Mermaids: Beautiful enchantresses or harbingers of doom

(ORDO NEWS) — A recent study of a “mermaid mummy” in Japan has sparked renewed interest in the phenomenon.

A report that scientists have begun testing a 300-year-old “mermaid mummy” to determine its origin has sparked interest in the existence of mermaids in Japanese folklore.

Tales of mermaids and their more dangerously seductive siren sisters are firmly rooted in the cultural mythologies of many regions, and can be found in medieval art and contemporary popular literature throughout the world.

In Japan, elements of beliefs and myths associated with the natural world have survived from prehistoric times as an important part of culture and tradition. But the mermaid, as the Western psyche imagines it, does not appear in these stories.

Man-fish creature

In Japanese folklore, there is a man-fish with the mouth of a monkey that lives in the sea and is called ningyo (this word in Japanese consists of the characters for “man” and “fish”). According to an old Japanese belief, one can gain immortality by eating the flesh of a ningyo.

It is believed that one such creature appeared to Prince Shotoku (574-622) at Lake Biwa, northeast of Kyoto. A semi-legendary figure, Prince Shotoku was revered for his many political and cultural innovations, most notably for promoting the spread of Buddhism in Japan.

Once this creature was a fisherman who violated the rules of fishing in protected waters, as a punishment he was turned into a ningyo and, with a dying breath, called on the prince to let him go of his crimes.

The mermaid asked the prince to establish a temple where his horrific, mummified body would be displayed to remind people of the sanctity of life. Remains matching the description of a ningyo can be found at the Tenshou-Kyusha temple in Fujinomiya, where they are cared for by Shinto priests.

References to the appearance of mermaids, however, are rare in folk tales, and these creatures, rather than being objects of mesmerizing beauty, are described as “terrible” harbingers of war or disaster.

The dried mermaid, which is currently being tested, was supposedly caught in the Pacific Ocean off the Japanese island of Shikoku between 1736 and 1741 and is now kept in a temple in the city of Asakuchi. -1868).

Usually youkai (spirits and entities) and “living” scary creatures were shown to the audience as entertainment in traveling shows similar to “freak shows” in the United States.

When did the mermaid become Japanese?

Today, mermaids in Japan are no longer tiny clawed creatures with the body of a monkey and the tail of a fish. It appears that the mermaid, known in the west, made its way to Japan in the early 20th century.

This coincided with the influx of American culture from army bases at the start of World War I, and the publication of the first Japanese translation of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid.

Writers and illustrators such as Junichiro Tanizaki in Ningyo no nageki, Mermaid’s Lament, 1917, began to depict this creature in their work. This has led to the grotesque image of the ningyo being supplanted or merged with the alluring, overtly feminine mermaid known as the Mameido in popular culture.

Literary and visual portrayals (especially anime and manga) of the new western mermaid have explored the dilemma of allure. They include the perspective of the mermaid herself and, in some cases, the person, usually a male, who discovered her existence, bonded with her, and then was forced to let her go.

This new mermaid now seems to have a place in popular culture, with new stories drawing tourists to Japan’s southernmost islands.

A bronze statue of a mermaid, perched gloomily on a rock at Okinawa’s Moon Beach, is supposed to represent local legends of beautiful mermaids rescuing people from the depths of a menacing sea. This is a far cry from the creepy image of a ningyo, a half-man, half-fish with a monkey mouth.


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