Posted on Tuesday, November 30, 2010, under

Urashima Taro

‘Urashima Taro’ is based on a well-known Japanese folk tale about an honest fisherman who rescues a tortoise and is thus invited to an underwater castle (Dragon Palace) where he is welcomed by the mysterious Lady Otohime. The story dates back to the 8th century, Nara Period. It has inspired various artists throughout centuries, including painters, film-makers, writers, puppeteers. Here is a selection of works influenced by the Taro legend. 

urashima taro & the princess of dragon palace by hokusai

urashima taro by kuniyoshi

urashima taro by utagawa kunisada

urashima taro by edund dulac (1916)

Then there is this short animation made in 1931!


The tale of Urashima Taro is also reflected in more contemporary works, such as Wilde’s ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’. The thematic link as presented by ‘szlogolept’ on his/her blog page:

The point of convergence between the two is the containment of the ageing process, in case of Urashima Taro his passing years are stored in a tamatebako and for Dorian Gray his painting carries the burden of his style and manner of living. But the resemblance ends there. The Picture of Dorian Gray lapses into the eternal struggle between the good and the evil, the devil and the divine, whilst Urashima Taro is a sweetly tragic fantasy where a man gives up immortality and a beautiful and joyous life to answer the call of his filial obligations.

The tragedy being, of course, that he has given up immortality too little too late. 

Yet another link, a very contemporary one indeed: the story of Urashima Taro, recreated with human sized puppets in the style of the Japanese Bunraku, aided by Kamishibai, a form of paper theatre, is currently being performed in the UK, by 'Rouge28 Theatre', a company of international theatre artists based in London! That’s right, CURRENTLY, as we speak (so to speak)! This particular show includes only a single performer plus various dolls and props. If you are lucky to be in England this autumn/winter of 2010, you can find more details on the company and the show, including a video of Urashima Taro, here:
Definitely the darkest version of Urashima Taro. The video is also available on You Tube:

The company is touring England in November and December, with the final show on Saturday 18th December at ‘Rich Mix’ in London. Damn, wish I were there.

Final footnote: the tale of Urashima Taro is told through pictures actually painted on a wall overlooking Lake Saromarko, an inlet southeast of Mombetsu, Hokkaido. Behind lies the Okhotsk Sea. Well, if you ever happen to set foot on the island of Hokkaido...

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