One of the first things that pops into Westerners’ minds when they think about Japan is the image of the samurai. The revered military nobility of Japan for centuries, these stoic warriors have long had myths and legends associated with them even in their home country, of battling strange monsters, but some of these tales seem to point to something decidedly more rooted in the real, and leave the impression of being historical cases of actual strange creatures. Samurai are often depicted as engaging in battle with a variety of legendary beasts, but in some cases it seems that the creature involved was perhaps not legendary at all, but rather a genuine mystery monster.
Sprawled out over northern Chiba Prefecture, Japan is a vast wetland wilderness called Inba Tega Prefectural Natural Park, which includes within it the Inba Marsh and the Tega Marsh. An important habitat for numerous species of bird and other wildlife, the park passes through the municipalities of Abiko, Inzai, Kashiwa, Narita, Sakae, Sakura, and Shisui, making it one of the largest wetlands in the country. It is here among the marsh, mud, and reeds, where a rather curious and violent incident occurred in the early 19th century.
At an exhibition at the Kawasaki City Museum entitled Japan’s Mythical Creatures- Accounts of Unidentified Organisms, there was a curious old account from 1834 concerning a strange and terrifying animal lurking in these marshlands, located not far from the bustling city of Edo, which would become the bustling metropolis of Tokyo, Japan. This 1834 account tells of a group of samurai who were guarding the digging a canal near the Inba Marsh in Chiba prefecture, Japan, when they were ambushed by a mysterious and quite vicious, seal-like monster. The samurai were overseeing the digging of the canal, protecting it as per their lord’s orders when the workers stumbled across a massive, seal-like creature wallowing in the reeds and muck of the marsh, the likes of which no one present had ever seen.
The abomination was described as being around 5 meters (16.5 feet) long, with a heavy set and muscular seal-like body, thick leathery skin, and clawed flippers. The face was said to be quite hideously ugly, like the twisted visage of a monkey, with a squashed nose, heavy brow, and a mouth full of formidable fangs. Whatever it was turned out to be highly aggressive, and according to the account upon being found it immediately sprang up out of the mud and reeds with a startling speed belying its large size to savagely attack the workers. When the samurai rushed to confront it, it fiercely attacked and killed 12 of them with tooth and claw in a display of breathtaking ferocity. The stunned group of samurai reportedly fought back, hacking at it with their swords in unison even as it wildly lunged at them, and were eventually able to drive the vile thing off, leaving bloodied bodies and grievously injured men in its wake.
The samurai regrouped, tended to any wounded, and immediately launched a party to track down and slay the vicious beast that had attacked them. They equipped themselves and slogged off into the reeds and mud of the marsh heavily armed with swords and pole weapons, this time fully prepared for whatever the hulking creature was, although the uneven footing made progress slow and tiring. The immediate area of the massacre turned up few signs of the mysterious creature other than some tracks that were described as if a great snake had dragged itself through the sludge, but this was enough to encourage the men to trudge on. Although it was impossible to tell what blood was the creature’s and what belonged to the fallen men, some of the samurai were nevertheless confident that the beast had indeed been injured in the initial violent encounter and were confident they would catch up to it
Allegedly, as the sun began to set and dusk crept across the land to lengthen the shadows and slowly bathe them in encroaching darkness the hunting party of samurai entertained the thought of heading back in failure, but something out there in the darkening reeds suddenly let out an ominous, unearthly bellow the likes of which none of the men had ever heard. The sound had come from not far away, and rather than frightening the warriors it instead compelled them to set up a camp on a relatively dry patch of land in order to continue the hunt the following day. Throughout the night strange howls and groans were apparently heard out in the night, as well as something large splashing and crashing through the marshland, making it a undoubtedly a rather tense and unsettling evening. The leader of the group purportedly became convinced that it was circling them and prepared to go confront it but thought better of it and stayed with his men.
The next morning the samurai were eager to head out and slay the creature, and they fanned out into the marsh once again. However, on this day they were not able to find any sign of the creature that they had heard wailing and thrashing about in the night, except for some flattened reeds. They apparently searched the whole day for the mystery animal but were unable to find it and when they made it back to their starting point, muddied and weary from their ordeal, they did so empty handed. No further mention of the creature can be found, and it remains a rather odd little historical oddity that seems to have been mostly forgotten.
What did these honorable warriors encounter out there in the marsh? What sort of beast could fell 12 armed samurai and then live to escape their wrath? Indeed, where did it go and what became of it? This seems to be one of those historical accounts lost to time and with no possibility of ever finding an answer. One might even be tempted to attribute it to the already numerous stories of legendary samurai encounters with monsters, but this particular account seems decidedly grounded and realistic. It seems that this may be an actual historical account of some unknown and very violent mystery animal, and yet it will probably remain forever beyond out ability to solve.