A-Yokai-A-Day: Hakoiri musume (page 30)

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Happy Halloween!

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

  1. Counting from Kyōden’s perspective in 1791. So more than eight thousand one hundred years ago counting from today.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

A-Yokai-A-Day: Hakoiri musume (page 29)

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If you thought the story couldn’t get any weirder after yesterday’s scene, you might be surprised by today’s page. It’s a Halloween miracle! It looks like the story will have a happy ending after all!

In Kyōden’s illustration you can see Urashima Tarō, now with a stately mustache (since this takes place some 17 years or so after we last saw him) and Orino, wearing a regular kimono instead of an oiran’s kimono. It seems that they stayed together all this time (I wonder what Otohime thinks about that). They are riding a cloud, which implies that they didn’t walk to Heiji’s place, they just magically teleported in and then teleported away. It’s lucky for Heiji and the mermaid that she has such magical parents!

Heiji’s mermaid wife, as if in response to her young husband’s wish for her to have hands and feet¹, shed her skin just like someone takes off their pants, and underneath were human arms and legs! This is almost too miraculous of a story!

Heiji and his formerly-mermaid wife lived happily and prosperously together. They built a house in Sakaichō, which came to be known as Mermaid Town, but has now come to be mistakenly called Ningyōchō².

Ah yes, and since mermaid skins–unlike cicada shells–are rare, they sold her skin to an apothecary and became even richer! When things are good, good things happen one after another!

  1. This has a double meaning. To “put hands on” someone is slang to have sex with them. Now that Heiji is young and handsome again, he wishes that he had a wife he could sleep with; and subsequently she literally puts on not only hands, but feet as well!
  2. A pun based on ningyo and the town of Ningyōchō, a neighborhood in Tokyo. Kyōden swaps ningyo (mermaid) for ningyo (doll). This pun is reminiscent of the book’s title, Hakoiri musume menya ningyo, as Menya was an actual famous doll shop in Ningyōchō.

A-Yokai-A-Day: Hakoiri musume (page 28)

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Just when all seems lost for baby-Heiji and the mermaid, a familiar pair of faces show up to save the day. Although, if you were very clever and familiar with the story of Urashima Tarō, you might already have figured out what the solution was! Read on to see if you were right…

Tsuribune no Heiji and his wife were at their wits end, when all of a sudden, Urashima Tarō and Orino magically appeared before them!

Urashima Tarō made Heiji open up the tamatebako¹, and the effect was that he aged to about thirty years old–the prime of manhood! Heiji was overjoyed. It was like he had increased his energy by eating eggs and then decreased it by eating kuwai until it was just right². By the way, the tamatebako unveiled at the Fukagawa Hachiman Shrine last year was this very same one³.

Urashima Tarō and Orino vanished, leaving them with some parting wisdom: “Take care of each other, you two! Don’t doubt each other, but on the other hand don’t overly rely on each other either; then you’ll live happily together for many years. Doron doron doro doro doro doro⁴…”

  1. The tamatebako was a gift to Urashima Tarō from Otohime which contained his old age in it. In Urashima Taro’s legend, when he opened the box, he instantly became an old man.
  2. Eating eggs was said to increase vigor, while eating kuwai (a kind of tuber) was said to decrease it. Heiji found the perfect balance, which sort of acts like a fountain of youth here.
  3. Kyōden breaks the fourth wall again with another contemporary culture reference. There was a big sideshow at the shrine in 1790 which purportedly displayed Urashima Tarō’s actual tamatebako.
  4. Urashima Tarō and Orino disappear into the clouds, which you can see in the illustration. Urashima Tarō is verbally making his own sound effects to go with that. This is like the Wayne’s World dream sequence effect.

A-Yokai-A-Day: Hakoiri musume (page 27)

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It seems that Heiji and the mermaid have become rich and successful, but surely you knew the story wouldn’t end there. There’s still a few days left until Halloween, and every good story has a third act twist! Kyōden’s illustration on this page is one of my favorites in the whole book. I love the pose of the mermaid and the way she stands next to the lantern, with the same facial expression that she always has–one of cool, calm amusement. She doesn’t seem fazed by anything and seems quite happy to just roll with whatever life throws at her. And it throws a doozy at her today!

Heiji had become wealthy, and even though he was no Doi Jirō¹, he thought that if he were only twenty years younger, he would have nothing to worry about. So he took advantage of the fact that his wife was a mermaid by licking her whenever he had a spare moment. The more he licked her, the younger he became. But Heiji lost control of himself and licked her too much, so that in the end he had turned into a child.

A mermaid for a wife and child for a husband makes for a pretty boring story. But this is the origin of the term “nameta yatsu²,” meaning someone who takes something too far.

Mermaid: “See? You licked me too much and look what happened.”

Heiji: “Mommy! What have I done? Ah, I want to suck boobies!”

  1. Doi Jirō (or Doi Sanehira) was a vassal of Minamoto no Yoritomo during the Genpei War. In theater, he is always portrayed as an elderly man and it is said that if he had only been younger, he would have performed many great deeds during the war.
  2. Nameta yatsu is slang for someone who takes a thing too far, but it is also a homophone for “someone who licked.” Heiji took mermaid licking too far, and is quite literally a person who licked. Kyōden is a master of bad puns.

A-Yokai-A-Day: Hakoiri musume (page 26)

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Wealth and comfort seem to suit our mermaid well. Here she is looking as cool and composed as ever. She has suiters lining up the door for her, but she is loyal to her husband. It’s a good thing she doesn’t mind being licked; or at least that the rewards outweigh the inconvenience.

Thanks to his mermaid wife, Heiji’s fortunes grew, and he became very wealthy. The young men from Heiji’s neighborhood all became jealous of his amazing wife. They flocked to his house and tried to lure her away with lewd remarks. However, the mermaid was a virtuous fish¹ and she coldly ignored their advances, flipping them off with her tail fin.

Young man: “Hey, you wanna go to Mushashiya² with me tomorrow? But you’ll have to be careful not to get caught looking like that.”

Mermaid: “Sorry, I don’t go out on devotional days³.”

  1. This a play on words, turning the Japanese term for a virtuous woman (teijo) into virtuous fish (teigyo).
  2. Musashiya was a restaurant famous for its carp dishes. It was in an area full of teahouses and hotels, so it was also a popular spot to meet for secret affairs. The mermaid has to be extra careful because she’s half carp, and might get cooked up by accident.
  3. The devotional days she refers to are fixed Buddhist memorial days, such as the anniversary of a family member’s death, in which you’re supposed to refrain from eating meat and spend the day in prayer. In a mermaid’s case, going to a carp restaurant would be like eating her own ancestors.

A-Yokai-A-Day: Hakoiri musume (page 25)

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Today’s page answers yesterday’s question about whether cheap knock-off mermaid licks are as good as the real thing. Heiji is making a killing, while his copycat neighbors aren’t doing so well with their scheme.

In Kyōden’s illustration, you can see the container of white face powder spilled out all over the floor and plastered over the wife’s face, while the angry husband beats her with his pipe. The tobacco tray got knocked upside-down in their fight. And their kid is repeating everything he hears.

Heiji’s neighbor dressed his wife like a mermaid. However, the effect was like trying to pass off a pure white heron as a pitch black crow, or a dirty street tramp as a high-class Yoshiwara courtesan. Naturally, nobody was fooled, and not one person came to lick her. The husband became desperate and a quarrel broke out.

Wife: “Hang on! If you’re going to beat me, let me take off the koinobori first! Let go!”

Husband: “It’s because of your lack of sense that we aren’t getting any customers, you dirty whore! I’m so mad my chest is going to rip¹!”

Wife: “What? Your chest is going to rip? Like they’re saying in Yoshiwara?! Well I don’t give a fuck! The only thing that’s going to rip around here is this koinobori!”

Child: “I don’t give a fuck! Mommy finally turned into a fishy! I don’t give a fuck!”

  1. Saying your chest was going to rip was a popular slang phrase in Yoshiwara at the time. It was a way of saying you were so angry/sad/upset that you couldn’t hold it in anymore. It’s used as a pun here, since actually the koinobori is about to rip. It also exposes the fact that the husband has been hanging out in the pleasure district, and the wife isn’t happy to hear that.