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This is where our story changes timelines. Everything we’ve read so far has merely been backstory—the main character’s origin story. Today, we meet the titular mermaid of the book, the hakoiri musume herself. Fast forward several years, and she is now a young (mer)woman. Put Urashima Tarō and Orino out of your minds for now.
You’ll notice my mermaid is pretty similar to Kyōden’s image. That’s because this is one of my favorite illustrations in the book. Notice how, despite not having arms, her hair curls under her chin like a supporting wrist, playing coy. Genius! I didn’t want to change it much because I think Kyōden’s mermaid is just perfect.
It wasn’t until many years later that the mermaid was seen again, by an old fisherman from Hacchōbori, Kanda named Tsuribune no Heiji¹. One day Heiji was fishing in the harbor of Shinagawa. All of a sudden, a female monster with disheveled hair leapt out from the water and on to his boat. She was chewing on something. Heiji was frightened out of his wits. It was none other than the mermaid born between Urashima Tarō and the carp, who had grown up in Shinagawa Harbor.
The mermaid was now 17 or 18 years old; right at the bloom of youth for human girls. Her face was beautiful, like a combination of Rokō, Mangiku, Tojaku, and Gunyatomi in onnagata makeup². Despite having the body of a fish, Heiji couldn’t help but think she was actually kind of attractive.
- His name literally means “Fishingboat Heiji,” which isn’t so much of a pun, but I find it amusing—it reminds me of characters like Steamboat Willie or Popeye the Sailor.
- These are stage names of popular kabuki actors at the time. They were famous for their beautiful onnagata styles (when a male kabuki actor plays the role of a woman). Rokō was Segawa Kikunojō III, Mangiku was Yamashita Mangiku I, Tojaku was Iwai Hanshirō IV, and Gunyatomi was Nakayama Tomisaburō I. Contemporary readers would have recognized the names and seen their posters around the city, so this is kind of like celebrity name dropping by Kyōden.