Urashima and The Turtle
The story of Urashima Taro and the turtle is an ancient Japanese folk tale about a young fisherman. I took this story and created a new narrative in a Lovecraftian horror style. Also known as cosmic horror, it is the fear of the unknown and the incomprehensible. After recreating the story, I added illustrations to really set the dark mood for the story.
This is my version of the story:
Urashima was walking down the beach one day, home early from fishing. He had learned to fish from his father at a young age, and had shown immense talent for the trade. He was the best fisherman in his small shore village. He was known more, though, for his sweet and kind heart.
As he walked through the soft sand, he saw in the distance a group of boys making a ruckus. The gentle sea wind blew towards him, carrying their jeers and taunts. He came closer to see that the boys were torturing a poor little turtle.
“Boys,” he said in a calm voice, “if you keep doing that to the poor turtle, it will surely die!”
The boys ignored him and continued on with their cruel game, hitting the turtle with their sticks even harder.
Urashima shook his head. “The turtle is destined to live for over ten thousand years, would you not let it go?”
One of the boys looked up at him and sneered. “Who cares if it dies?” he yelled. He continued to beat the turtle.
Urashima looked down at the poor turtle and felt more than his kind heart urging him to help the turtle. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it, but the turtle almost seemed to look at him with pleading eyes. He pulled out some money and held it out to the boys.
“Please,” he said, “allow me to purchase the turtle from you. You can do a lot more things with this money than with the turtle.” He jingled the coins in front of them.
The boys looked down at the turtle, and then at the money. They all hesitated. The one boy spoke again. “Alright, old uncle, we will listen to you if you give us the money.” They took the money and ran off, leaving Urashima with the small turtle.
He picked it up from the ground and examined it. It seemed to be alright. He held it in his lap and stroked its shell. “Poor little turtle,” he said solemnly. “You are lucky that I came by! I will bring you back to the sea, but you must promise to not let yourself get caught again by young boys.” He walked a bit into the water, so his feet were washed over by the quiet waves. He placed the turtle in the water and watched it swim away. He smiled and returned home.
The next day, he woke feeling very happy. He went out to go fishing in the warm summer sun. He cast his little net and took out his fishing pole. He thought about the turtle as he looked up into the clear blue sky. “I wish that I could live for ten thousand years,” he thought aloud. He thought of all the wonderful things he could do with such a long life. He became lost in his imagination, and fell asleep in his small fishing boat.
He heard his name being called “Urashima, Urashima!” it said. He sat up quickly, and suddenly felt strange. It was dark, with nothing but the stars lighting the sky. He fumbled for a moment, trying to light his lantern. The voice called his name again, sounding eerie and melodic. He lit his lantern, and saw nothing but the fog. He felt so silly for sleeping through the entire day. “Hello?” he said. He looked all around himself, seeing nothing but the water and the sky.
“Urashima!” the voice called again. He looked in the direction of the voice and saw… something in the fog. He could make out something round, something long, and something fluffy.
“Who are you?” he asked.
“Do you remember me?” the voice asked. A turtle’s face seemed to come out of the fog a little bit. “I have come to properly thank you for saving me yesterday.”
Urashima rubbed his eyes. “I can hardly see you! You’re much larger than I remember.”
The turtle ignored what he had said. “Would you like to come and see my home, the palace of the dragon king?”
“Oh it has always been my dream!” Urashima cried. “Alas,” he lamented. “I am only a mortal and I cannot swim there.”
He felt himself pulled from his boat by something soft, and he was transported to the turtle’s back. It was so dark, he could not see much of anything. “I shall take you there,” the turtle said to him before descending into the dark sea.
Urashima felt afraid at first, but he felt a strange calmness. He felt that he could trust the turtle. They did not swim for long before they arrived at a dazzling castle of coral and pearl. It was bright with light and color. He turtle stopped at the entrance.
“Please,” it said. “Go and enter. I cannot bring you further.”
Urashima stumbled through the entrance, feeling a little foolish for being such a commoner in such a grand place. There was plenty of sea life there to help him along though, and he walked until he entered a grand room. There stood a beautiful woman in a gown of red, green, and gold. He dark hair flowed down her shoulders and framed her gorgeous face. He stood there speechless.
The woman approached him. “I am the princess of the dragon king, Urashima. I am also the turtle that you saved, and I have brought you here so that my father can thank you. If you wish, I can be your wife, and we can live here forever in my father’s palace.”
“Princess!” Urashima gasped. “Nothing would make me happier, I must accept your offer and thank you a thousand times!” He said without any hesitation. He was completely mystified by the beauty of the palace and the princess.
The dragon king Ryujin came slithering out of nowhere to surround the two. He was a shadowy ghost with glowing eyes. He spoke in a tremendously deep voice. “You shall be married under my blessing. May you live in happiness, here, forever.” He brings the two to a ceremony to be wed, in the center of his garden of four seasons.
The kingdom celebrated for weeks, happy for the marriage. Urashima had never been so happy, but after the third week, he suddenly remembered his home. He remembered his poor old parents, who were probably worried for him. He was all that they had.
Urashima went to his princess. “My love,” he told her. “It breaks my heart to ask this of you, but please allow me to go back to my home and my parents. I have been so happy with you here, but I must see them.”
The princess was quite sad, but she held back her tears. “If you must go, I will not stop you.” She pulled out a jeweled box. “But please, take this with you so that you can remember me.”
Urashima felt strangely uneasy looking at the beautiful box. He took it from his wife’s hands and bowed to her. “If you wish me to take it, I will. I shall miss you dearly, princess.”
As he turned to leave, she grabbed his shoulder. “Urashima,” she said. “Under no circumstances should you open that box.”
He nodded to her, and then he left. There was a turtle waiting for him outside of the palace to carrying him home. Soon enough, he had returned to his home. He ran to his house and knocked on the door. “Mother! Father! I am home!”
A strange man opened the door, looking at him curiously. “Who are you?”
“Why, I am Urashima Taro!” Urashima stated. “I would ask you the same, sir.”
The mans face turned white. “There hasn’t been someone named such for 300 years. Urashima was lost to the sea, leaving his poor parents alone.”
“What are you talking about? I have been gone only three weeks, and this is my home!”
The man laughed at him. “Perhaps you are his ghost come to visit his old home?”
Urashima stomped his feet. “I am no ghost, as you can see!”
“This is a poor prank, then.” The man said with disdain. “You young men should have better things to do.” With that, he closed the door.
Urashima felt a sense of dread. He ran into town to see if there would be anyone there to help him. He was met with the same confusion. No one recognized him, and he could not recognize any of the people there. Slowly, he came to realize that he had made a grave mistake.
He ran out to the shore with his box. He stared out at the waves, feeling a numb sadness. All he had left was the princess. “I must go back,” he told himself. He looked around, and he looked at the box. “But how am I to return?”
The box sat in his hands ominously. “I know the princess said to never open it, but perhaps it will help me get back to the palace. He tugged away the silk ribbon on the box and felt nothing but dread. He placed his hand on the lid and let out a shaky sigh.
Slowly, he opened the lid. He peered inside as he cracked it open, but then the lid flung itself open. A blinding light came from the box, and glowing wisps of purple smoke wafted into the air, surrounding his face. He was blinded for a moment by the light, unable to tell what was happening. He felt weak, so he sat down. As the smoke and the light faded away, he looked into the box to see it was empty. He lay down on the beach, unable to get up. He closed his eyes in sadness and defeat, and turned to sand, leaving nothing but his hat and the box on the beach.
There are many variations of this tale dating back to the eighth century. In earlier versions, Urashima is not carried to the palace by turtle but by boat, and he is escorting a woman, who happens to be the princess, home. In earlier versions the princess is not named and Urashima does not have a full name.
In every story he rescues a turtle, marries the princess who was the turtle, stays in the kingdom under the sea for a seemingly small amount of time, and then he leaves to return to his parents. The princess gives him a box that he musn’t open. He returns to his village to find he was gone for hundreds of years, and in despair he opens the box. Smoke comes out and turns him into an old man, and in older versions he becomes a crane and the princess returns to turtle form.
The lesson of the story is to never be disobedient to those who are wiser than you, or you will get nothing but misery and sorrow. This is the moral to most japanese stories.