Unlike Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty, most Japanese tales or myths do not end with a “happily ever after” scenario. There are more than 34,000* stories in Japan, and most of them with a purpose of educating children about the concept of “what comes around, goes around.”
One of the most memorable, yet shocking, “what goes around comes around” stories I heard was Princess Tatsuko (a.k.a. Tatsuko Hime), a myth passed down for more than 1,000 years. My uncle told me the story in front of the main character’s [Tatsuko] statue, at Lake Tazawa in Akita, Japan (350 miles north of Tokyo). And the story goes as follows.
Myth of Princess Tatsuko
Tatsuko was a charming, bubbly girl who helped her mother in a small village in Akita Prefecture under the name of Innai. She enjoyed nature by running through the fields and finding changes in seasons as a source of inspiration and well-being.
One day, Tatsuko stopped by a pond and saw her reflection on the mirror-like surface of the water, which made her discover, for the first time, how beautiful she was. Despite the joy of this discovery, Tatsuko suddenly started having a fear of aging, which would add gray hair and wrinkles to her beautiful glowing skin. She ran into the temple and prayed for 100 consecutive days asking the divine forces to endow her with eternal beauty. On the 100th day, Tatsuko finally heard a voice from the Goddess instructing her to drink the water from the well located far away on the north side.
Being thirsty for eternal beauty, Tatsuko decided to say goodbye to her mother, left the village for good and went on a journey to find the well. During the trip, she heard spiritual voices from nature advising her to return home. However, stubborn Tatsuko ignored these voices and persistently continued walking for three days until she finally found the well.
As soon as Tatsuko reached the well, she hurriedly drank all the water. Then suddenly, the Goddess emerged in front of Tatsuko. The Goddess felt sympathy for desperate Tatsuko and made her wish come true. The Goddess gave Tatsuko an eternal beauty by turning her body into a dragon with an immortal life in return. Ever since then, Lake Tazawa has always been beautiful with clear water and never frozen, despite the Akita cold winters, because the Dragon Princess Tatsuko resides in the water. The end.
Like Princess Tatsuko’s myth, most Japanese stories conclude with the main character being punished when he/she cannot resist a temptation, breaks a taboo or becomes greedy. There are also good-ending stories with an underlying message that being kind to people or being brave to fight villains will bring you fortune and happiness. Normally, stories have an unusual character or unrealistic drama for people to remember the moral of the story, just like Tatsuko’s case.
In a real world, nobody turns into a dragon as Tatsuko did; however, there is a phrase to portray a scary woman as “dragon lady.” Tatsuko could be one of the dragon ladies because she was obsessed with beauty so much that she chose to abandon her family. I think everyone may have a similar risk, once in a lifetime, for becoming a dragon. And of course, I do too have that moment to become a dragon lady once a year. So guess when? Well, if you want to know, you need to come to Macy’s department store in November of this year when the Black Friday Mega Sale starts. I will see you then. Grrrrr….
*Source: Number of stories published on “Nihon Mukashi Banashi Taisei” by Keigo Seki, Kadokawa Shoten, 1978-1980
Photo: Flickr – yamamomo007