the online database of Japanese folkore

Toyotama hime

豊玉姫
とよたまひめ

Translation: luxuriant pearl princess; priestess filled with abundant divine spirits
Alternate names: Toyotama bime

Appearance: Toyotama hime and Tamayori hime are the daughters of the sea god Watatsumi in Shintō mythology. They live in the undersea palace of Ryūgū, and like their father, their true form is that of an enormous dragon called a wani. However, they are usually depicted in art in human form, wearing the garb of ancient Japanese princesses.

Origin: Toyotama hime and Tamayori hime appear in both Kojiki and Nihon shoki, Japan’s oldest written mythologies. They are important figures in Shintō, being the grandmother and the mother of the Japanese imperial line.

Toyotama hime’s name literally means “luxuriant pearl princess,” but it also implies a priestess who is filled with an abundance of divine spirits. Tamayori hime’s name also refers to holy women who are possessed by powerful divine spirits—illustrating these sisters’ importance in Shintō mythology.

Due to the many similarities between the story of Toyotama hime and Otohime from the Urashima Tarō legend, Otohime is often thought to be modeled after Toyotama hime.

Legends: One day a hunter named Hoori from the surface world visited Ryūgū. He came to ask the sea god for permission to search the grounds of Ryūgū for the fish hook that he had borrowed from his older brother Hoderi and then lost. By a well in the gardens of Ryūgū, Hoori encountered Toyotama hime. They found each other to be very beautiful, and were soon married.

Hoori lived with Toyotama hime in Ryūgū for three years, but then remembered his quest to find the missing hook and he grew depressed. Tamayori hime told her father the sea god, who asked Hoori what was wrong. Hoori explained his problem. The sea god summoned all of the fish in the ocean and asked if any of them had seen the hook. A tai complained of a pain in its throat that was preventing it from eating. Upon inspection, a hook was discovered lodged in its throat. It was the hook that Hoori was searching for. The sea god returned the hook to Hoori. He also promised Hoori that he would send rain upon his fields and make him rich, while denying rain to his older brother’s fields. He lent the tide-controlling jewels manju and kanju to Hoori to defend himself against Hoderi’s attacks. Then he set Hoori on the back of an enormous dragon for his return trip to the surface world.

Sure enough, the sea god’s interventions caused Hoderi’s harvests to grow poor and poorer while Hoori’s grew richer and richer, spurring Hoderi to attack Hoori. Using the power of the tide-controlling jewels, Hoori raised the tide and drowned his older brother, forcing him into submission. Only when Hoderi promised to serve Hoori for the rest of time did Hoori lower the tide again.

During this time Toyotama hime became pregnant with Hoori’s child. When her delivery grew near, she and her sister Tamayori hime came to the surface world on the back of a giant turtle to give birth. She asked Hoori to build her a birthing hut thatched with cormorant feathers along the shore, but she went into labor before he was able to complete it. Toyotama hime entered the hut. She informed Hoori that to give birth she must return to her natural form, and she asked him not to look upon her while giving birth. But Hoori could not resist. He peeked in on her and saw his wife in the form of an enormous wani, eight leagues long, creeping and writhing about on her belly.

Toyotama hime was ashamed at having her true form revealed. Although she desired to remain on the land, she returned to Ryūgū, leaving her newborn child behind. When she left, she closed the path that linked the land and sea kingdoms, forever separating them. Toyotama hime felt angry and betrayed, but she still loved Hoori. So she asked Tamayori hime to care for the child in her place. Tamayori hime nursed and raised her nephew, who came to be known as Ugayafukiaezu. When he grew up, he married Tamayori hime. They had four children together, one of whom became the legendary Emperor Jimmu, first emperor of Japan.

Alphabetical list of yōkai