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.

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.