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If this were a Disney story, you’d expect there to be a song by now. Well, in this scene, the mermaid sings a song lamenting her poverty. The lyrics are about loan interest, pawn shop markups, and rent payments, and are a parody of lines from Hirakana seisuiki, a popular jōruri play. The picture is full of clues to this play that close readers would have picked up on, in addition to the lyrics being a dead giveaway. The towel draped over the folding screen is printed with the crest of Segawa Kikunojō, an actor who won great acclaim for his portrayal of the play’s character Umegae. And the fishbowl on the veranda is labeled as being a replacement for a water basin, a key prop in the play. I’ll talk more about the theatrical connection in tomorrow’s post.
Heiji was poor to begin with, but a day came where he was especially in trouble because his rent was overdue, and he also had to repay a loan. The mermaid felt sorry for him and wanted to find some way to repay him for all he had done for her. But in this day and age, when even humans are struggling to make ends meet, how can a mermaid expect to earn a few coins? Having grown up under the sea, the obvious idea of making money as a freak show attraction never even occurred to her.
Singing: “Two eights is sixteen, that’s the interest on the loan. Two nines is eighteen, that’s the pawn shop’s markup. Four fives is twenty, that’s the rent. I can’t even afford a belt¹.”
- This is a direct parody of lyrics sung by the character Chidori in a scene from Hirakana seisuiki. Chidori laments her lover’s poverty and tries to come up with a plan to help him pay off his debts—just as the mermaid is doing here. Ultimately, Chidori takes a job working as a prostitute named Umegae to earn extra money.