Mermaids are a part of myth and folklore in many cultures around the world. In Japan, legends from centuries ago tell stories of frightened fishermen encountering these mysterious creatures of the sea, and unlike the modern images we have of beautiful mermaids, most of the Japanese creatures were downright scary, evil, and ugly, as if straight out of a horror movie.

Because of its geography, Japan has always had a very close relationship with the waters that surround the islands. For this reason, stories about ningyo, or human-fish, abound from centuries ago. These stories, which are tales told by seamen and fishermen, are not of the romantic or mystical kind, but ones of absolute horror and fear. The Japanese mermaids are described mostly as being beast-like and grotesque, more of a cross between a fish with a monkey, not a beautiful woman like the mermaids of Europe and elsewhere. They would be deformed, usually lacking a torso at all, with the lower body of a fish and human-like head attached to it, sometimes with horns or fangs. Some of them were known to shape-shift, able to turn into a beautiful woman. The woman would seduce a fisherman to go swimming with her, then turn into a giant jellyfish and kill the poor guy in the dark ocean waters. 

But of course, these mermaids did have their qualities. Legend has it that some cried tears of pearl, and anybody who consumed the flesh of a mermaid was said to attain eternal youth. However, no written records exist on how they tasted or how they were prepared. Judging from their looks, probably not that tasty. 

Not exactly sexy

Another beauty

Specimen of Japanese mermaid on display


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Come with me for a swim?

A fake specimen of a Japanese mermaid