Tag Archives: cryptozoology

Swallowed

22 May

Hi blog.

Looking through my stats, I have found that search terms for snakes top the list of views for this site.

Clearly, it is time for another serpentine-themed post!

Wada Heita Tanenaga killing a giant snake by a waterfall, by Utagawa Kuniyoshi, c.1834.

 

I was going to do something about the cryptozoological giant snakes of Japan – I’d even found a folk story which fitted in nicely to my post about sweet flag and mugwort – when I found a site citing an old New York Times article from 1891.

New York Times 13 August 1891

Swallowed by a Snake A Japanese Story of a Woman-Eating Serpent San Francisco Aug 12, 1891 The steamship Oceanic, which arrived last night from Hong kong and Yokohama brings copies of a native Japanese paper called the Kokkai, which publishes a remarkable story of a monster serpent.

It says that on the 17th inst. a man called Neemura Tahichi, twenty-five years of age, went out with his wife Otora, who was forty-eight, to pursue his usual avocation of tree cutting in Koshitamura Province of Lamba. The husband and wife separated at a place called Matsu Yama. Shortly afterward, while engaged felling a tree, Tahichi thought he heard his wife cry out. Running to the place he was horrified to find that a huge snake, described as being three feet in circumference had Otora’s head in its mouth and was engaged in swallowing her despite her struggles. Tahichi ran off to the hamlet and summoned seven or eight of his neighbors, who when they reached the scene of the catastrophe found that the snake had swallowed the woman as far as her feet and was slowly making its way to its home. They were too much terrified to touch it, and it finally effected its escape unmolested.

The Province of Lamba is one of the most desolate in Japan and monster reptiles and wild animals are frequently killed there.

The article as it appeared in the New York Times in 1891.

OK, there is no place called Lamba in Japan… nor could I identify the newspaper Kokkai…  Neemura seems an unlikely surname, unless they meant Niimura… and no luck with Japanese internet searches….

The lack of information was astonishing.  This allegedly took place at a time when collector of Japanese stories Lafcadio Hearn was based in Japan.  Yet none of his writings mention giant snakes.

And then I stumbled upon this one from the Brisbane Courier, dated September 9th, 1891:

The Japan Mail translates the following wonderful snake story from the Kokkai, a Tokio paper:-It says that on the 17th July a man called Nomura Tahichi, 50 years of age, went out with his wife Otora, who was 48, to pursue his usual vocation of tree-cutting in Koshitamura, province of Tamba. The husband and wife separated at a place called Matsu-yama. Shortly afterwards, while engaged in felling a tree, Tahichi thought he heard his wife cry out. Running to the place, he was horrified to find that a huge snake, described as being 3ft. in circumference, had Otora’s head in its mouth, and was engaged swallowing her, despite her struggles. Tahichi ran off to the hamlet and summoned seven or eight of his neighbours, who, when they reached the scene of the catastrophe, found that the snake had swallowed the woman as far as her feet, and was slowly making its way to its hole. They were too much terrified to touch it, and it finally effected its escape unmolested.

As it appeared in the Brisbane Courier.

 At least the age of the husband seemed more in line with that of the wife (50 and 25 aren’t that hard to differentiate, are they?), we have a real province (Tamba), a real surname (Nomura), and a citation of the secondary source.  Not to mention no hyperbole at the end.

A search shows no results for a place called Koshitamura in Tamba, but there was a Kashitamura in the former province.  I still have not been able to find any results in Japanese searches.  My final hope is that the Japan Mail was later absorbed into the Japan Times.  Perhaps this paper has the original locked away somewhere in its archives…

It is also worth noting that the old Tamba province is the setting of old stories about monsters.  There are several legends and folk stories involving giant snakes in Tamba, and it seems likely that the hyperbole at the end of the New York Times article was referring to this.

 

I will continue my hunt, but the chances of anything turning up seem quite slim.  Whch is a pity – the story is a little hard to swallow.

WANTED

22 Jun

The Japanese news (which is notorious for frequently being bereft of actual news content) has been having a field day with the recent apprehension of Tatsuya Takahashi, the last of a trio of Aum Shinrikyo members wanted for the 1995 Tokyo subway sarin gas attacks.

On the run for 17 years, Takahashi had a ¥1000000 reward for information leading to his arrest.  I wish I had been able to supply that information… but, wait… an acquaintance, a retired police officer, tells me that such rewards are subject to tax, and the actual post-tax amount would be about half.  There’s simply no money in bounty hunting.

 

Or is there?  Every few years there is a new reported sighting of the tsuchinoko, with local governments and private businesses offering between ¥1 million and ¥100 million for its capture.  Failing that, a good photo can get up to ¥1000000.

 

The tsuchinoko (槌の子, usually ツチノコ) is a cryptozoological snake.  It has around 40 regional names, including bachihebi, tatekurikaeshi, tsuchimbo, tsuchihebi, nozuchi and tsuchikorobi.  These last two names are also shared with those of two mythical snake-like spirits.

 

One of the oldest known deptictions of the nozuchi (tsuchinoko)

 

Another of the oldest depections of the nozuchi, physically matching the typical description of the tsucinoko – the body being much wider than the head.

 

A nozuchi as depicted in the Wakansansaizue. It looks like an ordinary snake to me…

 

Artist Sekien Toriyama’s impression of a nozuchi. This looks like a hairy snake, or a VERY hungry caterpillar.

 

So, what exactly should I be looking for?  Typical descriptions include:

  • a short (30-80 cm) but very wide body (about beer bottle width), thin tail, and distinct neck.
  • daytime active
  • moving like an inchworm, or holding its tail in its mouth and rolling like the legendary hoopsnake
  • exceptionally fast
  • capable of jumping to heights of five metres and lengths of two metres (claims of 10 metres have been made)
  • vocalising a cry that sounds like “chii”
  • a fondness for sake, and being attracted to the smell of miso, dried squid, or burning hair
  • snoring
  • possibly extremely venomous

 

Clearly, most of these are nonsense.  Claims of discovery of a dead specimen have often been followed with further claims that the body “just disappeared”, or that a captured creature was released for fear of being cursed.

 

Actual samples have all turned out to be other creatures, and most sightings can be explained as snakes that have recently swallowed a large prey, or escaped exotic species such as the blue-tongued lizard, sleepy lizard, or death adder.

 

An immature eastern blue tongued lizard, courtesy of Wikipedia. Note the wide body and short legs.

 

A related reptile, the sleepy lizard. Again, it has a triangular head, wide body and small legs. Thanks, Wikipedia.

 

A death adder. This snake is short and quite wide. Its tail is very thin, and it superficially matches the description of the tsuchinoko.
It is also highly venomous.
Photo taken from Wikipedia

 

Confusing a lizard for a snake may seem a pretty basic mistake, but don’t forget that there are only three species of lizard in Eastern Japan – none of them even approaching the above-mentioned two in size and mass.  Also, even in their native Australia, sleepy lizards and blue-tongues are occasionally mistaken for snakes.  Their limbs are small in relation to their body size, and, typical of skinks, they can move rapidly by pulling their legs in close to their bodies and wriggling in a snake-like manner.

Most people are also unaware that while a snake’s scales are smallest on the back and increase in size towards the belly, a lizard’s scales are uniform in size around the body.

 

A 2009 photo, purportedly of a tsuchinoko, that appeared in an article in the Sankei earlier this month.
Bad news for anyone that paid for this – look at the scales. They’re uniform in size. Conclusion – it’s a lizard!
Photo from the Sankei Shimbun.

 

The chances that tsuchinoko exist seem quite slim.  Nevertheless, as a quick web search shows, there are groups and societies dedicated to tsuchinoko, and several towns have annual (cash-cow?) tsuchinoko hunting events.  And it is a convenient fall-back position for the nation’s sports newspapers during slow news weeks.

 

Still, I keep my eyes open.  I don’t want that ¥100000000 chance to slip through my fingers.

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