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© Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen, The Netherlands

Figure of a ningyo, the “human fish” - Japan, 1800–1823

Cartographers and writers often illustrated their works with images of sea monsters and fantastic creatures allegedly appearing to or even attacking sailors. Even Columbus claimed to have seen three mermaids, ‘not as pretty as they are depicted’. In the 19th century, Japanese ‘mermaids’ were still presented in curiosity chambers and museums in Europe and America. In Japanese culture, ningyo were believed to possess mystical abilities. Papier mâché and cotton around a wooden frame, completed with (bovine) intestine, human hair, parts of shark jaws and fish skin.