the online database of Japanese folkore

Teruto uo


Translation: shining helmet fish
Habitat: freshwater lakes and ponds
Diet: omnivorous

Appearance: Teruto uo are holy mermaids with the bodies of carp and the heads of human women. They are found in sacred freshwater lakes and ponds.

Origin: A legend of a teruto uo from Izumo Province was recorded by Englishman Richard Gordan Smith during his travels through Japan.

Legends: In 1646, a man named Ōtani Jinnai and his wife Oryō lived in Matsue, Izumo Province. Although they tried for many years, they were unable to have children. They visited many shrines and temples to beg the gods and buddhas to grant them a child. They heard that the gods of the Ōkamiyama Shrine on Mount Daisen had a miraculous effect on couples wishing to conceive, and so Jinnai and Oryō climbed Mount Daisen to ask for the gods’ favor.

As they descended the mountain, the air began to grow foggy. Around Akamatsu Pound, they could no longer see where they were headed and had to wait. A beautiful woman emerged from the mists and asked them what they were doing. When they explained their reasons to the woman, she produced a bottle of water from her robes. She told them it was holy water collected from the drew drops on the grass around Akamatsu Pond and offered to the gods of the Ōkamiyama Shrine on New Years Day. She said that if Oryō drank it, she would surely be blessed with a child. Oryō eagerly drank the water. It made her head spin as if she was drunk, but within moments she felt different. She felt that she was with child. A moment later, the fog had cleared away, and the beautiful woman was nowhere in sight.

The following year Oryō gave birth to a beautiful girl they named Ochiyo. Jinnai and Oryō loved her dearly. They told her all about how she was a blessing from the gods of Mount Daisen and Akamatsu Pond. The three of them lived happily together, and eventually Ochiyo grew into a lovely young woman.

When Ochiyo was sixteen years old, she was promised in marriage to a young man that Jinnai chose. Ochiyo did not love her intended or want to marry him, but she also did not want to betray the wish of her parents. She did not argue with her parents’ selection, but before the wedding was to occur she asked her parents to allow her to make a pilgrimage to Ōkamiyama Shrine to report her marriage to the gods who gave her life. They agreed, and sent her nanny Osuma to accompany Ochiyo on the journey to Mount Daisen.

Ochiyo wore her finest kimono, and with Osuma by her side she traveled to the summit of Mount Daisen and gave prayers to the gods. On the way down from the mountain, she crossed the same location where her parents had encountered the strange and beautiful girl who gave them the holy water. Ochiyo approached the edge of the pond and stared into it. Suddenly, a thick mist poured off of the pond’s surface and surrounded Ochiyo.

Ochiyo seemed to ponder something in the mist. She turned to Osuma, then thanked her and said goodbye. “I was born into this world as a human, but this is only a temporary form. I am actually a fish, and this pond is my real home.” She gave Osuma a letter to deliver to her parents, and then she dove into the pond. Osuma screamed and begged Ochiyo to come back. Then, a giant carp with shining, golden scales splashed around in the lake and looked up at Osuma. Its face was unmistakably the face of Ochiyo.

Osuma returned to Matsue. She told Jinnai and Oryō what had happened, and they were overcome with sadness. Osuma deliverd Ochiyo’s final letter to her parents. In it, Ochiyo thanked her parents for everything, and explained that because she was a teruto uo, she could not marry a human. Finally, she told them that if they ever wanted to see her again, all they had to do was come to the bank of Akamatsu Pond and call her name. Although it was difficult, Jinnai and Oryō accepted their daughter’s confession. They were thankful to the gods of Mount Daisen for giving them a lovely daughter. Jinnai built a shrine in honor of the teruto uo and entrusted Ochiyo’s letter to it.

Some time later, Jinnai and Oryō and their relatives traveled to Akamatsu Pond. They gathered at the water’s edge and called out, “Teruto uo!” From the depths of the pond came a thunderous roar as if in response. However, they never saw Ochiyo or the teruto uo again.

Since then, many travelers have come to Akamatsu Pond on Mount Daisen in order call out teruto uo’s name. And Jinnai’s shrine became a popular destination for couples and single people to pray to the gods for love.

Alphabetical list of yōkai