Long, long ago, there was a man called Urashima Taro, who was about 24 or 25 years old. He supported his parents through fishing.
One day, he saw some children teasing a turtle by the water’s edge. Although he had only a very little money on him, he gave it to the children, and set the turtle free.
The turtle offered to take Taro to the Dragon Palace under the sea, to express his thanks. So Taro climbed on the turtle’s back, and went to visit a huge palace under the sea.
When he was taken inside, a princess came out to greet him. Taro was welcomed and given many delicacies to eat, while watching dancing and other performances by sea bream and flounders. In this way, he passed several very pleasant days with the princess.
However, feeling worried about the parents he’d left behind, one day Taro said he wanted to go home. The princess was very disappointed, but granted Taro his wish. And, as a parting gift, she gave him a treasure box (dressing case), telling him, “You must never, ever open this.”
Taro got on the turtle’s back again, and went back to the beach near where he had lived. But the village he had lived in was nowhere to be seen, and of course neither was the house in which he had lived.
He didn’t know any of the people he saw passing by either. And when he asked at a house about the Urashima family, he was told that an old tumulus nearby 塚 was the grave of a Taro Urashima’s parents.
The time Taro had spent at the Dragon Palace was just a few days in the undersea experience, but in earth time, a whole 50 years had passed! Deeply disappointed, Taro felt that if he just opened the box, his old home and everything else would come back again. So he broke his promise and opened the box. But when he did, white smoke swirled out of the box and Taro became an old man with white hair.