Japanese mythology also has mermaids. However, this mermaid is not as beautiful and sexy as Greek mythology but extremely strange.
Ningyo, which means fish-man (also known as gyojin or hangyo-jin), is a creature from Japanese folklore. Ningyo is comparable to mermaids in Western legends. However, even though both evoke the idea of a creature that is half human and half fish, there are differences between them.
Mermaids in Western legends and myths are often depicted as beautiful, enchanting creatures that often lure men to their deaths. But in Japanese folklore, ningyo is not like that, not only in appearance but also in how it interacts with people.
As depicted in the stories, ningyos appear to be less charming than western mermaids. It is said that the ningyo has the upper half of a monkey and the lower half of a fish. However, that’s not the oddest depiction of the Japanese mermaid’s appearance.
In some localities, people believe that ningyo has no human body at all (not even an ape’s body). Instead, they just have a human/ape/reptilian head attached to the body of the fish. Sometimes these heads are depicted in a way that is also out of the ordinary. The ningyo’s head has a simple shape/horns/has razor sharp fangs.
There is also a type of ningyo called amabie/amabiko. This type of ningyo has a beak and is covered with scales from the neck down.
Legend has it that ningyos have many mystical abilities as well as many magical aspects ascribed to them. For example, they often cry out pearls. There are also some ningyos, like amabie, who are rumored to be able to predict the future. A story recorded in the 19th century tells the following: it is said that the amabie heralds both good harvest and disease. Besides, to avoid disease, people often draw it.
In addition to the above types of ningyo, there are some other types that are gentler, can transform and have the ability to seduce and lure men into the sea.
The story of the 800 year old
Although rumored to have many special powers, ningyo’s most famous ability is longevity. It is believed that just eating ningyo meat will give you immortality, or at least a long life. There are many different stories surrounding this belief. The most famous is the story Happyanku Bikuni (meaning “800-year-old nun”).
The story goes that once upon a time there was a fisherman who caught a ningyo. He invites friends over to his house for a meal, but does not reveal to them that they will be eating ningyo meat. His friends all guessed that he was invited to eat ningyo by the host, so they did not touch chopsticks. Even so, the fisherman’s young daughter ate meat. So by the age of 15, the girl did not grow any more. She later became a nun, traveled everywhere and died at the age of 800.
The story of ningyo at Tenshou-Kyousha Temple
The ancient Japanese believed in the existence of ningyo, they even had proof of its existence. Currently, at the Tenshou-Kyousha Shrine in Fujinomiya, there is still a body believed to be that of a ningyo. According to legend, once a prince met ningyo. The dying creature, when it saw the prince, told him where the ningyo was born. This ningyo capital is a fisherman. Because he accidentally trespassed the sacred waters to fish, he was cursed and turned into a ningyo.
The fisherman had learned his lesson, so he suggested to the prince to put his body in some temple for display. By doing so, people who visit the temple and look at his ningyo form will be reminded of the sacred life. However, this is probably a Japanese-made mermaid specimen, similar to the Fiji mermaid.