Title: Urashima Taro
General Information about Item:
- Genre and Sub Genre: Children’s Folktale
- Type of Folktale: Fairy Tale
- Language: Collected in English, originally in Japanese
- Country where Item is from: Japan
Informant Data: Ellis Guo is a ’17 here at Dartmouth College. He is a senior and while still technically undeclared for a major, he is interested in Computer Science and Engineering. He is a male of age 21. Ellis is from Tokyo, Japan, which is where he attended the American International School.
- Social Context/Cultural Context: Ellis learned this tale when he was little in Elementary school. He doesn’t remember the exact age, but it was when he was a child. He learnt it from his teacher, who told his class the tale from memory.
Item: Urashima Taro
Long ago there was a village by the sea. There was a group of three little kids poking a little tortoise not letting it go into the sea. A man named Urashima Taro saw this and yelled at the kids to leave the turtle alone. The little turtle escaped off into the sea. Upon this, a massive turtle appeared and thanked Taro for his kind actions. As a reward, the massive turtle offered to bring Taro back to the turtle home deep in the sea. Taro agrees and gets on the turtle’s back and swims down to the turtle’s massive underwater palace.
The palace is magnificent, and has almost anything one would ever want. Taro meets the princess of the palace, who happened to be the little turtle that Taro had saved from the little kids. The princess is eternally grateful and invites the man to stay and indulge in any of the amenities of the palace. Taro stays for three days and is enjoying his time at the palace, but decides that he needs to go back. Afterall, he misses his friends, family and the village. Taro tells the princess that he wishes to leave, and while saddened, the princess informs that Taro if he leaves he can never come back. Taro reluctantly decides that it is best if he leaves. The princess gives Taro a small wooden box as a gift and tells Taro that no matter what, he must never open the box.
Taro returns to the village with the wooden box and quickly realizes that things aren’t right. He recognizes nobody in the village, and nobody seems to know any of his friends or family. He learns that his family has passed away, and that nobody has seen or heard of them in many years. In fact, while Taro was down in the underwater palace, hundreds of years have passed. In a panic, Taro opened the box that the princess warned to never open. All of a sudden Taro aged hundreds of years and loses all the youth that he had.
Associated file (a video, audio, or image file):
Transcript of Associated File:
- There’s a story of a young man who lives on a small coastal village. Pretty typical guy. Lives by the shore. One day he sees a group of small children torturing this tiny little sea turtle that’s trying to make its way to the ocean. Like a bunch of little kids poking it with sticks and not letting it into the ocean. He goes up to him and starts arguing with them, and eventually scares them off. He brings the turtle to the water and lets it go to the water. A few days later a massive sea turtle emerges from the waves and approaches the same man and says “Thank you so much, you saved my life how can I ever repay you. Let me take you to my home” So the turtle tells the man to get one his back and they swim down into this underwater palace. Huge, magnificent palace with basically anything you could want in the world. The man meets a princess of the palace and she essentially says we’re eternally grateful, please stay as long as you want and indulge in all the amenities of the castle, and enjoy yourself to the fullest extent. And the man stays there for quite some time, just really loves the people and the princess and everything and has a spectacular time. After quite some time he decides its time for him to return home and get back to his normal life. The princess informs him that if he leaves he can never come back. So reluctantly he knows he needs to get back to his home so he reluctantly decides to leave. So the princess gives him a small wooden box wrapped up, and says “This is my gift to you, but you may never open it. You must never open it.” So he thinks this is kind of weird but he takes the box and gets brought back to the shore. He goes into his town and realizes he doesn’t recognize anyone there, everyone in the village is different. He asks around where is my family, where is my home and he realizes no one knows what hes talking about. His friends and family have long sinced passed away, and no one has seen them in many years. He’s distraught and in a panic decides to open a box in hope that it will give him some answers. He opens the box and all of a sudden he ages hundreds of years and becomes an old frail man. He loses all of his youth that he once had. And that’s pretty much the end.
- Ellis is recalling this story purely from memory so he informed us that he may be missing small details, but he covered the general idea of the story as he knows of it.
It was really interesting to hear about this story from a native of Japan. After reading on online about this story, it was interesting to see how the version that Ellis recalled was different that the versions I read online. This goes to show how folklore is dynamic and changes through time, as it is told from one person to another.
- Analysis:Applicable Laws of Folk Narrative (Orlik’s Laws):
- The Law of Three (Three children tormenting the turtle)
- The Law of Two to a Scene (Each scene will only have two speaking characters)
- Concentration of Leading Character
- Hero: Ursahima Taro
- Villain: Lack
- First Donor(s): Small turtle/Princess
- Magical Agent: None
- Dispatcher: None
- Princess: None
- The False Hero: None
Similarities with Russian Folk Tales
The main similarities between this tale and Russian folk tales mainly involve the structure of the tale. Both this tale and Russian folk tales follow many of Orlik’s Laws of Folk Narrative, such as the Law of Three and Law of Concentration of Leading Character. In addition, Urashima Taro has a lesson that it teaches, which many Russian folk tales do as well. Moreover, we see that Propp’s functions that are normally paired are still paired. For example, departure + return and violation + interdiction.
Differences with Russian Folk Tales
Ursahima Taro definitely has more differences than similarities with Russian folk tales. One thing that stands out is that Ursahima Taro does not follow the typical order of Propp’s functions. Normally interdiction and violation come very early on in Russian tales, however this tale finishes with the pairing of interdiction and violation. Furthermore, the ending of Urashima Taro was not a typical happy Russian folk tale ending. In fact, it was quite the opposite – Taro ended up getting heavily punished for his violation of the princess’ interdiction, and ends up extremely old and losing his friends and family.
Another one of the major differences is the straightforwardness of Urashima Taro. Most of the fairy tales we’ve read in class are multidimensional and have a much more complex plot. There is no real villain to Urashima Taro – the tale more or less has no suspense and is a very forward tale.
Collector’s Name: Teddy Ni
- Japanese Folktale, Children’s Folklore, Urashima Taro