The Monkey and The Jellyfish

In Japanese folklore there is a tale that explains why jellyfish have no bones. The story begins with the Dragon King who lives in his beautiful palace beneath the sea. Because he was lonely, he sent his fish retainers out to find him a dragon princess, which they did. The couple married and lived very happily for some time, until the princess became ill. The fish doctor said the only cure required the liver of a monkey.

From 'The Jelly-Fish Takes a Journey' illustrated by Warwick Goble.

In those ancient times jellyfish had legs and a shell like a tortoise and they could walk on land as well as swim in the sea. Because of this the Dragon King sent a jellyfish on a mission to catch a monkey living on Monkey Island and return it to the palace under the sea. The jellyfish was scared but he was able to convince a monkey that the wonders of the undersea palace were worth seeing and so the monkey jumped on his back and they headed out to sea. 

Illustration from 'The Silly Jellyfish' by B. H. Chamberlain.

Part of the way there, the jellyfish asked the monkey if he had his liver with him. Becoming suspicious the monkey asked what was going on and the jellyfish told him everything. At this point, the monkey said he’d left his liver back on monkey island and so the jellyfish turned around so they could go back and get it.

'Monkey Clinging to a Vine on a Pine Tree, Watching a Wasp' - Rokubei.
 
Of course the monkey ran to safety up a tree and the jellyfish realised he’d been tricked. He returned the to palace emptyhanded. The Dragon Kind was furious and ordered that the jellyfish have all his bones removed and be beaten mercilessly. And that is why the jellyfish has no bones and is the shape it is today.

Illustration from 'The Silly Jellyfish' by B. H. Chamberlain.

Detail from 'Tale of the Monkey's Liver' - Utagawa Toyohiro, 1800.

Illustration from 'The Silly Jellyfish' by B. H. Chamberlain.
 
From 'The Japanese Fairy Book' illustrated by Kakuzo Fujiyama.

Detail from 'Tale of the Monkey's Liver' - Utagawa Toyohiro, 1800.

From 'The Japanese Fairy Book' illustrated by Kakuzo Fujiyama.

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