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The Devil’s Footprints of Japan

There are undoubtedly creatures lurking out there in the wildernesses of the world for which we currently have no record or knowledge of. On occasion these mystery animals are glimpsed, sighted, and even sometimes photographed, most often in a way that is not conclusive to demonstrating their actual existence. And on other occasions still there is more bizarre and indeed sparse evidence left behind. A tuft of fur, an audio recording, perhaps even a track; tantalizing pieces left behind by something that may be out there continuing to elude us. In these cases all we can do is marvel and wonder at what sort of beast could have left such mysterious tidbits in its wake, and hope that more will be forthcoming to help shed light on the mystery. However, in some cases this mystery can be frustratingly evasive. For one remote coastal village in Japan, a mystery creature passed through one evening, leaving behind a line of tracks that to this day has managed to prove to be a perplexing enigma before going on its way to seemingly disappear forever.

In August of 1992, in the coastal village of Kuji in Iwate prefecture, Japan, a couple went out to their bean field one morning and found an unusual sight. A path of strange tracks meandered through the field, over some grass, and continued on to the underbrush. The tracks were like nothing anyone had ever seen before in all of their years living in the area. These footprints were 22cm long by 15cm wide, with four forward pointing toes and one toe seeming to point in the opposite direction from the others. The odd tracks went on for over 20 meters before disappearing into the forest bordering the field.

Iwate prefecture

Iwate prefecture

Word of the tracks spread and they seemed to baffle everyone who saw them. No one had ever seen anything like them before, and they did not seem to fit in with any animals living in the area, such as bears, raccoons, and Japanese macaques. The perplexed locals contacted the Japan Monkey Center about the tracks, and the center informed them that they did not seem to be from any known primate. The tracks were ultimately a complete enigma.

The tracks became quite a phenomenon at the time, and although there were never any sightings of the mystery creature itself, it became known by locals as the Gatagon. The tracks were seriously investigated by Japanese cryptozoologists, and plaster casts were even allegedly made although these have since been lost. Analyses of the trackway came to the conclusion that the gait of the prints seemed to point to a bipedal creature of some sort. Known wildlife of the area was also ruled out, indeed the tracks did not seem to be those of any animal known to inhabit Japan. Superstitious locals suggested that they were the tracks of a spirit of a demon of some sort, and UFO enthusiasts were quick to label them as the tracks of some visitor not of this world.

An illustration of the Gatagon tracks

Considering that this is the only case of strange tracks being found in the area, and no similar tracks were ever found again, the Gatagon trackway of 1992 merely leaves us scratching our heads. The possibility that the tracks were a hoax is often put forward and although this is most certainly possible it seems like a lot of trouble to go out in the middle of the night to this secluded farm just for the purpose of spooking an old couple living alone out in the mountains in the middle of nowhere.

Another possibility is that the tracks were from some kind of primate, despite claims from experts to the contrary. It seems worth noting that the backward facing toe apparent on the tracks seems to point to an opposable toe, which might fit in with a primate, especially one that is highly arboreal. Orangutans are arboreal, with opposable toes that display a surprisingly wide range of movement, and their feet look in some ways similar to something that could perhaps leave the Gatagon tracks.

An orangutan foot

An orangutan foot

Could the prints have been left by some kind of arboreal primate or an escaped exotic animal like an orangutan? There is at least one account that I know of concerning orangutans escaping into the wilds of Japan, so the idea is not completely far fetched. The remote location and arboreal nature of the creature suggested by the morphology of the tracks could explain why no more tracks were found. A tropical primate like an orangutan would also possibly not survive the harsh winters of Japan, which could explain why the tracks were only found in the summer of 1992, and never again. Still others say these tracks are of a completely undiscovered hominid or primate of some sort. However, if it were a whole undiscovered species, it seems odd that only one set of tracks would ever be found.

Whatever the explanation may be, the strange case of the Gatagon has gained quite a bit of notoriety in the locale. To this day a Gatagon festival is help in the area every August, and one can find Gatagon memorabilia such as souvenirs, as well as signs indicating the presence of the Gatagon and even an illustrated trackway through a shopping area, imprinted into the floor tiles. It’s actually very impressive how popular it has become for a cryptid only known through one trackway of unusual footprints.

What sort of creature made its way through this rural Japanese hamlet? Was it some sort of primate? Something else? Or was it some strange abomination not of this world? With no further evidence brought forward since the finding of the tracks in 1992, I’m not so sure that we can ever hope for an answer to this bizarre mystery, but it is obvious that area locals will not forget the strange incident for quite some time.