One very persistent type of mysterious creature that seems to be present in a wide range of cultures and countries from all around the world is that of various flying beasts that roam about the skies above. Encompassing a variety of seemingly disparate phenomena, including flying humanoids, winged dinosaurs, and other airborne weirdoes, the one common theme to all of them is that they take to the skies to frighten, tease the imagination, and invite speculation. One place that certainly has its own stories of odd flying creatures of all sorts is the island nation of Japan, and here we will look at some of the strangest.
One fairly well-known account of what appears to be some sort of flying humanoid comes from one night in 1952, which started off just as any other for an Air Force Pvt. Sinclair Taylor when he started his watch duty at Camp Okubo, which is near Kyoto, Japan. However, the evening took a turn for the decidedly strange when he heard an inexplicable flapping sound in the darkness beyond. Peering into the black night to ascertain where the unusual sound was coming from, Taylor alarmingly noticed what he at first suspected to be a very large bird flying towards him, framed against the moon and drawing ever nearer. As the creature inexorably drew closer, it soon became apparent that this was no bird at all. Instead, Taylor saw before him a large, man-like being, humanoid in form, that was estimated as being 7 feet tall, with a 7 foot wingspan, which was flapping its expansive wings towards him. Whereas this bizarre apparition had been flapping its wings earlier, it then began to simply hover in the air near the startled soldier.
Depending on the report you read, there is also sometimes mention of glowing eyes. However, it is difficult to say if this was in Taylor’s original report or an embellishment added later. The panicked guard began firing his weapon towards it, but when he looked at the spot where the being had been hovering and where he had been shooting, it was gone. Whatever the bizarre creature was, it had vanished into the night as suddenly as it had appeared. There was no blood or any evidence that Taylor had hit it with any of the rounds he’d fired, and he would say himself, “When I looked to see if my bullets had found home there was nothing there.”
Taylor was also not the only witness to whatever this thing was. When he reported it to his sergeant, it was revealed that another guard had seen what was apparently the same thing the year before. Although Taylor did not know of this other sighting and had had no contact with the other eyewitness, the descriptions of the creature were remarkably similar. In addition to these sightings by personnel on the base, there were other strange happenings occasionally reported in the vicinity of Camp Okubo. Residents in the area had reported seeing what they believed to be giant birds, and there were sporadic reports of strange lights in the sky as well. The sightings all seem to have happened over just a couple of years, and seemed to stop as suddenly as they started.
In more recent times there was In 2011, in the days leading up to the deadly earthquake and massive tsunami in Fukushima, Japan, a witness named Marcus Pules claims to have made a sighting of what he describes as the Mothman in the area. Pules said that he had been in Japan on business in February of 2011, and had decided to stay with a friend who had long lived in Japan teaching English in the rural town of Okuma, in the Fukushima region. One day the two friends went out to look around the town, and in the evening they went to the seaside, walking along a trail that meandered near the Daiichi Fukushima nuclear power plant, at this point still in normal working condition, with no hint as to the major disaster and specter of doom it was to become.
As they walked along, Pules claims that he heard a sudden “Whoosh,” which he at first took to be the sounds of the nearby ocean waves crashing against rocks, but his mind was changed when the sound repeated and then was followed by an ear piercing shriek the likes of which he had never heard before. His friend heard it as well, as did a couple who had been on the same path out for a romantic evening stroll. Pules would say:
We heard it again (the whooshing noise), followed by a ear pitching screech that shook me down to the bone and made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. We looked around for the cause of the noise, when we heard the sound again. The best way I can describe it is a city bus’s brakes when they are in need of service, loud and ear splitting. We both continued to look around when my friend’s attention was drawn toward the plant by another nearby couple. A younger couple, out for a walk were staring toward the plant, arms outstretched and the obvious fear in their voices showing itself.
Pules then looked out towards the power plant looming in the distance and thought he could make out a large, shadowy figure silhouetted by the plant’s lights and the moonlight, which appeared to be sitting perched atop one of the buildings. As he stared at it trying to figure out who or what it could be, the figure suddenly unfurled what looked like a massive set of black wings and took to the sky, where it circled the plant several times. Pules described the frightening events that followed thus:
The creature then took flight and circled the plant at least 4-5 times, some circuits he took at a fast pace, some he seemed to slow down, all the while he kept his attention on the row of square shaped buildings that I later found out housed the reactors. The creature then came toward us, flying at least 25-30 feet off the ground. The younger couple who had noticed the creature first were now screaming and cowering, the man shielding the woman while shielding his head with a jacket. My friend and I looked in awe as this creature flew over us. That’s when I noticed the two large red eyes; they seemed to glow from within and with a blood red hue. They were unblinking in the 3-4 seconds we saw them, we knew they were looking straight at us, we knew this creature knew we could see it and it made no attempt to disguise itself. The sick, intense and overwhelming feeling of dread came over us. A feeling that we shouldn’t be there was to say the least, overwhelming.
Then the bizarre flying humanoid creature suddenly flew off towards town as the friend fumbled with his cell phone trying to take pictures of it, until it eventually faded away into the distance to leave the witnesses in a state of terrified confusion. Pules and his friend quickly vacated the area, and as soon as they got home the two panicked men talked about what they had seen, trying to come to grips with what it had been and settling on the explanation that it must have been a large bird or optical illusion caused by the lights of the plant, although they both knew deep down that this was not the case. Because of the dark conditions at the time, none of the pictures the friend had tried to take turned out well. In the following days they tried not to bring it up, and Pules would try to put the strange encounter out of his mind.
It was not until after he had returned to the States that he would be reminded of the creature once again, when the same friend woke him in the middle of the night in March, frantically talking about the huge earthquake that had just struck the area where he lived, practically leveling the town he was in. Pules turned on the TV and over the next few days was bombarded with images of the devastation that the earthquake and resultant tsunami had dealt out, including the meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, which happened to be the very same plant where they had seen the frightening winged humanoid. Pules would muse on the relationship between the disaster and what he had seen, saying:
The Fukushima Daiichi was the exact same plant we had seen the strange bird like creature circling. Was it pure coincidence or was it the mythical Moth-Man doing his strange work of predicting disasters? I may never know and may go to the grave wondering that, but one thing is certain for sure, I don’t think that neither of us is going to forget this event, no matter how long we live.
A similarly bizarre report was posted on the Phantoms and Monsters website in 2016, and describes a report from an Australian man who had visited a friend in Japan in 2015. While he was there his friend told him of a bizarre encounter he had had on the slopes of Japan’s majestic Mt. Fuji at the Komitake shrine. He would relate his friend’s strange experience thus:
They had been at the shrine and other local sites throughout the day. While they were leaving the parking lot they both noticed a strange looking man crouched down by a tree near the edge of the forest. My friend slowed down his car as they continued to watch this man. The forest was dark, but they could see a halo of red light over his head. About that time he turned and stood up. Instantly a pair of huge dark butterfly-like wings sprung open from his back and he shot up into the canopy. As it ascended, they noticed the wings reflected light.
They then noticed that two older women had been watching this man as well, who screamed and ran away towards a nearby building. Other people then reacted to the screams and were looking towards the forest. My friend did not stay and drove off. They were both frightened and his fiance cried most of the way home.
Other winged monsters said to lurk in Japan go way back into history and folklore, such as the bird-like humanoids called the Tengu. These Tengu were often seen as mountain gods, but there are many traditions for what they are. They are variously described as being cursed humans, demigods, demons, spirits, or a separate race of living beings. Tengu were said to be hatched from eggs, like birds, and stories abound of travelers coming across Tengu nests filled with their giant eggs high in the remote mountains. One egg was said to be enough to feed an entire family, but few would dare to disturb them for fear of the Tengu’s bloody wrath. They were often said to favor Cryptomeria trees for their nests, which are known for their aromatic wood, so people were especially weary of Tengu when near these particular trees.
Tengu have been known to possess a wide array of supernatural powers, including teleportation, telepathy, premonition, thought projection (they were thought to be able to invade a person’s mind and drive them insane), and shape shifting. Tengu were said to be able to take the form of a man, woman, or child, but were most fond of taking the shape of a monk or elderly mountain hermit. In some areas, Tengu were thought to be able to take the forms of tanuki (raccoon dogs) and kitsune (foxes), which were also known as shape shifters. It is even suggested in some traditions that foxes and raccoon dogs were not in fact shape shifters themselves, but rather merely alternate forms taken by Tengu.
Tengu translates to “Heaven Dog,” but this name is misleading as the they look nothing like dogs. It is thought that the name “heaven Dog” was derived from a somewhat similar creature in China that was known as the Tiangou, or “celestial hound.” It is not known for sure why these strange Chinese creatures were called this, but one hypothesis holds that they were named after a devastating meteor that hit China somewhere around the 6th century BC. Accounts describe the tail of this falling meteor as looking like the tail of a dog, hence the name “Celestial Hound,” and the powers of destruction that were associated with these creatures. There are various hypotheses proposed for why these Chinese Tiangou became the “Tengu” of Japan, but it seems that at least the name has its origins there.
The most common modern image of Japanese Tengu is not of a dog at all, but rather that of a humanoid, bird-like creature with a very long nose, a human’s body, arms, and legs, yet possessing wings and feathers. The contemporary Tengu is often depicted as looking more or less like a human warrior monk with wings and an abnormally long nose, a somewhat angry looking face, and frequently with deep, red colored skin. However, in the long histroy of the Tengu, they have undergone somewhat of an evolution in both form and purpose.
The original incarnation of the Tengu was animalistic, more avian than human, and was typically portrayed as looking variously like anything from simply a giant bird of prey, to a vaguely humanoid form covered in feathers, with wings, piercing eyes, a compact head with a prominently beaked face, and heavy, vicious looking talons. They are depicted both with clothing and without. These animal-like beings were known as the Karasu Tengu, or literally “Crow Tengu,” although they could just as often look like eagles or other birds. The Karasu Tengu were known as evil creatures, prone to abducting children, starting fires, and savagely killing anyone foolish enough to do damage to their forest lair. They were even known to slaughter people for no discernible reason at all. These were violent and malicious creatures, said to enjoy ripping travelers limb from limb, and they were thought to be heralds of disaster, war, misfortune, and doom wherever they went.
In later times, the Tengu underwent a gradual transformation, becoming increasingly more anthropomorphized over time. The beaks became humanized into long, sometimes hooked noses, and the bodies became more clearly humanoid in form. These more human-like Tengu were often depicted holding feathers in their hand, and wearing a monk’s garb. These later versions became known as the Konoha Tengu or Yamabushi tengu, which means “mountain monk Tengu.”
The Tengu became increasingly known as great warriors, skilled martial artists, and expert weapon smiths. In fact, they were often given the reputation of being the best martial arts instructors. In addition, they were gradually seen as more benign creatures, even helping, or protecting humans. Whereas the more ancient forms of malicious Tengu were said to abduct children or attack travelers, the later, more benevolent Yamabushi Tengu were often enlisted to help find missing children. The Tengu still maintained their love of war and fighting, but their overall evil and sinister reputation was softened somewhat. In some cases, these more intelligent, more civilized Yamabushi Tengu were seen as coexisting with the earlier Karasu Tengu as their leaders.
Regardless of how benevolent they were seen to be, all forms of Tengu were known to have a mischievous streak to some extent. They were known for deceiving and playing tricks or pranks on humans, or sometimes kidnapping people only to disorient them and set them loose just to see what would happen. It was said that shoguns would sometimes go so far as to formally request that any Tengu leave the area in advance of important visits in order to reduce the chance of embarrassing incidents and tomfoolery. There is even a scroll at a temple in Shizuoka prefecture which allegedly contains a written apology penned by a Tengu. It is told that the creature was captured in the 17th century by the high priest of the temple and forced to write the apology after relentlessly harassing travelers in the area.
Other such relics related to Tengu can supposedly be found in temples around Japan. For instance, the Hachinohe Museum in Aomori prefecture houses the alleged mummified remains of a Tengu. The skull of these remains is humanoid, while the body is covered with feathers and the feet are like that of a bird. Another temple in Saitama prefecture keeps what is said to be the talon of a Tengu, while still another supposedly has the beaked skull of one. Is there any grain of truth at all behind any of these stories? Does the Tengu have any cryptozoological significance? Of course the sword wielding, magic using, telepathic, winged humanoids seem far fetched, but what of the earlier versions of the Tengu? It seems at least worth considering the cryptozoological possibilities behind this creature’s origins.
Another type of winged beast that is said to prowl the skies of Japan is less humanoid in nature but just about as strange, and are described as monstrous crows. A sight that is familiar to anyone who has been to Japan for any length of time is the large populations of crows. They are everywhere, and in recent years their population has exploded. Although they have a powerful place in Japanese folklore and myth, these ubiquitous birds are clever, bold, and even aggressive to the point that they have become a real nuisance in many areas. Although Japanese crows tend to be quite large to begin with, in some countryside areas, there have been reports of of crows far larger than the normal carrion crow (Corvus corone) and jungle crow (Corvus macrorhynchos) that are found in Japan. Some remote, rural farmers have described being alarmed by crows at least twice as large as usual and with wingspans estimated as 6 feet or even more.
One sighting from the 80s was made by a group of kindergarten schoolchildren walking home from school in a rural village. The children were startled when a huge crow landed on the road in front of them. A teacher with the children also saw the crow, and described the bird as being almost as tall as the children, which would make it an enormous bird indeed. The giant bird appraised the group briefly before flying off into the trees. Another sighting was made in the late 1990s by a farmer and his wife in Shizuoka prefecture. The man claimed that they had been out in the field one day watching their shiba-inu dog run about when a massive black shape dashed down from the sky to land on the ground near the dog, startling it in the process. The witness claimed that the bird was an enormous crow that was bigger than their dog and with an estimated 8-foot wingspan. The gigantic bird hopped about for a bit and then flapped its vast wings to take off into the sky once more.
These super-sized crows are said to be most active at dusk, and are generally reported as being shyer and less bold than usual crows. When they sense a human nearby, they are known to retreat quickly. They also do not seem to be as vocal as more normal sized crows. It seems most likely that perhaps larger individuals of regular Japanese crows are being misidentified as something bigger, or perhaps some larger out of place bird or escaped exotic animal is behind the reports. The Steller’s sea eagle is found in Japan and is one of the world’s largest birds, with wingspans up to 8 feet. In Japan, The sea eagle is typically found only in the northernmost island of Hokkaido. However, vagrant sea eagles have been known to venture all the way down the east coast of Japan.
The sea eagle is typically dark brown to black all over the body except for some white markings. With it’s typically dark coloration, could a sea eagle be misidentified by someone not acquainted with them as a very large crow in the dusk hours these giant crows are seen? It would certainly explain the large sizes reported, as well as the behavior that diverges from typical crows, such as shyness and lack of vocalizations. Whatever they are, the giant crows of Japan remain a perplexing avian mystery.
Winged monsters seem to be a permanent feature upon the landscape of the weird. Whether they take the form of giant flying creatures or winged humanoids, they remain mysterious enigmas that pervade regions around the world. What lies at the heart of such accounts? Are these biological entities or something altogether different. It appears that it depends on the particular case involved, but until we have answers either way the phenomenon of winged cryptids will continue to stoke our imaginations.