Mermaid Monday: Legend of the Japanese Ningyo/Ningen

blackwhitesketchThis week we turn our sights to the Far East and examine mermaid legends from Japan. In some cryptozoology tales these fishy maidens sound like monsters, while in others they are quite beautiful. What should we believe?  Let’s take a look!

Depending on the source you consult, the Ningyo, also known as the Ningen, can be either very beautiful or really really ugly.

AsianMermaidBeauty and the Beast

The positive side of the story describes them as a water fairy with a human face while the rest of the body resembles a fish. This fairy is supposed to love luxury and sensuality which is reflected in the diaphanous silk gowns they wear. Their temperament is usually happy and content, but they sometimes become unhappy and when they cry, their tears transform into pearls.

On the negative side, they are sometimes described as looking like a cross between a monkey and a fish, having gold scales and making a sound that resembles that of a flute. They cannot speak, however.

Ningyo01The Japanese tales tell how delicious their flesh is and they insist it is magical. Supposedly if you eat it, you become immortal.

In order to eat one, you have to catch one first. And that act can generate other problems according to fishermen who say they throw it back into the sea if they catch one. Another legend says catching a Ningyo or Ningen will bring the fishermen bad luck, misfortunes, and tragedies. It can also be an omen indicating an approaching storm.

PT Barnum and the Fiji Mermaid

In 1842, the ultimate showman displayed what he said was a mermaid caught off the South Sea’s Fiji Islands. The hype surrounding the oddity was big. People swarmed to the exhibit ready to view a voluptuous sea maiden only to find something quite different.

The display showed the head of a monkey set upon the body of a fish. It was ugly and bizarre all at the same time.  People were disappointed to say the least.

Ningyo02It turns out, this “Fiji Mermaid” was one of many fakes created in Asia. They would take the head of a monkey and literally sew it onto the body of a fish, then dry the monstrosity.  The practice dates back to the 16th Century.

Barnum’s mermaid was destroyed in a fire in the 1860s, but it is said to have looked very much like the artwork left. According to Wiki, “The original had fish scales with animal hair superimposed on its body with pendulous breasts on its chest. The mouth was wide open with its teeth bared. The right hand was against the right cheek, and the left tucked under its lower left jaw.” Lovely.

Another dried out monstrosity appeared on the scene in 1975 and to this day people insist it’s a real mermaid.  I think we know better, though, don’t we? Mermaids are beautiful! They are not monkey heads sewn onto the bodies of fish.

Well, this is another fruitless “whale of a tale,” but I will keep looking for more definitive proof that these lovelies from the deep do exist!

See you next Monday! Tail slap!


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