Immortality and consumption are often intertwined, the myth of Yaoya Bikuni (translated into the 800 year nun/priestess) is one such instance. The Japanese myth tells the story of a fisherman who catches a strange fish, he then serves it at a dinner he is hosting. There are different variations of this story but the most common is that one of the guests notices that the fish has a human face and that they should not eat it and so the fisherman throws it away yet his daughter finds it and eats it, unintentionally becoming immortal.

The second version is the dinner guests rather than advise against eating the fish, slip the meat into their pockets. One of the guests when arriving home is met with his daughters demands of a souvenir and in his drunken state gives her the mermaid meat he had put in his pocket. His daughter becomes immortal, living a life of loneliness retaining her youthful appearance but watching all her loved ones die until 800 years pass. She wanders the country planting trees in every place she visited until finally settling in one place and planting the last batch of trees. In some stories she kills herself but like most folktales the variations are endless.

Yet, in every story happening upon immortality is one through consumption but it is also unintentional and the outcomes are always negative. The Japanese myth surrounding the mermaid in relation to eternal life is that mermaid flesh itself is thought to have “special powers” which includes eternal youth and life longevity. When relating it to other myth of immortality there is the fountain of youth, or the philosophers stone. All of them have a recurring theme of not just longevity but eternal youth. Apparently one cannot have immortality without youthfulness, and that is the desire is to not age, and if somehow becoming immortal to not be ‘old’. Whereas with consumption everything we consume is to live longer, to be healthier, and arguably to stay youthful especially in appearance.

But immortality as a curse is interesting, we desire longevity and youth but in most cases when it is given there is never any satisfaction or happiness involved. With Yaoya Bikuni, she goes through life marries multiple people, and watches all her loved ones die, why would anyone opt for immortality if everyone you know and care about would cease to exist. Another interesting twist is the version in which after 800 years she ceases to exist, it is unclear whether or not it is suicide but there is an implication of wanting death and inevitably it finds her. She loses her will to live but it takes her 800 years, but there is still the underlying theme similar to suicide in which overcoming death by not wanting life is an almost release.



Fraser, Lucy. “Lost Property Fairy Tales: Ogawa Yoko and Higami Kumiko’s Transformations of “the Little Mermaid”.” Marvels & Tales 27.2 (2013): 181,193,348. ProQuest. 14 Mar. 2017

Two Tales of Mermaid Meat