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All good things must come to an end, and so today, Halloween, I present the final page of Hakoiri musume menya ningyo. Kyōden is well known for a number of books; this is not one of them. But I still think it is a fantastic book, not only for its sense of humor and its wonderful illustrations, but for its unique insight into the Edo of 1791.
In Kyōden’s illustration, Heiji and the mermaid are pictured happily married, enjoying some tobacco together. Behind the couple are stacks of boxes containing 1000 ryō, showing how incredibly rich they have become. On top of the stack are two tall bottles of holy sake. The mermaid’s eyebrows are plucked, denoting her married status.
This story took place about seven thousand nine hundred years ago¹. While it sounds like a lie when you hear it at first, it’s all true!
Mermaids are immortal to begin with, and Heiji just recovers his youth by licking his mermaid whenever he gets old, so the couple is still alive and well to this day. In fact, they live next door to the author of this book. I wonder how much longer they will live… They are only one hundred years younger than Tōhō Saku², and they’ve saved up quite a bit of money, so while it’s traditional to end a book with “happily ever after,” this time it truly is a the happiest of endings.
By Santō Kyōden³
- Counting from Kyōden’s perspective in 1791. So more than eight thousand one hundred years ago counting from today.
- On New Years Day, beggers would go from door to door offering blessings in exchange for money or rice, and one of the songs they would sing was about how Tōhō Saku lived for eight thousand years. Tōhō Saku is the Japanese name for Dongfang Shuo, a legendary Chinese wizard who attained immortality by stealing and eating the peaches of immortality from the Queen Mother of the West.
- Kyōden leaves one final joke at the bottom of the page. Beneath his name there is a printed seal which reads “stinky.” It’s a final apology for the mermaid’s fishy smell.