Circa 1850


Seated on his turtle, waves lapping around them, and carrying under his arm the lacquer box which would seal his fate when he opened it, signed.

H. approx 4 cm


- Private collection, United Kingdom
- With us, pre-2021


Urashima Tarō (浦島 太郎) is the protagonist of a Japanese fairy tale (otogi banashi), who in a typical modern version is a fisherman rewarded for rescuing a turtle, and carried on its back to the Dragon Palace (Ryūgū-jō) beneath the sea. There he is entertained by the princess Otohime as a reward. He spends what he believes to be several days with the princess, but when he returns to his home village, he discovers he has been gone for at least 100 years. When he opens the forbidden jewelled box (tamatebako), given to him by Otohime on his departure, he turns into an old man.


The tale originates from the legend of Urashimako (Urashima no ko or Ura no Shimako[a]) recorded in various pieces of literature dating to the 8th century, such as the Fudoki for Tango Province, Nihon Shoki, and the Man'yōshū.


During the Muromachi to Edo periods, versions of Urashima Tarō appeared in storybook form called the Otogizōshi, made into finely painted picture scrolls and picture books or mass-printed copies. These texts vary considerably, and in some, the story ends with Urashima Tarō transforming into a crane.


Some iconic elements in the modern version are relatively recent. The portrayal of him riding a turtle dates only to the early 18th century, and while he is carried underwater to the Dragon Palace in modern tellings, he rides a boat to the princess's world called Hōrai in older versions.

Netsuke of Urashima Taro on his turtle by Kagetoshi