A-Yokai-A-Day: Hakoiri musume (page 24)

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It seems like Heiji’s scheme was a success! So successful, in fact, that is spawned copycat businesses. Today we’ll take a look at what Heiji’s next-door neighbors are up to…

If Sabu¹ in Fukagawa becomes popular, it will open up a shop in Ryōgoku. If some theater’s production of Chūshingura² becomes famous, other productions will pop up here and there. The recent fad of restaurants selling ochazuke with the twelve signs of the zodiac has spread so much that it’s impossible to tell which was the original. If they start selling something similar to Hachijō silk in Jōshū, they’ll start making it in Hachiōji too. It’s a tricky world and you can’t escape from copycats. And so, when Tsuribune no Heiji’s greedy next-door neighbor heard that Heiji had made a fortune by charging people to lick his mermaid, he had an idea…

He covered his wife’s ugly, bird-like face in white makeup and then had her wear a koinobori³ from the waist down to make her look like a mermaid. Then he put up a sign selling mermaid licks for 200 mon⁴.

  1. This was the name of a popular restaurant at the time.
  2. Chūshingura is a popular samurai tale, also known as the forty-seven rōnin.
  3. Koinobori are large wind streamers shaped like carp which get hung up on Children’s Day in May. Families with young sons would fly them to celebrate their children’s lives.
  4. A lot cheaper than the price of the real mermaid licks!

A-Yokai-A-Day: Hakoiri musume (page 23)

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It looks like Heiji’s plan is beginning to pay off. People are willing to pay dearly for a chance at more life. You can see middle-aged and elderly people lined up, each holding a number tag, waiting for their turn to lick. Kyōden’s depiction of the mermaid here is once again adorable (and brave in the face of an embarrassing situation). I love her hood, and her sarcastic commentary on the customers.

Mermaid: “Oh sir, your breath smells terrible!”

Heiji stood next to the mermaid and performed¹, cheering the customers on.

Heiji: “Follow the rhythm, and lick her to the beat!
Let’s follow the rhythm, and lick to the beat!
The customer licks so nervously!
Is it your first drink with a prostitute?
Or a wife whose husband is away?
Are you playing cards and don’t know what move to make?
Lick like she’s water candy, hishio, kinzanji miso!
Sesame miso, yuzu miso, sweet miso!
Ha! Follow the rhythm, and lick her to the beat!
Doko-tsuku doko tsuku, suko-doko-don suko-doko-don!

Okay, next customer!”

As the guests lined up one by one in the order of their numbered tags, their faces looked so stupid.

Heiji: “Follow the rhythm, and lick her to the beat!”

Customer: “If given the choice, I’d rather lick you much lower down². Ehehehe!”

The mermaid felt embarrassed and covered her face with a hood.

  1. Heiji is basically doing the job of a sideshow barker. He’s doing a song and dance while tapping on a drum, improvising rhymes to attract customers.
  2. Yes, this means what it sounds like.

A-Yokai-A-Day: Hakoiri musume (page 22)

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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!

  1. 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 hereIbutsushi 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!
  2. It’s clunky, but I went with a literal translation here because the title is so bizarre.

A-Yokai-A-Day: Hakoiri musume (page 21)

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Today we start the third and final volume of Hakoiri musume menya ningyo. And the mermaid starts a new chapter of her life as well. Unfit to work at a brothel, Denzō returns her to Heiji. She doesn’t seem to mind; she looks happy as a clam to see Heiji once again, despite her misadventure. And Kyōden once again shows us how much of a theater nerd he is with another famous kabuki reference.

And so, Denzō’s big idea failed on the first day. If rumors spread that there was a yōkai working at Maizuruya, he would be ruined, and so he could no longer put the mermaid on display. His seven and a half ryō had gone to waste, and he had to return the mermaid to Heiji.

Denzō was so flustered that he started rambling about how much the mermaid had cost him. He sounded like a victim of kitsunetsuki¹ who had taken uirō² and exaggerated³ the story.

Denzō: “Well you see, I know I did it to myself, but I spent a lot of money on her debut. There was her clothing, her hairpins and combs, the folding screen for her kimono, all of her bedding and nightclothes, her teapot, brazier, ashtray and pipe, dresser, lantern, sake decanter, her shoes, bureau, chest, cottonwear, pestle, mortar, bortar, portar, gara, gara, gara…”

Heiji: “If there are any more lines, it will become too expensive for the publisher to print, so I’ll just listen and nod.”

  1. Kitsunetsuki (fox possession) was the Edo period explanation of psychosis. In other words, he was babbling like a man possessed.
  2. Uirō was a famous wonder drug from Odawara that freshened breath, loosened phlegm, and made you able to speak quickly. This references a scene in the play Uirō uri (“The Uiro Seller”) in which an uirō seller quickly rattles off tongue twisters to demonstrate the drug’s efficacy. Denzō’s lines here mirror the lines from the play. The tongue twister effect sadly get lost in translation. Here’s a demonstration of the famous tongue twister scene.
  3. The book uses the Japanese idiom “to attach a tail to something” to describe Denzō’s exaggerations. It’s another silly fish pun that gets lost in translation. The English phrase “a tall tale/tail” could be used as a close analogue.

A-Yokai-A-Day: Hakoiri musume (page 20)

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A courtesan’s debut was a very big and costly event. Girls were expected to buy their dresses, beds, etc. with their own money, but a first-time courtesan with no regular clients yet simply could not afford such luxurious items. For the honor of being a girl’s first client, a man was expected to pay a large sum to cover the daily necessities that she didn’t yet have. Part of this included the cost of three futons for the courtesan to sleep on, or in the case of highest-class oiran, five futons. Four futons wasn’t a common number, but oddly Kyōden’s illustration shows Uondo sleeping on four. This could be a symbol that she’s not really human, not really fish, and doesn’t quite fit in either world.

I love Kyōden’s illustration on this page. There are a lot of small details which add to the scene, including an incense burner next to the bed, to mask the mermaid’s fishy smell. The customer is holding his wallet as he tries to escape, and his pillow has rolled off the bed onto the floor in his rush to leave. The kurogo’s desperation is palpable, yet the mermaid looks so peaceful and innocent asleep in her bed.

After her oiran debut, Uondo took her first customer. The lights were turned out to make the room as dark as possible. The kurogo hid behind a folding screen and acted as her arms, lighting her pipe and smoking it, and so on. Somehow the illusion worked, and she passed as a human. But in the end, she still smelled like a fish and her client was unable to bear it. He frantically tried to escape from the room. The mermaid, exhausted from her debut, quickly fell asleep. Meanwhile, the kurogo grabbed on to the client to keep him from leaving. This only scared him even more, as Uondo’s arms seemed to stretch all the way into the hallway even though her head remained on the pillow.

Customer: “What kind of monster is this prostitute?! How long must her arms be to reach me all the way from the bed?!”

A-Yokai-A-Day: Hakoiri musume (page 19)

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We’ve already seen Santō Kyōden break the fourth wall a couple of times and address the readers directly. He goes a step further on this page, and actually places himself in the novel here. Kyōden and his friend are depicted here, sitting and smoking on the veranda of a tea shop while watching Uondo’s oiran procession pass by.

Kyōden: “So that’s the new prostitute, huh? She really does have a pretty face! But her walking style is a little funny. Don’t you think so, Kokugashi¹?”

One of the kamuro² is chatting with Uondo: “Wasn’t there a guy named Jingorō in Edoya³?”

  1. The name Kokugashi here is a shout out to Kyōden’s colleague and friend Umebori Kokuga. Kokuga was a novelist who was famed for his depictions of the romances between Yoshiwara’s prostitutes and their customers. Using the nickname Kokugashi and placing him in the book shows how friendly the two were.
  2. Kamuro were young girls who were sold by their parents to brothels in order to pay off their debts. They had to work until their own debt was then repaid. They were apprenticed to oiran who were responsible for feeding, clothing, sheltering, and managing them. Kamuro were dressed beautifully, like little toys, and mostly worked as attendants, messengers, and escorts to their caretakers. As it was quite expensive to feed and dress them, having a kamuro was a great status symbol for an oiran. Only the wealthiest oiran could afford to care for more than one kamuro.
  3. This sentence is a bit of a mystery. It sounds like another one of Kyōden’s name drops, but who this person was is now unknown. One possibility: there was a teahouse in Yoshiwara called Edoya Jinzaburō which specialized in introducing clients to prostitutes. This line might be a sly reference to it.

A-Yokai-A-Day: Hakoiri musume (page 18)

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Today’s illustration is another double page spread, showing the street during Uondo’s debut as an oiran. Onlookers peek out of tea shops and comment about the procession. The Maizuruya staff is shown surrounding Uondo, helping to disguise her so that she appears more or less human. Note the fake feet dangling from her kimono, and the kurogo carrying her and acting as her arms. Maybe the onlookers don’t notice him behind all of the attendants. Or maybe they ignore him because everyone knows you’re supposed to pretend that kurogo are invisible.

So Denzō’s plan went in to effect, and Yoshiwara’s very first mermaid oiran made her debut¹ at dusk, when it was dimly lit. He positioned a kurogo behind her to act as a pair of arms, and somehow the trick worked and everyone was fooled. Don’t make me say in writing that this is where the word ningyō tsukai² comes from!

  1. An oiran’s debut was a big event. When a girl was ready to make her official debut as the highest ranking courtesan, brothels would put on a major show of it. The oiran would wear heavy, multilayered kimono, a massive wig, and extremely high platform shoes. It was extremely difficult to walk through the streets like this, and it was a sign of her professionalism and grace. There would be with a large parade,  with music, revelers, and onlookers on either side. She would be accompanied by her own attendants, and followed by her lower ranking brothel sisters. Here’s a modern day reenactment so you can get a feel of what it would have looked like.
  2. Kyōden breaks the fourth wall here to forcefully insert this really awful pun. Ningyo tsukai means “puppetmaster.” It sounds almost exactly like ningyō tsukai, “a person who uses mermaids.” The kurogo is operating the mermaid like a puppet; or perhaps Denzō is the puppetmaster for organizing this whole spectacle.