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Today Heiji comes up with a plan to make money (with the mermaid’s help, of course). From the two-page spread illustration below, you can see how popular his scheme is. Groups of people are lined up inside his house (you can see the wall and the advertisement flag at the bottom of the page). Will it be enough to pay off his debts?
So Tsuribune no Heiji took the mermaid back into his home. There was a scholar who lived in his neighborhood who had heard that Heiji was having trouble managing his mermaid wife. He had this to say: “In the book Honzō¹, there are two types of mermaids listed: teigyo and jigyo. Further, in the book Ibutsushi, there is a description of a mermaid resembling a human being about 30 centimeters in length, with a hole in the top of its head. But I have never read about a mermaid as wonderful as this one. Ah, and there is an old legend that whoever licks a mermaid will live for a thousand years. Whatever the case, I’m sure you can find a way to make some money from her.”
When Heiji heard this, he was overjoyed. He immediately hung up a sign in front of his house that said “Life Extension Treatment: Mermaid Licking Spot².” Immediately, greedy people who wanted to live beyond their lifespan, saying, “I want to live for a thousand years!” began showing up one after another at Heiji’s door. Heiji set the price at one and a quarter ryō per lick. In other words, the same price as a full day and night with a top-class prostitute in prostitute in Yoshiwara!
- Honzo means “herbal medicine” and refers to various encyclopedias listing plants and their known medical uses. They were based on ancient Chinese medical encyclopedias. You can see some scans of these types of books here. Ibutsushi means “foreign things” and refers to another Chinese encyclopedia which contained entries on supernatural as well as natural things. I don’t think Kyōden is actually referencing these books; he is just referencing their names as a sort of fantastic authority on the subject. There was, however, a contemporary doctor named Ōtsuki Gentaku in Edo who did write an book containing information about mermaids (among other things). The book is called Rokumotsu shinshi, and Waseda has an online scan which you can look at. Note his mermaid illustrations!
- It’s clunky, but I went with a literal translation here because the title is so bizarre.