Dragon Helped: Dragon King's Daughter
Origin: Japanese Mythology

History: A young fisherman named Urashima lived in a small village named Midzunoe in the province of Tango. [4] One day, he saved the life of a tortoise (some say it was a turtle). [1] Some versions claim that a few ill-spirited people turned the poor animal onto its shell and left it on the beach to die, [1] while others claim that Urashima simply caught the tortoise while out fishing. [4] The tortoise is a simple of old age and wisdom, so he treated the creature with due respect. [1]

Versions diverge again on how Urashima met the creature he saved for the second time. Some accounts say the tortoise comes to his home [1] while others say that Urashima fell asleep while fishing and the tortoise woke him by calling his name. [5] Thanking him for his kindness, the tortoise invited him to come to ryukuu (ryūkyū), the Palace of the Dragon King [5] in the Kingdom Under the Sea. [2]

The tortoise escorted Urashima to the Palace and other vassals of the Dragon King brought him in to meet their leader. [5] The Dragon King held a great feast, and he brought Urashima into another chamber where Princess Otohime and her maidens sat waiting. [5] Thought she appeared as a beautiful woman, he knew that the tortoise and this Princess were one and the same. [5]

In some accounts, the Princess explains that taking the form of a tortoise to test of a man's kindness [5] and in others she offers to be his bride because of the respect he showed to a defenseless animal. [2] Urashima married the Princess and lived in a land of eternal youth and never-ending summer in the Kingdom Under the Sea. [5]

While Urashima lived in the Dragon King's Palace, he saw many things that no mortal man has yet to lay eyes upon. Princess Otohime showed him a country where all the seasons lingered together: Winter roamed the North, Spring in the East, Summer in the South, and Autumn in the West. [6]

Some say Urashima lived in the Kingdom Under the Sea for just three days; others say it was years. [7] But no matter how much time elapsed, Urashima suddenly remembered his parents. [7] He longed to tell them about his life and his wedding. [2] His wife wept over his request to return home, [2] but Urashima insisted he would be gone for only a day to tell his parents what had become of him. [7]

Otohime presented her husband with a remembrance of her love, a box [2] called Tamate-Bako, meaning, 'Box of the Jewel Hand.' [7] She asked him to promise not to open the box, lest she never seen him again. [2] He agreed to this and took the gift happily. [2]

In some stories, Otohime takes Urashima to the surface herself in her tortoise form, [2] but some accounts have another tortoise as his escort. [7]

He found himself on a beach he knew well, so Urashima searched for all the members of his family. [2] Sometimes, he is the only child of his parents, [2] but there are other records that say he sought his brothers and sisters, too. [7] None could be found.

Urashima could only find one person who recognized his name or those of his parents. [2] A very old man told him that a younger fisherman named Urashima had indeed drowned off the coast one day, but that day had been four hundred years ago. [2] (Some accounts say three hundred years.) [7] In either case, all of Urashima's relatives had been dead for a very long time. [2]

In despair, he returned to the shore [2] to rejoin his wife, but there was no clear path for him to follow and his escort had left. [8] Uncertainty made him think that the mysterious gift from his wife was the way back to her, [8] so he opened it. [2]

A wisp of smoke, [3] or maybe a cloud, [8] appeared from the box. These were all Urashima's mortal years that had passed while he lived in the Kingdom Under the Sea. [3] They rolled away across the sea and disappeared. [8] In an instant, Urashima's youth vanished and he turned into a very, very old man. [3,8] Almost immediately, he died there upon that same short. [8]

Urashima's disappearance is dated as 477 CE with his death dated as 825 CE. His tomb, fishing-line, and casket (another gift from Otohime) are still shown at one of the temples in Kanagawa. [8]

Quick Facts

  • Urashima was a fisherman [1] who disappeared in the fifth century CE. [8]
  • Urashima saved the life of a tortoise and for this kindness received a reception at ryukuu (ryūkyū), The Palace of the Dragon King [5] in the Kingdom Under the Sea. [2]
  • He married Princess Otohime, a daughter of the Dragon King. [2]
  • He left to visit his earthly family [2] to tell them of his marriage. [7] His new bride begged him to stay, but he persisted. [2]
  • His wife gave him a gift, a box named Tamate-Bako, meaning, 'Box of the Jewel Hand.' [7] She made him promise not to open it, lest she never see him again. [2]
  • After agreeing, Urashima returned to the shore. [2]
  • He could find none of his relatives, and only one person even recognized his name. [2]
  • The old man who knew the name said Urashima had drowned at sea over four hundred years ago. [2]
  • Some accounts claim he died three hundred years ago. [7]
  • Wanting to return to his wife, he went back to the shore. [8]
  • Urashima had no clear instructions on how to return, [2] so he thought that the mysterious gift from his wife might show him the way. [8]
  • The box actually contained all his mortal years; this is why he had not aged in the Kingdom Under the Sea. [8]
  • When he opened the box, he broke a sacred promise to his wife. [8] Urashima allowed the years to escape, and he died immediately on the shore as a very, very old man. [3]


  1. Piggott 123
  2. Piggott 124
  3. Piggott 125
  4. Davis 324
  5. Davis 325
  6. Davis 326
  7. Davis 327
  8. Davis 328

For more information on footnotes and references, please see the bibliography.