Story Cue Card


Story: “Urashima” in Japanese Fairy Tales.  By Lafcadio Hearn.  New York:

Horace Liveright, 1928.


Ethnic Origin: Japan


Running Time: Approximately 10 minutes


Power Centers:


  • Fear when the Daughter of the Deep Sea kidnaps Urashima.
  • Anticipation when the Daughter of the Deep Sea will not let Urashima go home.  (This anticipation builds as she tries to convince him to stay with her.)
  • Relief (short-lived) when the Daughter of the Deep Sea allows Urashima to go home and he is on the way home to see his family.
  • Fear that builds when Urashima searches in vain for his family and discovers that everything in the town has aged.
  • Sorrow and Hopelessness when Urashima realizes that his children are dead and that much time has passed while he has been gone.  These feelings continue when Urashima discovers that there is nobody left to comfort him, and that he also must die.


Risks I Plan to Take with This Story:


1) Rather than being tentative with the emotions in this story, I want to work hard to truly feel the way that Urashima feels in the story, so that I can successfully convey the powerful emotions that he is feeling—fear, sorrow, and hopelessness.


2) I want to be sure to retain the tale’s beautiful, formal, descriptive style.  Rather than rushing through the story and focusing only on the action (as I tend to do when I am nervous), I want to include descriptive phrases.  I also want to keep the beautiful, formal sound of the story by including the words and phrases listed in the “Special Phrases/ Flavor” section of this cue card.  I want to include these elements in a very natural way, so that the tale does not sound “rehearsed” or “memorized.”


3) I want to make sure that the dialogue in the story flows smoothly.  Although I want to move my head slightly to demonstrate that one character is talking to another, I don’t want this movement to go overboard, as it did in my Frog Prince, Continued story.  Also, I want to differentiate the two characters that are talking by a slight difference in pitch, but I do not want this differentiation to go overboard either.


4) I want to work hard to maintain eye contact with the audience, in order to draw them into the story.




1) Urashima the Fisherman

2) The Daughter of the Deep Sea

3) Groups of People that Urashima Approaches (Villagers, Children, and Men outside of town)

4) Old Man


Scenes: (All of the scenes describe Urashima.)


1) Fishing – Kneels down in boat, drifts to haunted place, moon makes him mad

2) In Sea Cave – Daughter takes him, pleads 3 times until he agrees to stay

3) On Seashore – Daughter brings him up, gives him casket, says not to open it

4) Runs Home – Runs happily under pines, calls to children, they don’t answer

5) At his House – Finds only 4 walls, area overgrown, thinks he’s lost his mind

6) In Town – Folks greet him as a stranger, looks for children but can’t find them

7) Outside Town – Nobody has heard of him, old man says he drowned long ago

8) At Graveyard – Sees graves of sons and sons’ sons, nobody to comfort him

9) At Seashore – Nobody to comfort him, opens casket, grows old and dies




            One night when Urashima the fisherman is out in his boat, he kneels down and dabbles his hand in the water, paying no attention to the fact that his boat has drifted to a haunted place and that the moon is making him mad.  Then a lady comes up from the sea and takes the fisherman down with her to her cave.  She identifies herself as the “Daughter of the Deep Sea,” and she pleads with the fisherman three times to stay with her, saying that he is beautiful, that she will let him reign with her as King of the Deep Sea, and that he has nothing to fear.  Each time, he says that he needs to go home to his family.  Finally, when she begins to cry, Urashima says that he will stay one night.


            After the night has passed, the Daughter of the Deep Sea brings Urashima back up to the land and gives him a small casket to remember her by, telling him not to open it.  Urashima runs home happily under the pine trees, calling to his children with a call that he has taught them.  He is surprised and concerned when they do not answer.  When he arrives at his home, he finds nothing but four walls covered with moss, and flowers and grass growing inside.  He begins to panic and wonders if he has lost his mind.  He sits down inside his house and thinks about where his wife and children could be.


            When he goes to the village, he does not recognize any of the people, and they all greet him as a stranger.  He looks at the faces of the children playing, but none of them are his children.  Then he goes to the crossroads outside the town and pulls each man that passes aside, asking him if he knows of Urashima.  Each man says that he has not heard of him.  Then he asks an old man, who says that Urashima drowned long ago, and that his sons are dead and their sons are dead.  Urashima runs to the graveyard, where he finds his sons’ graves and their sons’ graves.  He realizes that there is nobody there to comfort him.  He runs to the seashore and realizes that there is nobody there to comfort him either.  He opens the casket, and a faint white smoke rises from it.  In a moment Urashima grows old—his hair turns white, his body shrinks, and his eyes grow dim.  He lays down upon the sand and dies.


Special Phrases/"Flavor" to Include:


1) Wording of the beginning: “Urashima was a fisherman of the Inland Sea.”

2) Formal wording throughout the text—use of words such as “upon,” “thou,” and “nay,” and occasional inversion of sentences, such as “Low he leaned,” rather than “He leaned low.”

3) Repetition of Urashima’s phrases: “Let me go home.  My little children wait and are tired” and “Ah, now.  Let me go, for the dear gods’ sake.  I would go to mine own.”

5) Repetition of the Daughter of the Deep Sea’s phrase: “Urashima, thou fisherman of the Inland Sea.”

6) Repetition of the phrase “No man more dead than he” by the Old Man and by Urashima.

7) Wording of the ending: “He laid down his length upon the sand and died.”


Audience: Adults


This story is appropriate for adults because it features adult protagonists, and because it includes the following issues that adults face:


1 Loss of Magic: In this tale, the magic of the casket is irretrievably lost when Urashima opens it.  Adults can relate to this loss of magic in a symbolic way because it represents for them the loss of the magic of childhood that they have felt as they have entered the real world and taken on the tasks of adulthood.  For instance, the magical world in which food is placed on the table for them to eat has been replaced with a world in which they must work eight hours a day to pay for that food.  And the magical world in which they can play with friends all day and have few responsibilities has been replaced with a world in which they are responsible for going to work, paying bills, and taking care of children.  According to Allan B. Chinen in his article “The Message of Midlife Tales,” the theme of Loss of Magic is a theme that is often present in midlife tales and thus particularly appeals to listeners who are in their middle years.


2) Loss of Children: In this tale, Urashima must deal with the loss of his children.  This issue is one that many adults must face in various forms.  Some parents must deal with the actual death of a child, other parents must deal with an adolescent that turns away from them, and almost all parents must eventually deal with children who leave home to start their own lives.  This nearly universal experience of parents would enable most parents to identify with Urashima.  And because, according to Erik Erikson, the activities of middle adulthood generally revolve around “child rearing” and “giving of oneself to the next generation,” themes having to do with children in any way would particularly appeal to adults of this age group.  Also, as Allan B. Chinen notes, the theme of “disillusionment and loss” is one that is often present in midlife tales, and thus particularly appeals to listeners who are in their middle years. 


3) Mortality: In this tale, Urashima must deal with his mortality when he realizes that the smoke from the casket has made him old and that he is going to die.  All adults, at some point, must deal with the inevitability of their own mortality, as they realize that they are getting older and that, at some point, their lives will end.  In fact, Allan B. Chinen pointed out that the theme of dealing with mortality is a common theme in midlife tales, and thus particularly appeals to listeners who are in their middle years.  And Rafe Martin, in his “Telling Tips” for the Urashima story in Holt and Mooney’s Ready-to-Tell Tales, mentions that “the story . . . draws upon the awareness of aging we all carry deep within us” (68).  


4) The Passage of Time: In this tale, Urashima must deal with everything that has happened in the village during the years that have passed while he was under the sea.  Although real-world adults do not have to deal with the passage of time in such a sudden, brutal way, they do have to deal with it in other ways.  For instance, adults must deal with children growing up, with memories fading, and with relationships disintegrating over time.  Rafe Martin particularly focuses on the importance of this theme in the Urashima tale when he says, “One is saying by the act of telling, ‘This is true.  Time changes all.’ “


5) Loneliness: In this tale, Urashima must deal with the loneliness that he feels when his wife and children are gone and there is nobody left to comfort him.  All adults have had to deal with loneliness at some point.  Adults feel loneliness when they are young and move away from people they love to start a new life, when they are middle-aged and face the loss of parents and other older adults, and when they are older and face life without spouses, siblings, and other friends.



Bibliographic information on other versions/variants:


Versions of the Japanese tale, commonly known as “Urashima,” “Urashima Taro,” or “Urashima the Fisherman.”


The Fisherman Under the Sea.  By Miyoko Matsutani.  Illustrated by Chihiro

Iwasaki.  English version by Alvin Tresselt.  New York: Parents’ Magazine Press, 1969.

“Urashima the Fisherman” in Japanese Tales.  Selected, edited, and translated

by Royall Tyler.  New York: Pantheon Books, 1987.  p. 154-107.


“Urashima the Fisherman” in Tales Alive!  Ten Multicultural Folktales with

Activities.  Retold by Susan Milord.  Illustrated by Michael A. Donato.  Charlotte, Vermont: Williamson Publishing, 1995.  p. 103-107.


“Urashima the Fisherman” in Wonder Tales from Around the World.  By Heather

Forest.  Illustrated by David Boston.  Little Rock: August House Publishers,

Inc., 1995.  p. 31-34.


“Urashima Taro” by Rafe Martin in Ready-To-Tell Tales.  Edited by David Holt

and Bill Mooney.  Little Rock: August House Publishers, Inc., 1994.  p. 64-68.


“Urashima Taro” in Folktales of the World.  Edited by Keigo Seki.  Translated by

Robert J. Adams.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963.  p. 111-114.


“Urashima Taro” in Mysterious Tales of Japan.  By Rafe Martin.  Illustrated by

Tatsuro Kiuchi.  New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1996.  p. 5-11.


“Urashima Taro” in Old Tales of Japan: Volume 1.  By Yuri Yasuda.  Illustrations

by Yoshinobu Sakakura.  Japan: Dai-Nippon Printing Co., 1947.  p. 63-92.


“The Young Urashima” in Japanese Tales and Legends.  Retold by Helen and

William McAlpine.  New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.  p. 106-120.



Russian variant of the “Urashima” tale, in which Sadko, a musician, travels beneath the sea to the Sea King’s palace to play music for him.  Sadko decides to return to his home to live rather than to accept the king’s offer to marry his daughter because, if he kissed or embraced the princess, he could never go home again.


The Sea King’s Daughter: A Russian Legend.  Retold by Aaron Shepard. 

Illustrated by Gennady Spirin.  New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 1997.



Brief comparison of all versions/variants in terms of language, rhythm, "tellability," "flavor," content, etc.


Differences in Style:


            There are significant differences in the style of the various versions of this tale.  In the first place, there are differences in the formality of the language used.  The version of the tale that I chose to tell (the Hearn version) uses the most formal language.  The text is peppered with rather antiquated words, such as “upon,” “thou,” and “nay,” and sentences are occasionally inverted: for instance, the text says ““Low he leaned,” rather than “He leaned low.”  In my opinion, although it is difficult for the teller to use this formal language without making the tale sound memorized, the formal words give the tale a very beautiful sound as well as a smooth, rolling rhythm, like the waves of the sea upon which Urashima is fishing.  For this reason, this version of the tale is the most “tellable.”  Other versions of the tale, such as the Tyler and Martin versions, as well as the Shepard variant, use somewhat less formal language, but language that is still more formal than that which is used in everyday conversation.  For instance, Martin’s version begins with “Once there was a poor but kind-hearted fisherman, named Urashima Taro.”  These versions are still quite tellable, but lack the beauty of Hearn’s version of the tale.  Finally, several versions of the tale, such as the Yasuda version, use extremely informal language, similar to language used in everyday conversation.  For instance, Yasuda’s version begins with “Urashima Taro was a poor fisherman.”  It also includes phrases such as “weird looking.”  In my opinion, these informal versions do not sound very pleasant to the ear and therefore would be poor choices for telling.


            Another significant difference is in the length of the tales.  The version of the tale that I chose to tell (the Hearn version) is fairly short and can be told in less than ten minutes, which makes it a very tellable tale.  The Tyler, Seki, Forest, Milord, and Martin versions are also quite short and, therefore, very tellable.  However, the McAlpine, Yasuda, and Matsutani versions, as well as the Shepard variant, are quite long and are therefore less tellable.  It would be impossible to tell any of these versions and variants in less than fifteen or twenty minutes.  The authors of these versions and variants have made the tales longer by adding many more details throughout the text, adding dialogue throughout the text, and specifically adding more details about the main character’s time in the land under the sea. 


            The other main difference between the tales is in the specification of location and time within the text.  The Tyler version of the tale gives the most details about when and where the story occurred, giving the province and the town, as well as the exact year.  The inclusion of this information would serve to make the listeners feel as if this story really did occur.  Several of the other versions, such as the Seki, Milord, and McAlpine versions, as well as the Shepard variant, include information about the location where the tale supposedly took place.  Although these versions do not include information about the time in which the story took place, they still include enough details to give the tale a “real” feel.  However, the other versions of the tale, including the Hearn version that I chose to tell, do not give details about the province or town in which the story took place.  The exclusion of this detailed information serves to give the story a somewhat less “real” feel at the beginning.



Differences in Content:


            There are many significant differences in the content of this tale between the various versions.  One significant difference is that, in all of the tales except for the Hearn version that I chose to tell, Urashima is chosen to come to the other world (either under the sea or in the sky, depending on the version) because he has rescued a turtle.  The inclusion of the turtle is so significant because it introduces the theme of a reward into the story: Urashima is rewarded for his kindness to the turtle by getting to visit the other world.


            Another difference between the versions of the tale is in Urashima’s role in the decision to stay in the other world rather than to return home to his family.  In the Hearn version that I chose to tell, the lady begs Urashima to stay, and he finally stays one night as a favor to her, but he does not ever actually want to be with her; he spends his whole time in the other world wanting to go home.  However, in all of the other versions of the story, Urashima wants to stay with the lady and stays there with her a long time (three years in some versions) before deciding to go home.  This difference in content is so significant because, in all of these versions, some of the blame for Urashima’s fate must be placed on Urashima, while in Hearn’s version, most of the blame for Urashima’s fate must be placed on the lady, making Urashima’s fate that much more tragic.


            The third main difference between the various versions of the tale is in the endings of the story.  In the Hearn, Martin, and Forest versions, when Urashima opens the box, he grows old, and either dies or turns to dust.  This makes for an extremely tragic end to the story, because Urashima’s time on this earth is over, and he does not get another chance at happiness.  In the Matsutani, Yasuda, and McAlpine versions, however, Urashima grows old but does not die.  This ending is also extremely tragic, but it still leaves the possibility open that Urashima might have a few years of life left.  In the Milord and Tyler versions, the lady’s image floats out of the box and up to the sky, and Urashima realizes that he will never see the lady again.  Although this ending is obviously tragic as well, it is still possible that Urashima will have quite a few years of life left with which to find some type of happiness.  In the Seki version of the tale, although Urashima grows old, he then turns into a crane and is visited by the lady in the form of a turtle.  Although the ending is still tragic, this version of the story ends on a somewhat higher note than the other versions because it allows for at least one more visit between Urashima and the lady.


            The content of the Russian variant of the tale is significantly different from the content of the Japanese tale.  In this variant, although the main character gets to visit the land under the sea, he is able to resist the temptation to stay there and marry the Princess and instead chooses to return to his home.  He is ultimately rewarded for this decision because he becomes the richest man in his city, marries a wonderful woman, and has a beautiful family.  Thus the happy ending of the Russian variant is a stark contrast to the tragic ending of the Japanese tale.