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The Fisherman and the Sea Creature

With heavy taxes due to the Shogun to support the upper classes, the peasants were often strapped for money to feed their own families and lived a life of subsistence, working from day to day and unable to grow in wealth or raise their position in life.

But for one resourceful fisherman, whose name has been lost in history, he was not satisfied with his lot in life and was determined to increase his wealth. He knew that his countrymen were interested in the odd and strange, not unlike today with fantastic claims of UFO sightings, Loch Ness, or Big Foot.

As a fisherman, he knew much about the sea and the glimpses of unknown creatures that lied beneath the waves, creatures that glowed like heavenly goddesses, leviathans that sank ships, and ghosts of drowned sailors that wanted others to face the same fate.

But unfortunately, without any proof, the talk of sighting was only empty words and stories that were not worth much financially. He needed visual proof for what the eyes saw was infinitely worth more than what the mouth spoke.

Stealthily he went into bamboo forests where the wild monkeys lived high above within the fronds and managed to capture and kill one. Next, he needed a fish from the sea, the biggest catch of the day, which as a fisherman, he obtained in no time.

He hid the two carcasses far from the sight of the other villagers, not a particularly easy thing to do considering how closely spaced the houses were and the constant movement of people on the streets. At night, when his family was asleep and his neighbors retired for the night, the fisherman took out the dead animals. He began to cut the upper torso off from the monkey and the tail from the fish.

With precision he acquired from fixing the nets and tack of his gear, he sewed the two parts together like a Japanese doctor Frankenstein. But unlike Frankenstein’s monster—poorly stitched and upper-lapped folds of skin ill-matched—the two parts of the sea monster was perfectly merged into one, so much so that it was impossible to detect under ordinary inspection that it was merely two creatures attached as one. In the end, a new creature was born, albeit a dead one.

And so on the next day, he gathered about him whomever would listen to a fantastic story of an unusual creature he had caught just that morning: one that was half fish and half man. Only for a small price would he show it to anyone interested. The crowd laughed at such a claim and started to walk away, but there were others who thought that losing a bit of change was worth seeing the outrageous claim of this fisherman, at least having the satisfaction of debunking him.

So for those who paid, the fisherman took out a bundle, wrapped in a wet cloth and told them to gather around. When the creature was revealed, men, women, children all cried out in horror and awe. The story was true after all. Word soon got out and villagers from far and wide came to witness such a freak of nature.

But it did not end there, for although the money made was substantial from the paid viewings, the fisherman’s idea of profiting from the creature later came to full bloom. This is what he told them:

When I pulled up the net, the creature was still alive, but barely, since it was out of it native environment, but just before it died, however, it spoke to me and it prophesied the future. In years to come, there will be much fertility: rice crops will be ample, catches of fish will double or triple. But following such rich years, there will be years of epidemic, when food will be scarce and diseases will spread. The only way to remedy these years of was to have in possession the marine prophet’s likeness.

And so in what must have been one of the most lucrative business ideas devised by a Japanese peasant, the sale of these pictured “mermaids” took off and the money received filled of his coffers of the fisherman's chest. Even the Dutch at its colony in Deshima became interested and bought this unusual creature from him, where from there it was shipped to Batavia, another Dutch colony in present day Indonesia. There it fell into the hands of an American, who brought it to Europe and in 1822 and 1823, exhibited this mermaid to every capital in Europe to “the admiration of the ignorant, the perplexity of the learned, and the filling of his own purse.”

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