The tale of Urashima Taro presents several moral lessons. First, the narrative teaches that helping others does not always pay. Instead, the person who offers a helping hand may subsequently reap misfortunes for his/her kindness. For example, Taro saves the Princess’ life but ends up being mistreated by the Turtle. She rewards him with a box that contains a mirror. “[Taro] looked in the mirror and saw by a surprise that he had become an old man” (Seki 114). He is deceived! Moreover, Taro’s experience demonstrates that one should commit to good deeds without expecting a positive reward.
On the other hand, the themes of love, time, and human existence are essential in this narrative. Love, for instance, is shown to be a human quality, which can fade away. For example, when the story begins, Taro lives with his mother. The “mother-child bond” is so strong that Taro wonders whether he can abandon her mother. He says, “If I went to the dragon kingdom, my mother would be all alone. So, I cannot go,” (Seki 114). However, Taro finds himself in a new environment in the company of the Princes. With his new companion, Taro forgets about the mother, and the intimacy between them subsequently vanishes fast. Seki writes: “[…] days passed without [him] noticing until three years had gone by” (Seki 113). Nevertheless, hebecomeshomesick, causing him to recall his mother. Moreover, at this point, “time” shown to an essential subject in regards to human existence. In particular, “Urashima Taro” illustrates that no one can reverse “time” once it is gone. Similarly, humans cannot return to their previous lives. For example, Taro leaves home when he is barely forty. By the time he returns home, he is old, and his mother is long dead. Thus, humans are seen to have a life span.
Seki, Keigo, ed. Folktales of Japan. Vol. 7. University of Chicago Press, 1963.
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