the online database of Japanese folkore

Ryūgū nyōbō

竜宮女房
りゅうぐうにょうぼう

Translation: wife from Ryūgū

Appearance: Ryūgū nyōbō look like young, beautiful, human women. However, their ordinary appearance belies their their amazing abilities. As the daughters of powerful magical creatures from the undersea kingdom, they have magical powers and are able to call upon their families for any kind of aid they might need.

Interactions: Ryūgū nyōbō are sent by their parents to live on the surface world as wives or as housemaids—usually as a repayment of some gift or favor. They are kind and loving, and use their magic to help whenever they can. Houses into which a Ryūgū nyōbō marries become prosperous overnight thanks to the rich dowries they bring. They can also produce anything you ask for, either by retrieving it from the sea, or by using the wondrous magical trinkets they possess. Unfortunately, this power often attracts the attention of greedy politicians, who try to steal the Ryūgū nyōbō and make her their own.

Origin: Ryūgū nyōbō stories are part of a broad genre of folktales concerning marriage between humans and supernatural creatures. The story below comes from Kōchi Prefecture, and similar tales can found in every part of Japan and throughout East Asia. Most Ryūgū nyōbō stories follow the same general pattern while altering various details.

Legends: Long ago, an old man and his son lived in a destitute hut by the sea. At the end of the year they ran out of food, so the son went into the mountains to cut firewood to sell in the market on New Year’s Eve. However, the wood was too green and would not burn, so he was not able to sell any. A fishmonger took pity on the poor young man and offered to trade one of his fish for the firewood. The young man happily exchanged the wood for the fish, and started home.

On the way back, the fish began to thrash violently. The young man took pity on the poor creature and released it into the sea. When he arrived, his father was waiting with a fire ready to cook whatever he brought back from the market. The old man was surprised to see his son empty-handed, but after hearing what happened he said that he did the right thing.

That night, the old man and his son sat by the fire, hungry. Suddenly there was a knock on the door. A beautiful young woman entered the hut and said to the young man, “Please, would you take me as your wife?”

The young man refused. “We are so poor that we don’t even have food for New Year’s. We are in no position for me to take a wife.”

The beautiful woman clapped her hands three times, and suddenly three bales of rice appeared outside of the house. It was more than enough rice for the new year. The old man and his son were overjoyed, and they welcomed the young woman into their family.

Soon, the story of the miraculous powers of this wife spread through the land. The local lord summoned the young man to his castle. “Have your wife make me a bolt of fabric finer than anyone has been woven,” he ordered. “If she can not, then I shall take your wife instead.”

When the young man told his wife of the lord’s command, she clapped her hands three times and produced the finest cloth that had ever been woven.

The lord was so pleased with the cloth that he wanted to meet the woman who wove it. He summoned the the old man, the son, and the wife. Upon seeing the young woman, he thought she was the most beautiful woman he had ever laid eyes upon. He told them, “I will take this woman as my wife. If you don’t like it, then deliver me one thousand bales of rice immediately.”

The old man and his son were at a loss. However, the wife clapped her hands three times, and in an instant one thousand bales of rice appeared, neatly stacked.

Upon seeing this, the lord desired the woman even more. “If you won’t give her to me, then bring me something not found in this world!” he demanded.

The young woman clapped her hand three times. Instantly the room filled with monsters—some with one eye, some with long noses—who gobbled up the lord and all of his retainers.

The wondrous young bride had been sent from Ryūgū as thanks to the young man for saving the life of the fish.

Alphabetical list of yōkai