Tag: ‘Hokkaido’

Okiku doll

28 Apr 2010

A mysterious doll possessed by the spirit of a child has captured the curiosity of people across Japan for decades. The legendary Okiku doll, named after the girl who long ago used to play with it, is a 40-centimeter (16-in) tall kimono-clad figure with beady black eyes -- and hair that grows.

Okiku doll --
Okiku doll illustration by Shohei Otomo

The Okiku doll has resided at the Mannenji temple in the town of Iwamizawa (Hokkaido prefecture) since 1938. According to the temple, the traditional doll initially had short cropped hair, but over time it has grown to about 25 centimeters (10 in) long, down to the doll's knees. Although the hair is periodically trimmed, it reportedly keeps growing back.

It is said that the doll was originally purchased in 1918 by a 17-year-old boy named Eikichi Suzuki while visiting Sapporo for a marine exhibition. He bought the doll on Tanuki-koji -- Sapporo's famous shopping street -- as a souvenir for his 2-year-old sister, Okiku. The young girl loved the doll and played with it every day, but the following year, she died suddenly of a cold. The family placed the doll in the household altar and prayed to it every day in memory of Okiku.

Some time later, they noticed the hair had started to grow. This was seen as a sign that the girl's restless spirit had taken refuge in the doll.

Okiku doll -- Okiku doll --
Okiku doll at Mannenji temple [via]

In 1938, the Suzuki family moved to Sakhalin, and they placed the doll in the care of Mannenji temple, where it has remained ever since.

Nobody has ever been able to fully explain why the doll's hair continues to grow. However, one scientific examination of the doll supposedly concluded that the hair is indeed that of a young child.

[Note: This is the last in a series of weekly posts on mysteries and urban legends from Japan.]

Human pillars

17 Mar 2010

Tales of "human pillars" (hitobashira) -- people who were deliberately buried alive inside large-scale construction projects -- have circulated in Japan since ancient times. Most often associated with castles, levees and bridges, these old legends are based on ancient beliefs that a more stable and durable structure could be achieved by sealing people inside the walls or foundation as an offering to the gods.

Matsue castle --
Was a young woman buried alive inside the wall of Matsue castle long ago?

One of the most famous tales of construction-related human sacrifice is associated with Matsue castle (Shimane prefecture), which was originally built in the 17th century. According to local legend, the stone wall of the central tower collapsed on multiple occasions during construction. Convinced that a human pillar would stabilize the structure, the builders decided to look for a suitable person at the local Bon festival. From the crowd, they selected a beautiful young maiden who demonstrated superb Bon dancing skills. After whisking her away from the festival and sealing her in the wall, the builders were able to complete the castle without incident.

However, the maiden's restless spirit came to haunt the castle after it was completed. According to folklorist Lafcadio Hearn, who described the castle's curse in his 1894 work "Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan," the entire structure would shake anytime a girl danced in the streets of Matsue, so a law had to be passed to prohibit public dancing.

Although there is no conclusive evidence indicating that construction-related human sacrifice was actually practiced in Japan, it has been suggested that some laborers may, on occasion, have been terminated as a security measure after working on castles. Doing so would have prevented knowledge of a castle's secrets and weaknesses from falling into enemy hands.

Other notable structures rumored to make use of human pillars include:

- Gujo-Hachiman castle (Gifu prefecture)
- Nagahama castle (Shiga prefecture)
- Maruoka castle (Fukui prefecture)
- Ozu castle (Ehime prefecture)
- Komine castle (Fukushima prefecture)
- Itsukushima shrine (Hiroshima prefecture)
- Fukushima bridge (Tokushima prefecture)
- Kintaikyou bridge (Yamaguchi prefecture)
- Hattori-Oike reservoir (Hiroshima prefecture)
- Imogawa irrigation channel (Nagano prefecture)
- Karigane embankment (Shizuoka prefecture)
- Manda levee (Osaka prefecture)

Modern-day versions of these old legends can also be found on Japan's northern island of Hokkaido. Human bones have been found around several bridges and tunnels, lending an air of credibility to rumors that workers were sacrificed during construction.

Jomon tunnel monument --
Monument erected after skeletons were found sealed in the walls of Jomon tunnel

Jomon tunnel, constructed on the Sekihoku Main Line (JR Hokkaido) in 1914, is notorious for rumors of human sacrifice. In 1968, the tunnel underwent repairs after a major earthquake damaged part of the wall inside. While doing the renovations, workers found a number of human skeletons, standing upright, sealed inside the walls. A large quantity of human bones were also unearthed near the tunnel. The discovery fueled beliefs that the tunnel was constructed with human pillars, and many people -- including train conductors -- came to fear that the tunnel was haunted by the ghosts of the victims.

Some theories suggest that brutal working conditions and poor nutrition led many workers -- mainly criminals and debtors working against their will -- to contract beri beri, a deadly nervous system ailment. With no access to medicine, these victims are believed to have been buried alive near the construction site. A monument honoring the fallen workers was erected in 1980.

Jomon tunnel monument --
Were people sealed inside the concrete supports of Koshikawa bridge?

People are also rumored to have been sealed inside the concrete supports of Koshikawa bridge, on the now-defunct Konboku line (also in Hokkaido). While no actual human skeletons have been found, recent surveys have revealed the possible existence of hollow spaces in the structure that may contain human remains. Records indicate that at least 11 indentured workers may have died building the bridge, which was completed in 1939.

[Note: This is the latest in a series of weekly posts on Japanese urban legends.]

Snow sculptures at Sapporo Snow Festival 2010

08 Feb 2010

This year's Sapporo Snow Festival kicked off last weekend, bringing hundreds of massive snow sculptures into the streets of Japan's northern capital. Here's a look at some of the works on display at the event, which runs until February 11.

+ Video

Sapporo Snow Festival 2010 --
Hatsune Miku [Photo by kamemaruk]

Sapporo Snow Festival 2010 --
Michael Jackson [Photo by tmaeda_japan]

Sapporo Snow Festival 2010 --
Frauenkirche (The Church of Our Lady) [Photo by North☆Star]

Sapporo Snow Festival 2010 --
Northern Zoos [Photo via Sapporo Snow Festival website]

Sapporo Snow Festival 2010 --
Northern Zoos [Photo by 悪さー]

Sapporo Snow Festival 2010 --
Northern Zoos [Photo by 悪さー]

Sapporo Snow Festival 2010 --
The Place Where Dreams Come True [Photo by minkara]

Sapporo Snow Festival 2010 --
The Place Where Dreams Come True [Photo by zuiko]

Sapporo Snow Festival 2010 --
Gundam [Photo by あくあ]

Sapporo Snow Festival 2010 --
Royal Palace of Baekje [Photo by 野鳥大好き]

Sapporo Snow Festival 2010 --
Buddha [Photo by あくあ]

Sapporo Snow Festival 2010 --
Kodama [Photo by あくあ]

Sapporo Snow Festival 2010 --
Gundam [Photo by あくあ]

Sapporo Snow Festival 2010 --
Iolani Palace [Photo by tmaeda_japan]

Sapporo Snow Festival 2010 --
[Photo by あくあ]

Sapporo Snow Festival 2010 --
Seitokai no Ichizon [Photo by ryu.i4]

Sapporo Snow Festival 2010 --
[Photo by あくあ]

Sapporo Snow Festival 2010 --
Chibi Maruko-chan [Photo by あくあ]

Alien squid hijacks movie trailer

21 Oct 2009

Alien squid invades trailer for Watashi Dasuwa --

In Hakodate, the battle rages on between alien squid from the planet Ikaaru and giant robots shaped like the city's landmarks. In their latest offensive, the dastardly squid invaders have muscled their way into the trailer for "It's on Me" (Watashi Dasuwa), a new film shot on location in Hakodate.

+ Video

The film, which debuts today at the Tokyo International Film Festival, is a low-key drama about a woman who returns to her hometown to spread the wealth she accumulated in Tokyo.

Although the story itself has nothing to do with aliens (and unfortunately no extraterrestrials actually appear in the film), it happens to be set in Hakodate, which is home to an unconventional tourism campaign involving giant robots that defend the city against alien cephalopods seeking revenge on a population that eats too much squid. This tourism campaign has now wrapped its tentacles around the film.

+ Video: Alien squid dances next to a streetcar advertising the film

The new and improved trailer, which was recently posted on the film's YouTube channel, is nearly identical to the original version, except for the appearance of alien invaders. Only in Hakodate.

[Via: Nippon Cinema]

Alien squid vs. giant robots in tourism videos

26 Mar 2009

Ika robot vs. Tower robot --

The city of Hakodate, Japan has been producing official tourism videos unlike any you've ever seen before -- action-packed affairs starring famous landmarks as giant robots that battle a runaway mechanical squid hijacked by vengeful aliens.

The first video begins with an interesting factoid: According to a survey of 100 aliens, Hakodate is the number one city they would most like to invade.

+ Video 1

The invaders here are alien cephalopods from the planet Ikaaru, who seek revenge on the people of Hakodate for eating too much squid. The aliens hijack an enlarged version of Hakodate's tourism mascot -- a mechanical squid named "Ikabo," which was built by Future University-Hakodate (FUN) in 2007 -- and send it on a rampage through the city.

Angry alien squid from Ikaaru --
Angry alien squid from Ikaaru: "All they eat is squid!"

A pair of giant robots are called into action to protect Hakodate's precious historical buildings from destruction. Hakodate's Goryōkaku Tower transforms into a deadly fighting machine, while an enormous Chūkū Dogū (a treasured 3,200-year-old hollow clay figurine unearthed in Hokkaidō in 1975) awakens from a deep slumber.

Chuku Dogu --
Giant Chūkū Dogū wakes up

The city's star-shaped Goryōkaku fortress also joins the fight. After coming under attack, the fortress rises up from the flames and takes off like a giant spaceship.

+ Video 2

In the second video, the battle between the hijacked Ikabo squid robot and the Goryōkaku Tower robot rages on into winter.

+ Video 3

In the final video, the fierce battle appears to end as the Goryōkaku ship delivers a deadly blow to the Ikaaru spacecraft. But the fight has really only just begun -- another fleet of alien ships is fast approaching.

Hakodate appears to be under full-scale alien attack and its survival is in question. Visit Hakodate soon... before it's too late.

Snow sculptures at Sapporo Snow Festival 2009

07 Feb 2009

Here are some photos of giant snow sculptures from the 60th annual Sapporo Snow Festival, which runs until February 11.

Yuki Matsuri 2009 --
Hakodate Magistrate's Office [Photo: Moontears]

?60????????? --
Kinnikuman [Photo: Talk P]

??? --
Namdaemun (check out the the LIVE WEBCAM [WMP]) [Photo: Sasakei]

Yuki Festival 2009 --
Namdaemun under construction [Photo: tetsu]

Snow Festival, Sapporo, Hokkaido --
Olympic gold medalist swimmer Kōsuke Kitajima [Photo: Sasakei]

Snow sculpture --
Kitajima under construction [Photo: tetsu]

60th Anniversary Snow Festival 2009 --
Hamamatsu Castle [Photo: Talk P]

Yuki Matsuri 2009 --
Sento-kun & Manto-kun [Photo: tetsu]

Sapporo Snow Festival 2009 --
25 years in Japan [Photo: Sasakei]

Ice sculpture --
Japan Self-Defense Force soldiers cleaning mouse heads [Photo: Reuters]

Ice sculpture --
Stitch [Photo: Talk P]

????? --
Tsuyo Ink [Photo: Sapporo Snow Festival Official Site]

?????? --
Snow Zoo [Photo: bigarnex]

?????? --
Alien Baltan [Photo: bigarnex]

?????? --
Pekkle [Photo: bigarnex]

Zero Emission House

17 Jun 2008

Zero Emissions House --

Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) has released a few details about the "Zero Emission House," a state-of-the-art green home under construction at the site of the upcoming Hokkaido Toyako G8 Summit, where environmental issues will be high on the agenda.

Incorporating the latest in sustainable building technology, the 280-square-meter (3,000 sq ft) Japanese-style home is designed to have a small carbon footprint. A 14.5-kilowatt solar array and a small 1-kilowatt wind generator provide power to the home, which is equipped with next-generation energy-saving appliances, thermal insulation glass, vacuum insulated panels and a green roof. The interior is illuminated by a system of light ducts and OLED lamps.

Zero Emissions House --

Honda's Asimo humanoid robot -- whose exact carbon footprint size is unknown -- will be on hand to serve tea to guests, who are welcome to test-drive the electric vehicles in the driveway and soak their feet in the fuel cell-powered foot bath.

Construction of the 200 million yen ($2 million) home is scheduled for completion at the end of June, at which time it will be unveiled to the foreign press. After the summit, plans are to transport the house to another location, where it will be opened to the general public.

[Source: METI]

Seven mysterious creatures of Japan

27 May 2008

Bigfoot. The Loch Ness Monster. The Abominable Snowman. Tales of unidentified mysterious animals have long intrigued and captured the imagination of people around the world -- and Japan is no exception. Here is a brief introduction to 7 of the island nation's most notorious cryptids, complete with grainy photographs where available. Whether you regard these tales as fact or fiction, their impact on the culture where they were encountered is undeniable.

* * * * *

- Hibagon

Hibagon --

The Hibagon (a.k.a. Hinagon) is a cryptic hominid, similar to Bigfoot, inhabiting the area around Mt. Hiba in northern Hiroshima prefecture. According to numerous eyewitness accounts from the early 1970s, the Hibagon stands about 1.5 to 1.7 meters (about 5 ft) tall, weighs an estimated 80 to 90 kilograms (about 180 lbs), is covered in a thick coat of black or brown fur (sometimes it is reported as having a spot of white fur on its chest or arms), and has an unusually large triangular head and intelligent human-like eyes. The Hibagon received its name from the local animal control board.

Hibagon -- The first known Hibagon sighting occurred on July 20, 1970 in the area around Mt. Hiba near the border with Tottori prefecture. Three days after the initial sighting, the furry ape-like creature was seen again walking through a rice paddy in the nearby rural town of Saijo. A total of 12 sightings were reported that year, and mysterious footprints were found in the snow that December.

Numerous Hibagon sightings were reported in areas surrounding Mt. Hiba in the summers between 1971 and 1973, as increased human activity during the hunting season forced the creature down from the mountain. On August 15, 1974, the Hibagon was photographed as it hid behind a persimmon tree. Unusual footprints measuring 20 centimeters (9 in) long were found nearby. After this photo was taken, the Hibagon went back into hiding, only to be seen two more times -- once in 1980 and again in 1982 -- before disappearing forever.

Hibagon --

The Hibagon may have disappeared long ago, but the residents of Saijo have not forgotten. The town has adopted the likeness of the creature as its mascot, and souvenir shops sell Hibagon Eggs and other cryptid ape-themed sweets. [More]

* * * * *

- Tsuchinoko

Tsuchinoko --
Tsuchinoko -- Reality? Myth? Or mistaken identity?

The Tsuchinoko is a snake-like cryptid found throughout Japan, except in Hokkaido and the Okinawan islands. Reports describe the Tsuchinoko as having a thick, stubby body measuring 30 to 80 centimeters (12 to 30 in) in length, often with a distinct neck, gray, brown or black scaly skin, and venomous fangs. Some accounts suggest the Tsuchinoko has a loud, high-pitched squeak and can jump as far as one meter.

Tsuchinoko --

The earliest known written record of the Tsuchinoko dates back to the 7th century, where it appears in the Kojiki (Records of Ancient Matters), the oldest surviving book in Japan. In some legends, the Tsuchinoko can speak, has a tendency to tell lies, and enjoys the taste of alcohol.

Tsuchinoko --

Skeptics dismiss Tsuchinoko sightings as simple cases of mistaken identity, suggesting the creatures are nothing more than snakes in the process of digesting large meals, or perhaps even escaped exotic pets such as the blue-tongued lizard.

Tsuchinoko --

Regardless, local tourist boards in rural areas frequently organize Tsuchinoko hunts to attract visitors, promising large sums of money to any participant lucky enough to capture one. The town of Itoigawa in Niigata prefecture, for example, has a hunt scheduled for June 8, 2008 and is offering a 100 million yen (about $1 million) reward to whoever brings one back alive. [More]

* * * * *

- Kusshii

Kusshii --

Kusshii is a giant lake monster believed to inhabit Hokkaido's Lake Kussharo, a large freshwater lake located in an environment and climate similar to that of the famed Loch Ness. According to eyewitness accounts, Kusshi is 10 to 20 meters (30 to 60 ft) long and has humps on its back, a long neck and a pair of horns on its head. Reports suggest it can swim as fast as a motorboat. Kusshii's most famous appearances include a 1973 sighting by 40-member team of biologists from Hokkaido University, as well as 15 separate reports by tourists in 1974.

* * * * *

- Isshii

Isshii --

Isshii, another Japanese cryptid lake monster, is believed to inhabit Kagoshima prefecture's 20,000-year-old Lake Ikeda, the largest caldera lake in Kyushu. The creature is similar in appearance to Kusshii, but larger.

Isshii entered the public consciousness in September 1978, after more than 20 people reportedly witnessed a giant creature moving at a blistering speed through the water. Widespread news coverage of the sighting brought a flood of tourists to the lake, and in December of the same year, a photograph was taken showing what some believe is the back of the creature poking through the water surface. Since 1990, a number of home videos have emerged showing mysterious activity just under the water surface, but none of the videos are widely seen as irrefutable proof of Isshii's existence.

Some theories suggest Isshii could be an unidentified descendant of the Plesiosaur, while others believe it to be some sort of giant eel. Other theories suggest the sightings can be explained as rogue waves generated by winds unique to the lake.

Rogue waves cannot, however, explain what happened in 1961, when a large-scale search was conducted for a US military jet believed to have crashed in the lake. Sonar equipment used in the search reportedly revealed a large rock-shaped object moving through the water below, and records indicate that divers on the lake floor were nearly attacked by a large, unidentified creature.

* * * * *

- Giant Snake of Mt. Tsurugi

Mt. Tsurugi, the second highest peak on the island of Shikoku, is steeped in mystery. According to one local legend, the mountain is actually a giant man-made pyramid, and another legend says that a hoard of King Solomon's secret treasure lies buried within. A giant snake believed to be guarding that treasure has been sighted on many occasions.

Giant snake of Mt. Tsurugi -- In May 1973, a group of 4 forestry workers reportedly encountered a 10 meter (33 ft) long snake as big around as a telephone pole. The creature was described as having shiny black scales, and it reportedly made a loud chirping sound. In the months that followed, local officials organized a large-scale hunt for the snake, enlisting the help of hundreds of volunteers. While the creature was not apprehended, the searchers did find what appeared to be giant snake tracks that measured 40 centimeters (16 in) wide and passed alongside fallen trees.

A local history museum has in its collection a large jawbone measuring 34 centimeters (13 in) across, which many believe belongs to the giant snake. Others speculate it belongs to a shark.

* * * * *

- Takitaro

Takitarou --

The Takitaro is a type of giant fish measuring up to 3 meters (10 ft) long, which is found in Yamagata prefecture's Lake Otoriike. Located nearly 1,000 meters above sea level, the remote mountain lake was created ages ago when an earthquake triggered a massive landslide that dammed up a mountain stream.

The Takitaro appears in a number of stories throughout the 20th-century. In 1917, for example, a pair of men are said to have captured a 1.5 meter (5 ft) long fish that was large enough to feed 20 floodgate construction workers for 4 days. In 1982, a group of mountain climbers above the lake observed a fish over 2 meters (6.5 ft) long in the clear water below. This sighting grabbed headlines nationwide.

Three years later, in 1985, a team of scientists went to the lake in search of the Takitaro. Sonar equipment revealed the presence of giant fish, and the scientists identified some smaller specimens as relatives of ancient salmon that likely became trapped in the lake when it was formed long ago. The true identity of the giant Takitaro, however, remains a mystery, but some believe it is a mutant descendant of these ancient fish.

* * * * *

- Kappa

Kappa (river imps) have appeared in countless stories and folk legends for centuries, and they rank among Japan's most well-known cryptids. While most people nowadays regard the amphibious child-sized troublemakers as pure myth, stories of kappa encounters still crop up from time to time, such as the following two reports from Japan's southern island of Kyushu.

Kappa -- Kappa -- Kappa --

Report 1 -- Slimy Footprints at the River's Edge: At around 11 PM on August 1, 1984 in the town of Tsushima in Nagasaki prefecture, a squid fisherman named Ryu Shirozaki was walking home from the local pier after work. As he passed near the Kuta river, he came upon a small group of children playing at the water's edge. While it was not entirely uncommon to encounter people fishing in the river at night, it was rather surprising to see youngsters there.

As Shirozaki approached the children, he was struck by how bizarre they appeared in the moonlight. He could make out swarthy faces, unusually spindly arms and legs, and glistening skin. Suspicious, Shirozaki called out to them as he neared, but they seemed startled and quickly disappeared into the water.

The next morning when he returned to the same spot, Shirozaki discovered a set of moist, teardrop-shaped footprints on the nearby pavement. The prints, which appeared to consist of a slimy substance that had begun to coagulate under the hot morning sun, stretched for about 20 meters. Each footprint measured 22 centimeters (about 10 in) long and 12 centimeters (5 in) wide, and they were spaced about 50 to 60 centimeters (about 2 ft) apart.

Shirozaki and a few curious onlookers immediately suspected the footprints belonged to a kappa. People began to gather around as the news spread quickly through town, and all agreed the prints belonged to a kappa. In the minds of many residents, the footprints confirmed the existence of the river imps they knew through local legends.

When police forensic investigators arrived on the scene, they determined that the slimy footprints consisted of an unknown secretion. They took a sample to the lab for analysis, but the results unfortunately turned out to be inconclusive because the sample was too small. The police eventually dropped their investigation, and the mystery of the slimy footprints was never solved.

Report 2 -- The Unclean Guest: Another recent kappa encounter occurred on June 30, 1991 in the town of Saito in Miyazaki prefecture, when an office worker named Mitsugu Matsumoto and his wife Junko returned home for the evening. Upon opening the front door, the Matsumotos were confronted with a strange smell inside their home. Inside, they found dozens of small, wet footprints around the front door and in the hallway, bathroom, and two tatami rooms. At first they suspected a burglar, but they soon realized nothing had been stolen.

The police briefly surveyed the house, but found nothing except a floor soiled by 30 footprints, each measuring about 7 centimeters long and 6 centimeters wide, and having 4 or 5 toes. To Matsumoto, the footprints did not look human, nor did they appear to belong to any animal he could imagine.

Later that night, as Mrs. Matsumoto was putting laundry away, she discovered an unusual orange stain on some clothing. The next morning, as Matsumoto inspected the house more closely, he discovered a deposit of orange liquid on the portable stereo in the tatami room. He took a sample to the local public health center for analysis, and the results indicated the liquid had an extremely high iron content and a chemical composition resembling spring water.

Troubled by the incident, Matsumoto decided to visit a shaman. After listening to Matsumoto's story, the shaman encouraged him not to worry, explaining that the kappa indigenous to the nearby swamp enjoyed playing the occasional prank on local residents. The kappa were harmless, the shaman told him.

Harmless, perhaps, but Matsumoto found the kappa difficult to clean up after. He tried using detergent, paint thinner and gasoline to remove the footprints and orange stains, but nothing seemed to work.

[Note: This post includes information from Shin-ichiro Namiki's Nippon No Kaiki Hyaku, 2007 (published in Japanese)]

Video: Cloud streets

27 Feb 2008

Cloud streets --

This video -- a follow-up to a previous post about strange cloud formations seen over the Sea of Okhotsk last summer -- provides a rare close-up bird's-eye view of cloud streets, which are created when convection currents cut low-lying cumulus into long, clean strips. According to the video narration, these clouds floated just over the sea surface, stood 300 meters tall and stretched for over 100 kilometers.