Ningyo: The Mythical Mermaids of Japan

Western readers will probably be familiar with the Folklore of Mermaids. These mysterious sea creatures are not just unique to western lands however. The Ningyo, which translates as human fish, is a creature in Japanese folklore which is quite similar to Western Mermaids.

In Western folklore, mermaids are widely portrayed to be incredibly beautiful, seductive beings that would lure men to their deaths. The Ningyo however, tend to differ in appearance with every story told, and the way they interact with humans seems to also vary, in relation to different people. There is no solid state in which they seem to appear.

Generally, the Ningyo more cloesly resemble fish than humans, with an ugly, deformed fish-like face, to human torso’s and fishes tails. They are also said to have sharp claws and long bony fingers. This in contrast to the beautiful seductive creatures of the west, the Ningyo are hideous to look at.

Sightings of the Ningyo date back to the earliest written histories of Japan. The earliest sightings are recording in the Nihon Shoki, dating back to 619 CE.

There are also tales of the magical abilities of the Ningyo. One common story is that the flesh would grant eternal life and youth to those who eat it. People wouldn’t be so eager to try catch one though, it’s said that the Ningyo were powerful beings, who could put a powerful curse on those who tried capture them. Stories tell of towns that were destroyed by earthquakes and tsunami’s after a Ningyo was captured and brought back by fishermen.

The Ningyo were also said to be able to cry tears of pearls, as well as having the gift of prophecy. This of course, if you were able to catch one and somehow survive the curse.

Whether you read about the Mermaids of western or eastern folklore, these sea creatures are definitely beings you would want to stay away from.