Urashima Taro –

April 13, 2009

This is a story written by Lafcadio Hearn published in his book “Out of the East” 1895, Houghton, Mifflin & Co.

outoftheeastlafcadiohearnFourteen hundred and sixteen years ago,
the fisher-boy Urashima Taro left the shore
of Suminoye in his boat.

Summer days were then as now, — all
drowsy and tender blue, with only some light,
pure white clouds hanging over the mirror of
the sea. Then, too, were the hills the same, —
far blue soft shapes melting into the blue sky.
And the winds were lazy.

And presently the boy, also lazy, let his
boat drift as he fished. It was a queer boat,
unpainted and rudderless, of a shape you
probably never saw. But still, after fourteen

hundred years, there are such boats to be seen
in front of the ancient fishing-hamlets of the
coast of the Sea of Japan.

After long waiting, Urashima caught some-
thing, and drew it up to him. But he found
it was only a tortoise.

Now a tortoise is sacred to the Dragon God
of the Sea, and the period of its natural life is
a thousand — some say ten thousand — years.
So that to kill it is very wrong. The boy
gently unfastened the creature from his line,
and set it free, with a prayer to the gods.

But he caught nothing more. And the day
was very warm ; and sea and air and all
things were very, very silent. And a great
drowsiness grew upon him, — and he slept in
his drifting boat.

Then out of the dreaming of the sea rose
up a beautiful girl, — just as you can see her
in the picture to Professor Chamberlain’s
” Urashima,” — robed in crimson and blue,
with long black hair flowing down her back
even to her feet, after the fashion of a prince’s
daughter fourteen hundred years ago.

Gliding over the waters she came, softly as
air ; and she stood above the sleeping boy in

the boat, and woke him with a light touch,

and said : —

“Do not be surprised. My father, the
Dragon King of the Sea, sent me to you,
because of your kind heart. For to-day you
set free a tortoise. And now we will go to my
father’s palace in the island where summer
never dies ; and I will be your flower-wife if
you wish ; and we shall live there happily for-

And Urashima wondered more and more as
he looked upon her ; for she was more beauti-
ful than any human being, and he could not
but love her. Then she took one oar, and he
took another, and they rowed away together,
— just as you may still see, off the far
western coast, wife and husband rowing to-
gether, when the fishing-boats flit into the
evening gold.

They rowed away softly and swiftly over
the silent blue water down into the south, —
till they came to the island where summer
never dies, — and to the palace of the Dragon
King of the Sea.

[Here the text of the little book suddenly
shrinks away as you read, and faint blue

ripplings flood the page; and beyond them
in a fairy horizon you can see the long low
soft shore of the island, and peaked roofs
rising through evergreen foliage — the roofs of
the Sea God’s palace — like the palace of the
Mikado Yuriaku, fourteen hundred and six-
teen years ago.]

There strange servitors came to receive them
in robes of ceremony — creatures of the Sea,
who paid greeting to Urashima as the son-in-
law of the Dragon King.

So the Sea God’s daughter became the bride
of Urashima ; and it was a bridal of wondrous
splendor; and in the Dragon Palace there
was great rejoicing.

And each day for Urashima there were new
wonders and new pleasures : — wonders of the
deepest deep brought up by the servants of
the Ocean God ; — pleasures of that enchanted
land where summer never dies. And so three
years passed.

But in spite of all these things, the fisher-
boy felt always a heaviness at his heart when
he thought of his parents waiting alone. So
that at last he prayed his bride to let him go
home for a little while only, just to say one

word to his father and mother, — after which
he would hasten back to her.

At these words she began to weep ; and for
a long time she continued to weep silently.
Then she said to him : ” Since you wish to
go, of course you must go. I fear your going
very much; I fear we shall never see each
other again. But I will give you a little box
to take with you. It will help you to come
back to me if you will do what I tell you. Do
not open it. Above all things, do not open it,
— no matter what may happen ! Because, if
you open it, you will never be able to come
back, and you will never see me again.”

Then she gave him a little lacquered box
tied about with a silken cord. [And that
box can be seen unto this day in the temple
of Kanagawa, by the seashore; and the
priests there also keep Urashima Taro’s fish-
ing line, and some strange jewels which he
brought back with him from the realm of the
Dragon King.]

But Urashima comforted his bride, and
promised her never, never to open the box —
never even to loosen the silken string. Then
he passed away through the summer light over

the ever-sleeping sea ; — and the shape of the
island where summer never dies faded behind
him like a dream ; — and he saw again before
him the blue mountains of Japan, sharpening
in the white glow of the northern horizon.

Again at last he glided into his native bay ;
— again he stood upon its beach. But as he
looked, there came upon him a great bewilder-
ment, — a weird doubt.

For the place was at once the same, and yet
not the same. The cottage of his fathers had
disappeared. There was a village ; but the
shapes of the houses were all strange, and the
trees were strange, and the fields, and even
the faces of the people. Nearly all remem-
bered landmarks were gone ; — the Shinto
temple appeared to have been rebuilt in a new
place ; the woods had vanished from the neigh-
boring slopes. Only the voice of the little
stream flowing through the settlement, and
the forms of the mountains, were still the
same. All else was unfamiliar and new. In
vain he tried to find the dwelling of his par-
ents ; and the fisherfolk stared wonderingly
at him ; and he could not remember having
ever seen any of those faces before.

There came along a very old man, leaning
on a stick, and Urashima asked him the way
to the house of the Urashima family. But the
old man looked quite astonished, and made
him repeat the question many times, and then
cried out : —

” Urashima Taro ! Where do you come
from that you do not know the story ? Ura-
shima Taro ! Why, it is more than four
hundred years since he was drowned, and a
monument is erected to his memory in the
graveyard. The graves of all his people are
in that graveyard, — the old graveyard which
is not now used any more. Urashima Taro !
How can you be so foolish as to ask where
his house is ? ” And the old man hobbled on,
laughing at the simplicity of his questioner.

But Urashima went to the village grave-
yard, — the old graveyard that was not used
any more, — and there he found his own tomb-
stone, and the tombstones of his father and
his mother and his kindred, and the tomb-
stones of many others he had known. So old
tkey were, so moss-eaten, that it was very
hard to read the names upon them.

Then he knew himself the victim of some

strange illusion, and he took his way back to
the beach, — always carrying in his hand the
box, the gift of the Sea God’s daughter. But
what was this illusion ? And what could be
in that box ? Or might not that which was
in the box be the cause of the illusion?
Doubt mastered faith. Recklessly he broke
the promise made to his beloved; — he loos-
ened the silken cord ; — he opened the box !

Instantly, without any sound, there burst
from it a white cold spectral vapor that rose
in air like a summer cloud, and began to drift
away swiftly into the south, over the silent
sea. There was nothing else in the box.

And Urashima then knew that he had de-
stroyed his own happiness, — that he could
never again return to his beloved, the daugh-
ter of the Ocean King. So that he wept and
cried out bitterly in his despair.

Yet for a moment only. In another, he
himself was changed. An icy chill shot
through all his blood ; — his teeth fell out ;
his face shriveled ; his hair turned white as
snow ; his limbs withered ; his strength ebbed ;
he sank down lifeless on the sand, crushed
by the weight of four hundred winters.

Now in the official annals of the Emperors
it is written that ” in the twenty-first year of
the Mikado Yuriaku, the boy Urashima of
Midzunoye, in the district of Yosa, in the
province of Tango, a descendant of the divin-
ity Shimanemi, went to Elysium [ITorai] in
a fishing-boat.” After this there is no more
news of Urashima during the reigns of thirty-
one emperors and empresses — that is, from
the fifth until the ninth century. And then
the annals announce that ” in the second year
of Tenchiyo, in the reign of the Mikado Go-
Junwa, the boy Urashima returned, and pres-
ently departed again, none knew whither.” *