Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Japan's version of Rip van Winkle

The tale of Urashima Taro (or Taro Urashima, in English name order) is a old Japanese fairy tale that's been around in one form or another for hundreds of years. In the story, a man who saves a turtle from a group of tormenting kids is rewarded by being spirited away to an undersea kingdom where he enjoys lavish feasts and various entertainment. Eventually he decides he's had enough, but when he returns home, he doesn't recognize his old village or any of the people there. Things there have changed completely. Upon asking around, he realizes that he'd been away for decades, and all his family and friends have died. He spends the rest of his days in the village as a lonely outsider--a stranger in his own village.

Today, the name "Urashima Taro" is used for anyone who feels behind the times or reminisces about a time or a place that is no longer the way one remembers it. For instance, I was called an Urashima Taro on two separate occasions when I recently visited Oita City, where I had first lived in Japan (as an exchange student), and commented on how much the city had changed since I first lived there in the mid-'80s.

It's no fun being an Urashima Taro. But what's really scary is the thought that my life today will be just as different once an equal amount of time has passed.

—Mellow Monk

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