disappeared,
bringing us to the modern story. And now that you know, try listening to the
modern story again to see how much was changed. And if you wanna see more folktales, I have
a whole playlist of em, check it out. Okay, so we have two new emperors this week
Schadenfraulein and はやしいかつ. Thank you so much you guys. We also have some new patrons: Amelia Cooper,
YellowVacuums, Michael Buelow, and Sara Romo. Alright, much love, you, and spread the knowledge.

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