In the movie Ponyo when Sōsuke brings the fish he rescued to the nursing home his mom works at and shows it to the old ladies in wheelchairs, the grumpy old lady screams that a fish with a [human] face will bring a tsunami and demands he throws it back into the ocean.

Is this a real Japanese wives' tale, or just a quirk of this movie?

  • 1
    There's a Japanese culture site in SE, maybe you could try posting there?
    – apoorv020
    Sep 2, 2011 at 5:43
  • 7
    @apoorv020 There isn't a Japanese culture site. There's Japanese Language, but it's specifically about the Japanese language; cultural questions are allowed only inasmuch as they are relevant to learning the language. I've advertised this question on their chat room, always a possibility for questions that are related to the theme of another site.
    – user56
    Sep 2, 2011 at 6:27
  • I believe there is a legend or myth yes. I remember seeing something on discovery or NatGeo about it (could have been 10 years ago) but I do not remember what exactly it was. I do seem to remember it being about the japanese fishing culture. This was before the recent dolphin/whaling sh**storm so it was at least 5 years ago. I beleive the legend was if you released the fish unharmed all would be fine but if you kept it or it died then it would bring a giant wave to destroy your home. Though it may have been the reverse.
    – Chad
    Sep 2, 2011 at 19:49

3 Answers 3


It's probably a Ningyo.

From the linked Wikipedia article:

Ningyo (人魚, "human fish", often translated as "mermaid") is a fish-like creature from Japanese folklore. Anciently, it was described with a monkey’s mouth with small teeth like a fish’s, shining golden scales, and a quiet voice like a skylark or a flute. Its flesh is pleasant-tasting, and anyone who eats it will attain remarkable longevity. However, catching a ningyo was believed to bring storms and misfortune, so fishermen who caught these creatures were said to throw them back into the sea. A ningyo washed onto the beach was an omen of war or calamity.

  • This seems like the best answer.
    – Kalamane
    Jun 25, 2017 at 19:31

There's a mythical creature called a Namazu - a giant catfish.


According to Japanese myth the cause of earthquakes is the giant catfish Namazu or Namazu-e (the second term refers to the woodcuts of Namazu) living buried in the underground. Namazu is one of the yo-kai (in a very broad sense translatable as "monster"), creatures of Japanese mythology and folklore that were associated or caused misfortune or disasters. By moving his tail he can shake the entire earth and unfortunately he loves to cause trouble and havoc.

A giant catfish is not the same as a cute little fish with a human face, but this is the closest I can find.

Maybe I missed something on the wikipedia page? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_legendary_creatures_from_Japan

The wikipedia page does have many creatures that appear in Studio Ghibli films.


Hayao Miyazaki is known for his fairy tale styled movies. They are not actual fairy tales, but they draw many elements from fairy tales. He also takes inspirations from modern fantasy authors.

I don't think there may be a popular folktale about a fish with human face. But there are several creatures in many cultures/gods that have fishes with human face and some of them are quite capable of creating violent storms and other sea disasters. Hayao Miyazaki may have taken inspirations from them. Examples of such creatures/gods are: Mermaids, Sea Nymphs, Water Sprites, Sirens, Dagon (god), Kappa (Japanese water spirit) etc.

Also the Disney DVD page says it is based on The Little Mermaid (may be a selling point).

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