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Today’s page is very silly, but without a bit of explanation it makes very little sense. Everything that happens in this scene is a parody of Hirakana seisuiki, a popular play at the time. Not only does the mermaid sing one of the songs from the play, but her neighbor appears and starts acting like a stage hand. Theater was a huge part of Edo’s urban culture, and Kyōden is leaning heavily into that with all of his theater gags and references. He will keep using these same gags throughout the rest of the book.
The mermaid worried herself sick trying to come up with a plan. Finally, she remembered a famous scene from the play Hirakana seisuiki, in which the character Umegae strikes a water basin resembling the Muken no Kane¹ and three hundred ryō² rain down upon her.
“I may be a lowly mermaid, but my love for my husband is no less than Umegae’s. I’m sure there’s someone out there with three hundred ryō who would be willing to give me seven or eight. I don’t have a water basin, so I’ll use the fishbowl instead³.”
The mermaid went to fetch a ladle to strike the fishbowl, but this only made her more upset because she didn’t have arms and could not pick up a ladle. But then, a man appeared behind her and, acting like a kurogo⁴, started to help. He picked up the ladle, raised it overhead, and he struck the fishbowl. It was so overgrown with weeds that it looked more like a mizugei⁵, so it didn’t quite have the desired effect.
Even so, lo and behold! Several gold coins and some spare change really did start to fall!
- Muken no Kane was a legendary magical bell that, if you strike it, will make you rich in this world; but in exchange, you will go immediately to hell when you die. Its name translates very coolly into “Infinity Bell,” which sounds like it could be some sort of Marvel plot device; but another equally cool translation would be “Hell’s Bell.”
- A ryō was a large gold coin used during the Edo period. It was a very large amount of money.
- This is another fish pun. Instead of a chōzubachi (water bowl) she uses a kingyobachi (goldfish bowl)
- A kurogo is a stagehand used in jōruri and other types of theater. They dress in all black and work on stage by holding props or moving scenery. They and are meant to be read as invisible/ignored by the audience.
- Mizugei is a type of water acrobatics/stage magic performance that was popular at sideshows and in entertainment districts. Here’s an example. Yet another one of many references scattered throughout this book to theater and spectacle shows of which petrified mermaids were a common part.