As interpreted by Mizuki Shigeru (statue located in Sakaiminato).

Another youkai* that comes from the sea, this one has typically been sighted around the Hirata area of the Shimane Peninsula (now a part of Izumo City).

Not to be confused with a mermaid (a big distinction is made in this part of Japan), she is the hideous half-fish, half-woman “wife of the sea” (or the wife of Umibouzu, a sea monster that has been spotted throughout Japan). She is capable of living on land for several days at a time and even speaks the local dialect, and she walks around carrying her offspring with her. With fish scales all over and long, human-like hair, it is said that she took the form of a women who had drowned in the sea. More specifically, in Iwate Prefecture in northern Japan, she was said to have brought to shore the corpses of fishermen supposedly killed in a storm at sea, and their wives were so distraught that they threw themselves into the sea–only to turn into Uminyoubou themselves. Another story goes that a young boy lost his father when he was very young, and his mother went missing. Years later the boy became a fisherman, and when he went out to sea, an Uminyoubou appeared. She had tears in her eyes and said, “You’ve grown up well.”

In the Izumo sightings, she is said to enter peoples’ houses while they are out, and holding her baby in one hand she uses the other hand to steal and eat salted fish, which she shares with the baby. Apparently she prefers it salted rather than catching it fresh herself.

There was also an account of a man in Uppurui (which would later be a part of Hirata), who returned home early and noticed the Uminyoubou from outside as he approached his house. He peered in and saw her and her baby eating the fish, and she grumbled, “Where is the man? I wanted to eat him first.” Sounds a little like an old mountain lady we know.

* – “Youkai” is a blanket term for a Japanese monster. It may or may not include demons and ghosts, as these have their own terms, but they also get included in the general mix of inhuman creatures who make up much of Japanese folklore and who are responsible for mysterious happenings. Kami (gods) are similar in that they are spirits who influence our daily lives and may be angered or pleased, but while a kami might be considered pure, a youkai would be a more impure, occult creature–many look like deformed humans or objects, and this strangeness can make them quite unsettling. However, that also makes them interesting, and has driven people throughout history to name and classify them.

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