Dec 09, 2014 I Brent Swancer

The Bigfoot of Japan

Reports of mysterious hairy hominids originate from a wide range of countries, locales, and cultures, from all corners of the globe. They go by many names and come in many shapes and sizes, but whether they are called Bigfoot, Sasquatch, Almas, Orang Pendek, or any of their other myriad names, one thing that these hairy homnids share is that they turn up everywhere, from high snowy peaks, to tropical forests, in alpine forests, to the deepest, darkest swamps. However, sometimes we get reports of Bigfoot or some other type of hairy hominid from places where they really seem to have no business being. Is the island nation of Japan, too, home to it's own version of North America's Bigfoot?

Japan is a land full of mountainous, wilderness terrain, but what are we to make of large hairy hominid accounts originating from this island nation? The “Japanese Bigfoot," commonly referred to as the Hibagon, is said to lurk in the forests of Mt. Hiba in Northern Hiroshima, from which it gains its namesake, as well as its surrounding wilderness. The Hibagon is typically described as being reddish brown or black in color, and sometimes reported as having a patch of white fur on its chest or arms. It is said to be a foul smelling and ugly creature, with a fierce face covered in bristles, a snub nose, and glaring, intelligent eyes. The ape-like face is sometimes said to be long and somewhat protruding rather than flat like a human’s, and the head is often reported as proportionately large, and shaped somewhat like an inverted triangle.

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The Hibagon is much smaller than its North American counterpart, the Sasquatch, and is most commonly reported as around 5 feet in height and estimated as weighing about 180 pounds. The creature is also reported to be more ape-like and animalistic than the Sasquatch as well. The Hibagon is often described as looking more like a gorilla or giant monkey than human-like, and although it is most often seen moving bipedally, many reports tell of the creature moving about on all fours quite easily. Some eyewitnesses even claim the animal was hopping along “like a monkey.” Other notable features of reports are the Hibagon’s apparent curiosity, its lack of fear of people and the absence of any sort of vocalizations in the reports.

The Hibagon is mostly known from a series of sightings in the Mt. Hiba area lasting from 1970 to 1982. Probably the first Hibagon sighting account occurred in early 1970, when a group of elementary school students out picking wild mushrooms in the forests of Mt. Hiba were terrified to come across an ape-like beast noisily crashing through brush nearby. The creature became perturbed at the presence of humans in its vicinity, and made some threatening gestures and snapped some branches, much like a gorilla’s bluffing display it might be noted, before darting away into the underbrush. The children immediately rushed bak to their teacher to report what they had seen, but upon further investigation the creature was gone. All that remained in its wake were swaths of smashed underbrush and branches that seemed to have been twisted apart, something that would take far more strength than a school child would possess.

That same year, in July 1970, the creature was spotted again by a utilities truck driver. The driver reported seeing a gorilla-like creature on two legs stride across a field near a dam, run across the road, and disappear into the forest. The creature in this case was reported as being bipedal but quite hunched over, with inordinately long arms that practically dragged along the ground, and a snouted face.

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Mt. Hiba, Hiroshima, Japan

Several days later, on July 23rd 1970, the creature appeared again, this time out of brush and long grass in front of a surprised farmer, who described the Hibagon as being as tall as an average man, covered in black fur, and having a grotesque face with piercing, intelligent eyes. The Hibagon was also sighted casually walking through a rice paddy in the town of Saijo around the same time.

In December of that same year, strange tracks of the alleged creature measuring 21 centimeters in length were found in the snow of Mt. Hiba. More tracks would be uncovered in the following years, and one of the longest trackways stretched on for 300 meters before disappearing into underbrush. Unlike the North American Bigfoot, the footprints in these cases were not particularly large, but they were certainly barefoot and seemed to exhibit evidence of opposable toes, much like those of a great ape. Photos of the creature sloshing through snow on the mountain taken at around the same time of the discovery of these footprints were also put forward by eyewitnesses, but the photos remain very inconclusive.

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Alleged photograph of a Hibagon in the snow

By this time, the reports were becoming well-known and well publicized in the media, while at the same time the rural residents of the area were growing increasingly uneasy about the strange animal being seen in their forests. Sightings continued, and area residents became so uneasy that the county now known as Saijo Shobara actually set up a department to deal with the phenomena. In addition to documenting eyewitness accounts and trying to get to the bottom of what was going on, the department also launched patrols around the area in hopes of finding whatever was causing the reports. Kobe University conducted an investigation of the area in 1972 to try and find physical evidence of the Hibagon, and police managed to make plaster casts at a construction site of some tracks allegedly made by the creature. No evidence was turned up by the University, and the tracks were found to be inconclusive.

Sightings continued through 1972 and 73, almost always during summer months, and in 1974 there was a significant spike in the amounts of reports. One such sighting occurred on August 15, 1974 when a motorist spotted a large, blackish animal walking near the road on four legs. When the creature sensed the approaching vehicle, it is reported as standing up and walking along on two legs. The shocked driver then stopped the car and snapped a photo of the creature trying to hide itself behind a persimmon tree. The photo is of poor quality, a blobsquatch in every sense, yet it received wide publicity and became probably the most iconic and famous photo of a Hibagon.

Other sightings in 1974 include a Hibagon that was spotted crossing a road on June 20, 1974. The driver described it as moving along in a series of agile, hopping leaps. On July 15, 1974, a woman saw one near her house and described it as very ape-like, like a gorilla walking around on two legs, and about 1.6 meters tall. There was even video footage taken of one walking along a remote mountain road, however the footage is blurry and of poor quality. Indeed, a few alleged videos of the Hibagon have been taken over the years but they are invariably of very poor quality.

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A frame from a video allegedly showing a Hibagon

Many tracks were also discovered in the year of 1974, including a series of prints found on August 21 in a mountain valley. The footprints were 30 cm long, which is not large for a Sasquatch but among some of the biggest prints found for an alleged Hibagon.

After the surge of eyewitness accounts in 1974, sightings of the Hibagon dropped off almost completely until 1980, when one was seen fleeing across a river with a bounding gait near the town of Yamano, where it became known as the “Yamagon.” It was spotted in the same area again in 1981 on a road near a health center, but perhaps the most remarkable sighting of the time occurred in 1982 in Mitsugi, which is located about 30km west of Yamano. In this report, the Hibagon was described as being more along the lines of a classical Sasquatch in size, estimated at 2m tall, but the most bizarre feature of the account was that it was said to be holding what looked like some sort of stone tool like an axe. This is the only account of a Hibagon being that large or wielding any sort of tool or weapon.

After 1982, sightings abruptly stopped, and the Hibagon seemed to just fall off the face of the Earth. There are practically no reliable reports of the creature after this time, with only a very few reports trickling in since.

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Illustration of a Hibagon

If these reports truly represent an unknown hominid or ape of some type, then how did they make it to Japan, which is an island? The answer to this could lie in the fact that during the Ice Age, Japan was once connected to the Asian mainland through a land bridge, with the southern island of Kyushu linked to the Korean peninsula and the northern island of Hokkaido connected to Siberia. In much the same way that Stone Age humans crossed the Bering Strait over a land bridge into North America, so too did they cross into Japan, with the first human inhabitants of the archipelago dating back to around 30,000 BC. Is it possible that something else such as an unknown large, ape-like animal fitting the description of the Hibagon could have similarly used this land bridge to arrive in Japan?

Theories abound about what the Hibagon could be. It has variously been proposed that the creature was a freakishly large Japanese macaque that had split from its group and gone solo, an Asiatic black bear which are native to Japan but must be noted are considered extinct in Hiroshima, an escaped great ape, or even disheveled feral humans or mountain men lurking in the remote mountains. Many experts on the Hibagon phenomenon speculate that the sightings are probably a varying mix of all of the above, but in the end no one knows. Making things more complicated is that the creatures were only ever really observed and reported during the 1970s and 80s. If this was a type of ancient animal that had made its way to Japan long ago across a land bridge, then why is it that no one knew about them or had ever even heard of them until 197o?

If this was indeed some type of unknown hairy hominid that had somehow not only made it to Japan but also remained completely hidden, then there are some possible reasons for why it was seen for such a relatively brief window of time. The rash of sightings that occurred during the 70s coincided with a pronounced increase in hunting in the area, which could have driven some of the creatures down from their natural, more remote habitat. The animals that were seen could also have been sick or wounded individuals that had wandered from the more remote areas where they usually live, perhaps in search of food. A few reports describe the animal as moving along with a shuffling gait or a limp, which has led to speculation that at least one of the alleged creatures was injured, so this could possibly explain these reports. Some have even suggested that the Hibagon that were sighted could have represented the last of a very rare species and that they are now extinct.

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Hibagon statue and sign in the vicinity of Mt. Hiba, Hiroshima

Whatever the Hibagon was or is, and whether it was real or not, it still lives on in the memory of the area’s residents. There are many regional, Hibagon related goods such as “Hibagon eggs” (which are actually Japanese sweet bean cakes), Hibagon donburi (a type of Japanese food), Hibagon company mascots, signs announcing the presence of Hibagon in the area, Hibagon crossings, and even a giant Hibagon statue near one highway. The Hibagon’s image can be found everywhere and is a fixture of the local culture in some towns of the area. Nevertheless, despite all of this imagery and the enduring legend of the elusive beast in the Hiroshima region, whether these creatures are still out there or indeed whether they ever existed at all, will probably forever remain unknown.

Brent Swancer
Brent Swancer is an author and crypto expert living in Japan. Biology, nature, and cryptozoology still remain Brent Swancer’s first intellectual loves. He's written articles for MU and Daily Grail and has been a guest on Coast to Coast AM and Binnal of America.

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