the online database of Japanese folkore

Akaei

赤えい
あかえい

Translation: red stingray
Habitat: open oceans
Diet: unknown

Appearance: Akaei are titanic fish which live in the Pacific Ocean. Their bodies can reach 10 to 12 kilometers in length. Physically they resemble stingrays, but they are so large that they are often mistaken for islands.

Behavior: Akaei spend most of their lives on the ocean floor. Every now and then they swim up to the surface and shake off the sand and rocks which have collected on their backs. This creates a maelstrom as the fish’s great mass displaces huge amounts of water.

Interactions: Sailors frequently mistook surfaced akaei for islands–a mistake which was often fatal. If a ship got too close to an akaei as it surfaced or sank, the ship was almost certain to be destroyed in a great wave, or sucked down to the bottom of the sea in a whirlpool.

Origin: Akaei’s description comes from Ehon hyakumonogatari, a picture book of strange tales published in 1841.

Legends: A ship departing from Awa (today the southern tip of Chiba Prefecture) was blown off course during a typhoon. Although the sailors survived, the ship was heavily damaged and they needed to find repairs. After the storm had passed, the sailors spotted a island. They made for it, hoping to perform some badly needed repairs on their ship. When the sailors set foot upon the island, they were surprised to find no humans anywhere. Even stranger, the trees and bushes growing on the island were like none they had ever seen before, and their branches were covered in algae. All of the cracks and crevices in the island’s rocks contained pools full of different kinds of fish.

The sailors marched around the island for hours, covering many kilometers. They found no trace of buildings or people anywhere. When they tried to slake their thirst in one of the many ponds, they discovered that every bit of water on the island was salty. Eventually, they gave up any hope of finding repairs on the island. They returned to their battered ship to seek help elsewhere.

No sooner did the sailors depart the island, when it sunk straight down into the sea. The sailors didn’t realize it at the time, but they had been walking on the back of an akaei.

Alphabetical list of yōkai