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The Most Bizarre Mystery Phantoms and Monsters of Japan

Japan has rightly earned itself a reputation as a wellspring of the weird, of that there can be no doubt. Of special interest here is all of the strange creatures and entities said to inhabit this land, ranging from mysterious monsters, to phantoms, to everything in between. Many of these odd tales blur the lines of myth, legend, and reality, but all of them are incredibly bizarre facets of a land already brimming with the weird and the unusual.

When talking about strange Japanese cryptids perhaps it makes sense to start with one of the more well-known mystery creatures of the islands. One of the most famous of the Japanese cryptids is a type of snake known as the Tsuchinoko, also known by a plethora of other regional names such as nozuchi or bachi-hebi (in Northern Honshu), tsuchi-hebi (in Osaka), and many others. The Tsuchinoko is said to inhabit the deep, remote mountains of Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu islands as well as some parts of the Korean peninsula, and is reported to be around 2 to 3 feet in length, most commonly described as being a mottled black or rust color, and with a bright orange belly in many cases. The scales are said to be large and prominent, the mouth resembles a grin, and horns or ears above the eyes are often mentioned. The eyes themselves are usually described as being very large and sometimes as being somewhat mesmerizing.

Perhaps the most unique trademark characteristic of the Tsuchinoko is the shape of the body, which is somewhat flat, bulging and rounded in the middle, and tapering off to a short tail often described as looking like the tail of a rat. Some reports describe the body as being triangular in the middle rather than round. It is said to be highly poisonous, with the ability to spit corrosive venom a considerable distance, yet is nevertheless peaceful and more likely to flee from aggressors than attack. Another odd trait worth mentioning is that they are reported to have a particular odor like that of chestnut tree flowers.

The Tsuchinoko is noted as having some peculiar ways of getting around. It is reported to move ahead in a straight line, spine undulating up and down as it goes rather than the side to side undulations seen in most other snakes. The snake is also famous for making spectacular leaps of up to a few meters, often leaping along in one enormous hop after another. Even more bizarre than this are some stories that describe the Tsuchinoko putting its tail in it mouth and rolling along like a wheel, or even tumbling along end over end. They are also supposedly good swimmers that are very fond of water.

Tsuchinoko

This mystery snake also supposedly exhibits an incredibly wide range of vocalizations. It has been said to make barks, chirps, snores, grunts, groans, moans, squeaks, snarls, growls, and to even mimic human voices on occasion. Some old legends claim it could actually remember a rather large vocabulary and even converse with people to some extent. In fact, the Tsuchinoko was mostly portrayed in folklore as a mischievous creature having a great propensity for telling stories and lies, as well as trying to befuddle and confuse travelers. The only true way to keep them quiet in their chattering was said to be to ply them with alcohol, which legends say they have a great fondness for.

The Tsuchinoko has been present in Japanese folklore throughout reported history on the islands. Their likenesses have been found on pottery dating back to the very earliest civilization on the islands, and they are mentioned in the Kojiki (or Hurukotohumi), which dates from 712 and is the oldest known book in existence on ancient Japanese history. In modern days, the Tsuchinoko is a major fixture in pop culture, appearing in commercials, video games, and on a large range of merchandise ranging from Tsuchinoko-shaped candies to hot water bottles. Interestingly they are not presented as evil or scary as Westerners might portray a type of snake. On the contrary, they are almost always made out to be cute, cuddly, benign, and friendly creatures. So are they just folklore or do they really exist?

The Tsuchinoko has been sighted by a wide range of people right up to the present day, usually deep in the mountains and woods far from civilization. Mikata, in Hyougo prefecture, is quite famous for boasting the highest concentration of sightings of these mystery serpents, and many high profile sightings hail from here. On May 8th, 2000, 90 year old farmer Sugie Tanaka was out looking for bamboo shoots (a common food in Japan), when she happened across two metallic colored snakes with what she described as “tails like rats.” In June, 1994, 73 year old Kazuaki Noda was cutting grass with his wife when they came across a huge snake with a thick body like a beer bottle and a head described as being like that of a tortoise. Other sightings cropped up in the area around the same time. One such sighting occurred in June, 2000, when 82 year old Mitsuko Arima saw a Tsuchinoko swimming along a river. She described its eyes as being the most striking feature, saying “I can still see the eyes now. They were big and round and it looked like they were floating on the water.” She added “I’ve lived for over 80 years but I’ve never seen anything like that in my life.”

In response to the persistent sightings, Mikata and indeed many other areas in Japan purported to have Tsuchinoko have offered huge rewards for the capture of one. The town of Yoshii in Okayama famously offered 20 million yen for one, and many areas hold regular Tsuchinoko hunts, which usually consist of groups of volunteers scouring the wilderness for the snakes or indeed any sign of them. Mikata, a hotspot which has the highest concentration of Tsuchinoko sightings in all of Japan, holds an annual event to look for the snake in the surrounding wilderness but these expeditions have proved fruitless so far. In fact to date, there is a complete lack of any physical evidence brought forward at all. Many of these hunts offer considerable rewards for anyone lucky to find one. In Itoigawa, Niigata prefecture in 2008, there was a major hunt mounted for the Tsuchinoko. The reward was a jaw dropping 100 million yen offered for a live Tsuchinoko. A lot of people criticized it as a mere publicity scam, saying that the city never really thought it would have to pay out.

Despite the lack of results these hunts have produced, there have been several cases of remains being brought forth, although none of them turned out to lead anywhere. An alleged Tsuchinoko specimen brought in by a mountain villager in turned out to be a rat snake and another turned in by a group of loggers to the Japan Snake Center in Gunma prefecture in 2001 was found to be a common grass snake. Yet another case involves a live Tsuchinoko which was reportedly captured in the same region in June, 1969 by an M. Tokutake. He supposedly captured it with a forked stick and kept it for a couple of days before deciding to eat it. He reported that it had a double backbone, which is a very interesting detail.

There have also been numerous shed skins allegedly from Tsuchinoko brought in and some small villages proudly display these, although they are mostly thought to be from known snakes, likely rat snakes. Another notable case occurred in May of 2000, when a farmer saw a snake-like creature with a face like a famous Japanese cartoon cat make its way across his field, again in Mikata. He apparently injured it with a farming implement but it escaped into a nearby stream. A few days later, a 72 year old woman found the snake’s body lying by the side of the stream and she buried it. Later, she realized how important the find might be and upon digging the body up sent it to the Kawasaki University of Medical Welfare for examination. I’m not sure exactly what became of the body after that, and details are sketchy from that point.

Mikata is not the only hotbed of Tsuchinoko activity, nor the only area to have claimed the body of one. In Yoshii, Okayama prefecture, the Tsuchinoko is a regular town attraction that draws tourists from all over with its annual Tsuchinoko hunt and the town boasts its own Tsuchinoko rice cakes and wine. Another live specimen was reportedly captured in Yoshii on June 6th, 2000. Apparently it was put on display in a glass box in the city’s visitor center. I’m not sure what became of it, but it has been widely believed to have been a hoax to drum up publicity for the town and its annual hunts. These expeditions are big business as they draw in people and tourist yen from all over the country. According to Naoki Yamaguchi, who has interviewed over 200 eyewitnesses and is author of the book Catching the Illusory Tsuchinoko, these searches don’t do much good in the way they are handled. He wrote, “The number of sightings from people on these searches is barely one percent of the total.” Yamaguchi blames this mostly on the search parties’ failure to delve very deep into the wilderness, and cites people who venture deep into the mountains, such as avid hikers, mountain stream fisherman, and loggers as among the types most likely to have a sighting.

Even with the lack of any hard evidence, the sightings continue. What could these eyewitnesses be seeing? One very common argument is that the sightings are of known species of snakes that have just recently fed. This would give the snake that trademark bulging middle and I can see this as a rational explanation for the Tsuchinoko’s odd appearance at least. However, one problem I find with this is that the Tsuchinoko is reputedly able to leap several meters, which would be a very unlikely thing for a snake to be able do in the first place, let alone a gorged snake. In my opinion, none of the types of movement described are very realistic for any known snake in the first place. Whatever the Tsuchinoko is, it has remained a pervasive cryptid in Japan.

Another supposed serpentine cryptid in Japan originates in the country’s Mt. Tsurugi, located in Tokushima prefecture, which is already pervaded with mysteries such as that it holds lost treasures within its bowels, that it is the site of some subterranean civilization, or even that it is the final resting place of the legendary Lost Ark of the Covenant. Another feature of the weird on Mt. Tsurugi concerns all of the massive giant snakes that allegedly call this place home, and perhaps one of the best known modern cases of giant snakes in Japan comes from Mt. Tsurugi. This 6,413 ft peak lies within Tsurugi Quasi- National Park, and is the second highest mountain on the island of Shikoku. Mt. Tsurugi is highly associated with paranormal phenomena, and legend has it that it is a man made pyramid, with some believing that King Solomon’s treasure is located somewhere beneath it. Interestingly, this treasure is supposedly guarded by a colossal snake that will kill any who approach. It may seem as if this is all surely pure myth, but is it?

On May 26, 1973, forestry workers on Mt. Tsurugi came across a snake that was described as being as thick as a telephone pole, with shiny black scales and a white underbelly. According to the startled workers, 5 meters (around 16.5 feet) of the snake was protruding from thick underbrush, and they estimated that the full length of the animal would have been a whopping 10 meters (33 feet) or more. The snake was reported to emit a loud chirping noise and piping cry before slithering away into the foliage. This report caused widespread panic among residents, and some even reported seeing other snakes in the area that were estimated as being 8 meters (26 feet) to 11 meters (36 feet) long.

Mt. Tsurugi

The following month, in June 1973, local officials responded to escalating fears by mounting a large scale expedition to try and find the giant snake or snakes. Volunteers scoured the mountainside in the vicinity of the sightings, looking for any evidence at all for what people had reported seeing. They found no snake, but they did discover what appeared to be a track left by the creature. The long track was 40 cm (around 16 inches) across and led through fallen weeds and flattened brush. Those who examined the track said it was undoubtedly that of a large snake of some kind. Bizarrely, a local museum actually claims to have a jawbone measuring 34 cm (13 inches) wide, which is claimed to be from the very same snake. Critics have pointed out that it is merely the jaws of a shark cleverly arranged to resemble a snake’s jaw. Another mountain, Mt. Tateiwa, in Gunma prefecture, is also said to be inhabited by giant snakes as well, which are sometimes encountered by hapless hikers and have been reported in the area for centuries. Is there anything to any of this? Who knows?

These would not be the only seemingly reptilian mysterious creatures said to lurk in the wilds of Japan, and another rather very well-known and at the same time very peculiar beast is called the Kappa. The Kappa is one of many types of water imps long featured in Japanese folklore said to inhabit the lakes and rivers of this island nation. The appearance of the Kappa varies from tradition to tradition and area to area, however they are typically described as being the size of a child of 6 to 10 years of age and resembling a cross between a turtle, monkey, and lizard. Kappa are often depicted as having a shell on their backs, similar to a turtle’s, having large, webbed hands and feet, and having a beak like mouth which depending on the tradition may or may not contain rows of sharp, shark-like teeth. Some reports have made mention of patchy, scraggly hair covering the body as well.

One of the most prominent and odd features that is shared throughout all Kappa folklore is the presence of a bowl on the top of the head, which is said to contain a liquid that gives the Kappa its supernatural strength. When confronted by an angry Kappa, the best way to defeat it is to have it bow, upon which the liquid will spill and weaken it, allowing the typically formidable creature to be defeated. Indeed, Kappas are most often described as being malevolent entities, with a penchant for mischief and violence. They are said to molest women as well as harass travelers and challenge passerby to sumo matches. In the more sinister and darker tales, Kappa are represented as murderous monsters which attack humans, cattle, and horses, pulling them to their deaths below the water and sucking the blood or life force from their bodies to leave a lifeless husk. It is said that one should not venture to the water’s edge alone lest you be the victim of a Kappa attack. A rather gruesome detail of these attacks is that it is often mentioned that the creatures have a penchant for sucking a victims entrails out through the anus. Ouch.

Despite this ferocious and rather unappealing image, Kappa are said to have a benevolent side as well. For instance, they are said to display a great talent for medicine and particularly bone setting, and it is said if a Kappa is captured it will offer its services to its captor in return for release. They may also take mercy on travelers that have been injured or are ill and nurse them back to help. Kappa purportedly abhors metal and loud noises, and love cucumber to the point of obsession. This craving for cucumber is supposedly so strong that Kappa will do anything to get it, and in the past many residents of supposedly Kappa infested areas would carry cucumber with them in the hopes of bribing the beasts into leaving them alone or even procuring their medical talents. Although the Kappa has become a very famous fixture within Japanese folklore, it is even considered by many to be a legitimate cryptid due to a good many eyewitness accounts and sightings of actual alleged Kappa that continue into modern times. Many areas in Japan still produce reports of Kappa frolicking in rivers, and there are even reports of them wandering about far from the water. These sightings come from witnesses of all ages and levels of society, and often from very credible sources.

For instance there was one sighting in the 1970s made by two police officers who witnessed a hunched over form at the side of a country road during dusk. Thinking it was a small child perhaps lost or in trouble, the officers slowed down to approach it. As they drew closer, the form reared up and they could see that it was not a child at all, but rather a child sized creature that was reported as resembling something like a cross between a monkey and a frog, with large, piercing eyes. The account also mentions that the creature had prominent claws. The mysterious figure was reported as chattering in a high pitched voice before running briskly on two legs across the road into the brush. This report is significant since the sighting was made fairly far from water and showcases the creature’s ability to walk quite well on land.

On some occasions, shaky photographic evidence has been brought forward. Several photographs of alleged Kappa and even video footage have made the rounds over the years, but they are blurry and of generally poor quality. There has also been sparse physical evidence for Kappa, including footprints, hairs, and even slime allegedly exuded by the creatures. Some shrines contain the purported mummified hands or even bodies of Kappa, although they have never allowed anyone to analyze these specimens. Until there are definitive answers and evidence, the Kappa will remain one of the most famous and bizarre of Japanese cryptids.

It seems as though the poor rural villagers of Japan have had more than the impish Kappa to contend with over the ages, as there is a decidedly more fearsome beast that was said to have haunted a secluded community on the side of Mt. Bandai, an active stratovolcano located in the Tohoku area of Fukushima prefecture, Japan. The mountain is most notable for its eruption in 1888, which killed 477 people, left thousands more homeless, and remains one of the worst volcanic disasters in recent Japanese history. Long before this tragedy, in the late 1700s, a lesser known but nevertheless frightening incident occurred when a small village at the foot of Mt. Bandai was besieged by a mysterious and deadly creature that suddenly and inexplicably appeared at their doorstep to wreak havoc.

The incident began when villagers started reporting sightings of a strange creature lurking in wilderness along the fringes of town. This creature was said to look like a large primate of some sort, with a huge mouth, claws, and spiky fur running along its back. It was most often fleetingly glimpsed in the evening or twilight hours and its eyes were said to glow or reflect light like a cat’s. The beast was said to furtively stalk around the edges of town and seemed to shun light. Villagers described how the thing would sit in pools of shadow just outside of the radius of a light source and glower from the darkness with its flickering, shining eyes. Despite its menacing appearance, at first the creature was easily frightened, and would dart away into the underbrush from sudden light, shouting, or loud noise, but it became increasingly bolder and more frequently spotted as the days went by.

The strange monster was not only seen, but also heard. Loud, guttural, and clearly inhuman shrieks and howls were often heard at night emanating from somewhere on the dark mountain looming above. At times the this eerie nighttime howling would last throughout the night, keeping the villagers awake in the grip of terror. The unnatural shrieks, howls, and sightings of such a sinister creature would have likely been enough to instill fear within such a small and remote rural community, but this was to be just the beginning of the village’s nightmare.

The creature become ever bolder and more aggressive as the days went by. Where at first it would retreat from noise or light, it started to display more menacing behavior such as growling at eyewitnesses. Villagers also reported being followed by the thing, which made less and less effort to conceal itself as it stalked them along darkened paths. The village placed guards with torches around the outskirts of town in an effort to drive away the creature or at least discourage it from coming nearer, but it was was not intimidated. The plan did nothing to dissuade it and perhaps even angered it. Several night watchmen described being rushed from the darkness by the creature, and retreating from their positions in terror.

Mt. Bandai

At around this time, animals such as pets and livestock were reported to have disappeared without a trace. One farmer was said to have had every single one of his chickens disappear in a single night with only some scattered feathers left behind. The animal disappearances continued at an increasing rate, and it did not take long for villagers to connect these vanishings with the odd visitor lurking in the woods. It was a realization that was confirmed when a farmer claimed to have spotted the mysterious creature killing a dog in a field. According to the man’s account, the thing had already slain the animal and was in the process of disemboweling it when it was spotted and subsequently dragged its mutilated prey into the trees.

People became wary of traveling outside during twilight hours and at night, yet even staying in their homes was no guarantee of peace. The creature was often reported circling homes and its deep, gruff breathing was frequently heard right outside of dwellings. Occasionally it would rap, scratch at, or even pound on doors, windows, and walls almost as if it were testing the structure for ways to enter as the terrified occupants cowered in their homes. It was also not uncommon for people to hear the thumping of its heavy footsteps across their roofs. One particularly harrowing account comes from a family of farmers on the very outskirts of town, who had their home actively attacked by the rampaging beast. In this case, the creature was said to have charged the doors full force while roaring in rage, and the doors rattled in their frames, threatening to cave in. The furious monster also was reported as hurling large stones at the dwelling. When it failed to gain entry, the beast slunk back off into the woods, leaving the house badly damaged and the petrified occupants no doubt scarred for life.

This still would not be the extent of the bizarre occurrences unfolding around the village. As time went on, several children disappeared, with some reportedly taken directly from their own homes. The creature was even purportedly seen kidnapping children and dragging them screaming into the night as helpless villagers looked on in horror. Attacks on adults began to occur as well, and although the creature was not successful in killing any of them, some villagers were bitten, mauled, or at the very least left badly shaken. One village man described how the creature came so close to him during an attack that he could smell its breath, which was described as smelling of rotten eggs and fish. He was only able to escape after allegedly poking the thing in its eyes.

It was at this time that the villagers took more decisive action, and hired a well-known hunter to track and kill the beast that was terrorizing them. The hunter bravely trekked out into the surrounding wilderness in an effort to both kill the thing and draw it away from the village. During the hunt, the hunter described how the creature stalked him and circled his camp menacingly on several occasions. After a few days of tracking the creature, the hunter allegedly finally managed to shoot and kill it in 1782 after it tried to rush from the forest and attack him. It was reported to be so fierce that the bullet did not bring it down and the hunter had had to resort to repeatedly stabbing the thrashing beast with a knife to kill it.

The hunter then dragged the body back to the village to display to the shocked villagers. The carcass was purportedly a somewhat ape-like creature that was 1.5 meters tall, covered in hair, and with a large mouth filled with fangs that was so oversized that it was described as being as if the head was split from ear to ear. Along its back were spines reminiscent of those of a porcupine. The creature also had a long, sharp nose and short limbs with webbed hands that ended in wicked claws. The carcass was reported to exude an extremely rank, overpowering odor, which unfortunately led to the body being discarded not long after. With the death of this baffling monster, the sightings, attacks, kidnappings and animal disappearances all ceased.

This case has always fascinated me and remains one of the weirder ones I have come across. What is going on here? The creature matches no description of any Japanese cryptid that I know of seen before or since these events. With the descriptions from eyewitness accounts as well as those given by the hunter and indeed a body allegedly provided, there seems to be little chance that it was a more mundane animal that was simply misidentified. There is nothing living in the Japanese wilderness really anywhere close to what this thing is said to look like. In addition, the sightings and disappearances started abruptly, with no apparent prior history of such a creature ever being seen on the mountain, and ended just as abruptly with its reported death, suggesting just a single creature at work. Whatever it was also seemed to have targeted just one village, and to top it off nothing like it has been reported from the area since. The case remains a complete, head scratching mystery. Unfortunately, considering that these events unfolded way back in the late 1700s and that the alleged carcass of the creature was not preserved or examined by any sort of scientist, it seems that the mysterious Beast of Bandai will forever remain an enigma.

If none of this is strange enough for you, then how about the tales of bizarre human-faced dogs that have been said to prowl the dark places of Japan? The beast known as the Jinmenken, roughly translated as “the human faced dog,” is typically said to be about the size of a medium sized dog, often with matted or dirty looking hair. From a distance, an observer may mistake one for just an ordinary mangy stray dog, yet on closer inspection see that these dogs possess a human face. The eyes are often deep set and sad, and the tail is most commonly between the legs in an apparent  gesture of passiveness or cowardice. An even more shocking revelation than the human face is their purported ability to speak. Typically, a Jinkenmen will implore those who come across it to leave it alone, but on rare occasions will hold simple conversations.

Jinkenmen are persistent in Japanese folkore, yet there seems to be more to them than that. Throughout the Edo Era, from 1603 to 1868, these human-faced dogs were often encountered and sighted by locals, to the point that they were occasionally featured in the news publications of the time.In addition to the sightings, Jinkenmen were at times allegedly exhibited at misemono, which were a type of Japanese carnival sideshow popular during the Edo Era. These sideshows were somewhat of a cabinet of curiosities, typically featuring menageries of exotic animals, mounted displays or mummified remains of bizarre creatures or monsters, gaffes, mystical artifacts, and all manner of the strange and bizarre.

Taxidermy specimens of Jinkenmen were often seen on display at such shows and on occasion even live specimens were shown. In such shows, the Jinkenmen would be paraded about for all to see and became quite popular attractions. It is not clear whether these were actual Jinkenmen or regular dogs somehow altered to look like such through illusion and trickery, yet the fact remains that there are numerous accounts of these exhibitions and they were certainly observed by many people. It was not only commoners that marveled at these creatures in such sideshows either. One publication of the time included the testimony of a visiting zoologist, who remarked upon laying his eyes upon one such specimen (translated from the Japanese):

There cowering and whimpering in the corner of the display booth I saw the hunched over form of what I first took to be a typical shiba inu, although of a somewhat more pungent odor. Then the thing looked up with sad eyes and I could see clearly that it was the face of a human being, albeit with the empty, soulless gaze of an animal. I immediately assumed trickery upon seeing such an aberration, yet if one had forged such a horrific sight then they had done so with such ingenuity and craftsmanship that I was unable to ascertain it as such. If this was some sort of macabre taxidermy of a living thing, then it was done without any visible indication of such. I could see no apparent stitches or artificial connection between human face and dog. I was eager to be on my way from such a ghastly abomination and the thing’s gaze left me with a deep unease long after I had left.

It is interesting to note the deep feeling of unease the zoologist experienced. Premonitions of dread or feelings of deep despair are common occurrences in those who see Jinkenmen. Reports of Jinkenmen hypnotizing onlookers or inducing urges to get away are also not uncommon in accounts.Additionally, Jinkenmen are often considered to be portents of doom or disaster. Sightings of Jinkenmen are not merely confined to the rural Japan of the Edo Era. Eyewitness accounts of Jinkenmen sightings persist right up to the modern day. There are many reports of eyewitnesses describing coming across what they first take to be dog, only to have it turn around to display its human face. Other reports showcase the Jinkenmen’s apparent great speed as they are described as running playfully alongside cars on darkened roads, sometimes screaming or whooping as they do so. These sightings occur mostly at night in rural areas, yet this is not always the case.

During the 1980s, a human faced dog was often sighted rummaging through garbage in the back alleys of Tokyo’s Shibuya District, which is a well-developed, bustling urban shopping area. Other sightings have been reported from other urban areas behind crowded restaurants, in alleyways, or in the darkened parking lots of apartment buildings. What do we make of these reports? As detached from reality as the notion of human-faced dogs may seem, theories abound as to what could be behind the sightings and stories. These theories range from the somewhat plausible to the downright absurd, such as that it is a misidentified macaque monkey, hallucinations, or an alien or escaped genetic experiment. It is unlikely that we will ever know for sure, but the tales continue.

Just as bizarre as the tales of human faced dogs are reports of something perhaps even more paranormal and frightening in nature. One strange phantom that seems to have been spun from the Internet but has also been tied to supposed historical accounts came to the public consciousness in 2003, when several Japanese websites featured reports of a very strange entity indeed. The posts were written as first-hand sightings accounts of a specter or demon of some sort referred to as the Kunekune, which is a Japanese onomatopoeia that literally translates to “twist,” “writhe,” or “wiggle.” The creature itself is described as being a long, slender humanoid shape, pale white in color, although it is sometimes reported as being black, and which writhes, wiggles, and shimmers similar to a piece of fabric tossed about by the wind, even if there is no wind, hence its name.

The typical account goes that the Kunekune is spotted in the distance of a rural place, usually over an open expanse such as a field or the sea. The story goes that a person will notice the strange figure and wonder what it is, drawing closer to get a better look. This is said to be a mistake, because the closer one gets, and the more detail that is seen of the being’s features, the stranger things get. If the victim is lucky, it will merely drive them insane, usually after making eye contact, but the Kunekune is also said to be not above flat out killing those who get too close to it or make direct contact with it. Since no one has lived or kept their sanity long enough to describe its face, its appearance remains unknown. It is said that the best thing to do is just simply ignore the Kunekune and it will go away.

Several spooky accounts of run-ins with the Kunekune appeared on the Internet in quick succession by frightened witnesses. One of the first reports to appear was that of a man claiming to have had an encounter with the Kunekune when he was a child. The man, let’s call him Taro, reported that he and his brother had gone to the countryside of the Akita region, in northern Japan. After they arrived they went out to explore the rice fields and open areas, enjoying being out of the big city from which they had come. The day was described as being hot and windless, and at some point Taro noticed that his brother was gazing off into the distance as if studying something on the horizon or lost in thought.

When asked what was wrong, the brother said that he could make out something strange in the distance. When Taro peered out over the vast expanses of the many rice fields of the area, he claimed that he could just barely make out something moving in the distance. It appeared to be a stationary, human-sized white squiggle of some sort flapping about wildly, which was odd considering the area was deserted and there was no wind that day. Taro at first thought it might be a scarecrow, but scarecrows didn’t move like that, especially with no wind. Neither did it appear to be a sheet or piece of clothing.

Curious and wondering what in the world it was, the two boys ran home to retrieve binoculars in order to get a closer look. The brother went first, but when he put the binoculars to his eyes his face reportedly went slack and his color pale, after which he turned to Taro with a look of abject horror on his face. The brother broke out into a sweat and dropped the binoculars to the ground as he repeated “There it is… There it is… There it is…” over and over again in a strange voice that did not seem to be his own. He then began to stalk back to the house without a word or explanation of what was going on or what he had seen through those binoculars, which were still upon the ground. Taro reported that he had picked them up, and even though the strange figure continued to wiggle and flap in the distance he was too afraid to look through them, instead trudging back to the house to see what was going on.

When Taro got to the house he found everyone crying as they watched his brother roll about on the floor laughing and giggling with mad abandon like a lunatic. The frightened parents decided to leave the grandparents’ house and take them back home, with the brother laughing and writhing about in the back seat to the point that he had to be tied down. Eerily, his face was plastered with a wide grin yet his eyes were crying. At some point on the way home, their father stopped the car, took the binoculars, and smashed them upon the ground before continuing on.

Similar stories came in from around Japan with others coming forward with their own tales. Another early report of the Kunekune comes from a man who claimed that when he was a boy lived in a rural coastal village in Chiba prefecture. One day he and his uncle were walking along the sea shore the boy saw something long and white waving about out over the waves in the distance and he asked his uncle what it was. When the uncle looked he froze in his tracks and went wide-eyed and pale before telling his nephew to run for his life. The boy ran, but the uncle was unable to stop staring off into the distance, unable to tear his eyes away from whatever had him under its dark spell. The boy reached his house and told his grandfather about what had happened, who went pale himself and replied that it was the work of the Kunekune and that his son had been lucky to get away from it. When they went back to retrieve the uncle the man was still glued there to the same spot, mindlessly gazing out at the thing in the distance. They were able to physically pry the uncle away but he reportedly suffered from fits of madness from then on, spending the rest of his life in and out of mental institutions.

Stories such as these started to make the rounds on a variety of Japanese websites, with more and more people reporting experiences that were similar in nature, always involving a mysterious writhing white humanoid in the distance that could cause madness or even death if viewed too carefully or closely. Those who told these tales insisted that this was a phenomenon that had been going on in certain rural areas for centuries, but oddly it was not until these Internet reports that most had had ever heard of the Kunekune. It is certainly not a traditional yōkai (a Japanese spirit or boogeyman), and as a matter of fact I live in Japan and have never met anyone who knows what a Kunekune is. Is this perhaps a localized tale only known in some parts of Japan or is it something new? It is hard to tell if this is a phenomenon with a historical basis or if it was born on the Internet with those original reports, quite likely fictitious. The origins of the tale of the Kunekune remain vague, but it is certainly creepy nonetheless.

In the end, Japan certainly seems to have its fair share of strange denizens of the dark, and here we can find all manner of truly bizarre creatures that seem to inhabit the intersection of lines between ghost, legend, and real entity. Many of these tales may seem surreal, absurd even, but here they still remain, just as confusing and evasive as they always have.