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Some days, it seems like everything’s cuter in Japan. After all, this is the country where some construction crews feel if they have to shut down part of the street, the best barricades are the ones shaped like a procession of purple and pink kimono-wearing princesses.

There’s an exception to this rule, though, and it’s mermaids. In the West, they’re portrayed as enchanting beauties of the deep. In Japan, though, they were traditionally treated like yokai, ghostly monsters, as this collection of Japanese mermaid paintings has a few that would be better stars for horror movies than kid-friendly animated musicals.

Japan had extremely limited contact with the rest of the world until the late 1800s, meaning that it’s tales of ningyo developed separately from European legends of mermaids. In fact, ningyo literally translates as “fish people,” and some paintings show the creatures looking a lot more like the former than the latter, like this 18th century example from woodblock artist Toriyama Sekien.

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Other artists went with a slightly more even ratio between human and fish parts, while adding other flourishes such as horns.

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▼ That’s a lot of hair to shampoo without any arms.

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Unlike mermaids with their treasure-filled castles beneath the waves, ningyo weren’t generally held to have much in the way of a civilization. Perhaps because of the animal-like form they were sometimes said to have, rumors spread about eating ningyo, which was said to bless the diner with extreme longevity or even immortality.

That doesn’t mean every fisherman was doing his best to catch a tasty ningyo, though. Because of their status as monsters, encountering a ningyo was thought by many to be an ill omen of dark days to come. This fearsome image continually crept into paintings of the creatures up through the end of Japan’s feudal era.

▼ Gwah!

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▼ Double gwah!!

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Time marches on, though, and eventually the people of Japan realized the oceans weren’t teeming with the sort of beasts shown directly above. The woodblock prints of Utagawa Toyokuni, who was active around the turn of the 19th century, at least show ningyo with attractive faces, even if they still have the bodies of gigantic fish.

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Finally, Kasho Takabatake was born in 1888, well after Japan’s period of enforced isolation ended, would depict mermaids as they’re known in Western art: with the torso and hips of a beautiful woman blending into a fish’s tail.

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With most of today’s youth more interested in Disney films than Japanese folktales, it’s unlikely that mermaids will revert back to their former position as objects of terror. Still, with Halloween coming up, should you find yourself walking down a shadowy back alley, where you’re drawn into a mysterious sushi restaurant you never noticed before, we’d recommend passing on the ningyo.

Source: Japaaan
Top image: Wikia/Crara (edited by RocketNews24)
Insert images: Blogzine, Exblog, Cocolog Nifty, Crara, Seesaa