This is a well-known story in the Oki Islands. It’s a story about Yurahime Shrine on Nishinoshima, but it is said to have originated on Chibu. They are both small islands to the west, and Nishinoshima is one of my favorite hiking spots in Japan. Despite all the semi-wild horses that roam Nishinoshima, the island’s mascot is a squid.
One day, Yurahime, who was said to be a daughter of Susano-o*, floated out to sea in a wash bucket for potatoes. What she was doing in the bucket, I do not know.
Along the way, she amused herself by lightly dipping her hand in the water. A squid thought it would be funny to mess with her and yanked on her hand. Some say that it bit her.
As punishment for that one squid that picked on her, giant groups of squid has to gather in the harbor right in front of Yurahime Shrine every year.
(*Some people say that this is another name for Suseri-bime, but I don’t see much to back this up, and that’s just asking for more confusion. At least I’m pretty sure she’s not a potato.)
I don’t know, if I were Yurahime and was trouble by the squid teasing me, I probably would not want bunches of them showing up at my door step.
This is a real occurence, though. So many squid would show up in this harbor that, from the Meiji period through about 1945, there used to be about thirty fisherman’s’ shops set up annually right around the harbor to wait for them, and they come in huge group into such shallow water that they can just put on a pair of rubber boots and then scoop up bucketfuls with their hands.
However, the squid eventually figured this out and stopped flooding the harbor. Or at least, they don’t do it as often any more. Every few years it still occurs, it seems.
However, even if this phenomenon is not quite what it used to be, squid fishing is still a big, big thing on the Oki Islands (and other places along the Sea of Japan coast of the San’in region).
Especially around Oki, fishing for them at night is very common, and they use boats with lots and lots of giant light bulbs. They’re really massive, cool looking things that are also used for decoration around some spots on the islands, and their light is so bright that the seasoned squid fishers have tanned skin from working all night right under them. The squid think that this bright light is daylight and come to the surface, only to caught. Who is the joke on now, squids?
I didn’t used to like squid, but I’ve come to appreciate it while living here, the translucent raw squid that is often served as part of a sashimi course at fancy dinners. For those looking to try it for the first time, dried squid is nice. One of my earlier interpreting jobs was explaining how to gut the things and prep them for drying, but I didn’t do it myself.
My most distinctive San’in squid memory was last December, on a winter night spent at the Takobana cottages in Shimane-cho, overlooking the Sea of Japan from high cliffs. While making hot pot and playing games with my coworkers and waking up to the sound of the waves was nice, we all shared a strange experience looking out at the sea that night and seeing the bright white lights on the horizon. In the sky, however, they were straight, vertical lines of white light, not reaching down to the horizon and not reflecting off of any visible clouds. If we were not away that it was squid abduction going on, we all would have been convinced that it was alien abductions going on.