Once, long ago in a Japanese village where the Sea of Japan flows into the East China Sea, there lived an old fisherman named Katsumi. Each morning, for as long as anyone remembered, Katsumi would go quickly down to the seaside at sun-up and cast his net into the ocean. The moment the net touched the water, it would be teeming with fish. For you see, Katsumi, whose name meant “win the sea”, had a special bond with creatures of the ocean. Fish happily swam into his nets, making easy work for him. And because Katsumi had no need to work long hours fishing, he spent his day, instead, combing the beach for a special treasure to give to his wife, Hana, upon his return home at the end of each day. He collected splendid colors of sea glass, or exquisite shells and driftwood with which to gift her; his only desire was to see Hana’s face beam with surprise and delight when she saw his daily treasure. Katsumi did this, not only because he loved his wife with all his heart, but, because he believed these gifts would make up for the one gift Hana could never have – a child of her own.
One day, however, on a not so very peculiar day, a very peculiar thing occurred. When Katsumi cast his net into the water, nothing happened; nothing at all. Not one fish swam into the net. Though quite unusual, Katsumi thought that, perhaps, the fish were still sleeping and needed a little more time to awaken. So, he happily set out to find his treasure for Hana. He searched hour after hour, only to find nothing; not one piece of sea glass or shell or piece of wood could be found on the shore. This saddened Katsumi greatly, for he had no treasure that day for Hana. Still, he reasoned that at the very least he would be able to give her the fish he had caught, so he went back to gather his net. The closer the net came to shore, the more Katsumi realized that the it was still completely empty. Not one fish, why not even the tiniest speck of seaweed had drifted into it! Dumbfounded, he thought for a moment about what to do next. It would soon be dusk and much too dark for fishing. He thought that, perhaps, if he said a prayer to the sea and cast his net again, he might have better luck. So, he closed his eyes, bowed his head, clapped his hands three times and prayed for Susanoo and Suijin, deities of the sea, to give him just one small precious gift for his Hana; for he could not return home to her empty handed, not that day or ever… He cast his net again and waited.
Suddenly the winds began to howl and the sea began to rage. Katsumi feared that his only net would be swept completely out to sea, so he began pulling on it with all his might. As soon the net reached the shore, the tumult stopped and before him was a glittering white clam shell tangled inside. In all his years of fishing the oceans, he had never seen anything as spectacular. Katsumi was delighted, because although he had not caught a single fish, he at least had his daily treasure for his beloved Hana. He eagerly loaded it into his rickshaw and ran towards home. Unable to contain his joy, Katsumi began yelling, well before he reached his house, “Hana-san, Hana-san! Come see what I’ve brought you, my dear wife, a real treasure!” His excitement made the other villagers curious to see what Katsumi had found. Before long, everyone in the village had stopped what they were doing to follow behind Katsumi, and joined him in calling for Hana to come quickly so they, too, could see Katsumi’s treasure. What Katsumi did not know was what treasure lay inside… Upon hearing the commotion, Hana opened the door of their house to find the entire village at her doorstep! Katsumi began wildly explaining the events of his day, until he finally lifted the net out of his rickshaw to show her the clamshell. Hana’s eyes grew wide with disbelief at the sight of such a beautiful shell! It was white, the color of snow, and its edges were encrusted with grains of sand that glistened like the diamonds. Everyone agreed that this was the finest clam shell ever to be found in all of Japan! The crowd shouted for Katsumi to open the shell to show them the pearl which surely must be inside. Above the roar of the crowd, Hana thought she heard a soft song being sung. She hushed the crowd to listen closely and to her amazement, the lovely song they heard was that of a sparrow and it was coming from inside the shell! “How in the world”, she thought, “could a tiny bird get trapped inside a giant clam shell?…”
While Katsumi pondered how to open the shell, Hana began echoing the song she heard arising from within it. She gently stroked the edge of the shell when suddenly it opened revealing not a bird, but a small merchild singing a lovely siren-song that told of the sea. She had hair the color of coral and blue-white eyes the color of white-caps. Her body and half of her tail was a deep magenta; the other half of her tail was ocean blue. . . Upon her head sat a whelk shell crown of green and white. And in her tiny hand she held a conch shell scepter, snapper-red in appearance. Upon seeing this unusually beautiful, but clearly orphaned royal, merchild, Hana’s heart was filled immediately with a love so intense, she swept the child into her arms, holding her tight to her chest; thankful to finally have a child of her own. Through tears of joy and gratitude to the gods of the sea and Katsumi, Hana gave thanks for the greatest treasure she had ever received. But she knew that no matter how much they would love her, they would never be able to keep this child with them, since she was born of the sea. She chose the name, Nanamiko, which meant “child of the seven seas”, to bless her with safety and happiness all her days.
And happy she was! From that very moment on, Nanamiko, accepted Hana and Katsumi as her parents, although they were quite old and not at all merfolk. They taught her to speak like them and use her tail to walk on the land. Nanamiko spent each day singing and swimming along the shore watching Katsumi cast his net and helping look for Hana’s treasure-gift. Hana, Katsumi and Nanamiko were as happy as any family could be. Their days were filled with love and laughter; never a tear was shed. That was until, on a not so very peculiar day, a very peculiar thing occurred.