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Mysterious Vanishings and the Devil’s Sea of Japan

The sprawling oceans of our planet have long been a wellspring of tales of the strange and the unexplained, perhaps not surprising considering the sheer vastness of their largely unexplored depths. Among all of the various phenomena of the sea, perhaps the most well-known is that famous anomalous region of vanishing ships and planes called the Bermuda Triangle, which has long been a persistent paranormal mystery and the subject of much debate and speculation. Yet, the Bermuda Triangle is not the only such vortex of missing ships, and half a world away, in a whole other ocean, there lies a counterpart in the waters near Japan, which by all accounts is just as strange as its Bermuda cousin.

The area that has come to be known variously as the Devil’s Sea, the Dragon’s Triangle, Ma-no Umi in Japanese, and the Taiwan Triangle, is an expanse of ocean lying off the coast of Japan that has over the centuries accrued a sinister reputation for swallowing vessels up to never be seen again. The exact location of this dreaded patch of malevolent ocean remains nebulous, with most estimates putting it as a triangle with one corner in Taiwan, another at the Japanese island of Miyake-jima, and another at the island of Iwo-jima, although reports vary and the exact geographical dimensions and perimeter fluctuate and are uncertain. What is consistent is that this place has a dark history that goes way back, and involves ships and aircraft disappearing without a trace, sort of like a Bermuda Triangle of the Orient.

Miyake-jima, Japan

The region has apparently been seen as a menace since around 1,000 BC, when it was widely believed that dragons lurked in the depths here, pulling down various fishing and military vessels to their doom. One story tells of how the warlord and 5th Khan of the Mongol Emprire, Kublai Khan, tried to invade Japan twice in the years 1274 and 1281 by crossing the Devil’s Sea and ended up losing many of his ships and around 40,000 men in the process, with many of these wrecks still dotting the ocean floor in their watery graves. Through the centuries since, the area was supposedly known as a place to be avoided, and countless fisherman and travelers were said to venture out over the waves to vanish off the face of the earth here.

However, for all of these alleged mysterious disappearances the phenomenon remained largely unknown to the outside world until the notable author Charles Berlitz published his 1974 book on the matter, titled The Bermuda Triangle, which mentions the Devil’s Sea, as well as a follow-up 1989 book The Dragon’s Triangle, which was devoted to it and provided numerous modern cases of supposed vanishings in the area. Berlitz claimed that Japan had lost at least 5 military vessels between the years of 1952 and 1954, along with their crews totaling 700 men, all of whom were supposedly never heard from again. The Japanese government also sent a research vessel called the Kaio Maru No. 5 into the area on September 24, 1953, but it too disappeared with its crew of 31, becoming one of the most well-known casualties of the Devil’s Sea and also prompting the government to issue a warning that the area was unsafe for travel.

Interestingly, besides ships or planes seeming to cease to exist, the Devil’s Sea has allegedly produced reports of many other weird phenomena as well. UFOs are frequently spotted in the area, as well as ghost ships and mystery lights out over the waves. In addition, there are accounts of people experiencing lost time, inexplicably malfunctioning equipment, or anomalous magnetic disturbances.

Due to this high strangeness and the number of missing ships in the region, and greatly helped along by Berlitz’s mainstream book, the Devil’s Sea has become known as a phenomenon similar to the more well-known Bermuda Triangle, and has such generated plenty of theories as to why this particular stretch of ocean should claim so many lives. Perhaps the most rational lies in the fact that the two islands most often associated with the triangle, Miyake-jima and Iwo-jima, happen to lie right along a line of very active undersea volcanoes called the Izu-Bonin volcanic arc, which spans 2,500 km across the Pacific all the way to Guam. Considering this, violent volcanic activity or related underwater seismic events could very well be causing some of these reported vanishings. Indeed, in his book The Bermuda Triangle Mystery Solved, skeptical researcher Larry Kusche blames a volcano called Myōjin-shō on the incident with the Kaio Maru No. 5, pointing out that debris actually was found that suggested this, and going even further to mention that this particular volcano wasn’t even in the traditional Devil’s Sea to begin with.

Other rational theories are that these vessels were lost due to storms or some environmental phenomena, or were just the victims of the any one of the other many perils inherit to the ocean. With the sheer size of the purported Devil’s Sea and the heavy boat traffic through the region, it seems only natural that there should be wrecks and even vanishings, and perhaps these have been over exaggerated as being caused by supernatural phenomena focused on this one area.

One of the more fringe theories about the Devil’s Sea is linked to a concept put forward by the cryptozoologist and paranormal researcher Ivan T. Sanderson. In the 1960s and 70s Sanderson came up with the idea that the earth was intersected with lines of power that converged at 12 portals located throughout the world, which he referred to as the “Vile Vortices.” He believed that these vortices formed triangles in a certain pattern along particular lines of latitude, including the infamous Bermuda Triangle, that were responsible for making ships and planes vanish through mysterious means, possibly even to other dimensions through some sort of doorway. These vile vortices have been blamed for the phenomena of the Bermuda Triangle, as well as for other areas of the planet that have been ground zero for strange disappearances or paranormal phenomena, and the Devil’s Sea apparently lies right in the middle of one. Sanderson would write of these vortices and the Devil’s Sea in an article in Saga Magazine called The Twelve Devil’s Graveyards Around the World.

Then of course there is the idea that the Devil’s Sea never really existed at all outside of the minds of the writers who have covered it. Many skeptics have pointed out that there seem to be no reports or mentions of the Devil’s Sea or its bizarre vanishings in newspapers or other publications prior to Sanderson’s work on vile vortices and the publication of Berlitz’s book, even in Japan, and that almost every piece of literature on the phenomenon can be traced back to these works on the matter, with little verification or sources to back up their vague claims and frequent bending of certain facts to fit in more with the Devil’s Sea mystery. All of the books and articles on the phenomenon seem to begin there, gradually building upon the history and mythology of the Devil’s Sea to the point where it is no longer possible to disentangle any fact from fiction. Is the whole mystery of the Devil’s Sea and its claimed history of centuries of unexplained vanishings and paranormal phenomena merely a relatively recent invention based on a figment of the imagination and a twisting of facts?

We are left with an intriguing tale of the high seas, of a realm with a fearsome dark history where people venture to drop off the face of the earth without explanation, but is any of it true? Does a mysterious force thrum beneath the waves in this corner of the world, or is it all due to normal, natural phenomena? Is it somehow connected to other similar places such as the Bermuda Triangle? Or is it all tall tales and speculation? Indeed, has the Devil’s Sea ever even existed outside of the imagination at all? Whatever the case may be, it is all certainly an entertaining case of yet another supposed mysteries place in our world’s vast and little-understood oceans.