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Saturday, March 21, 2009


Tsuchinoko the flat snake

The ‘flat snake’, a yokai that may have its roots in reality. Tsuchinoko is reported to be one to three feet long with a dorso-ventraly compressed body. It has horn like ridges above the eyes and dorsal pits. The head is triangular and the neck well defined. It is thought to be venomous. It is described as being black or rust coloured. It is supposed to have an odor like chestnut tree flowers!

In legend it has a liking for alcohol, can speak and can hold it’s tail in its mouth and roll along like a hoop (such stories are common in western snake legends as well). It is also said to progress in a series of hopping motions.

The creature is known as Bachi hebi in Northeastern Japan and tsuchi-hebi. It is also said to live in Korea. This yokai has a long history. Drawings resembling Tsuchinoko on stoneware dating back to the ancient Jōmon Period (14,000 BC to 300 BC.) have been discovered in Gifu and Nagano. An encyclopedia from the Edo Period contains a description of the tsuchinoko under the name Yatsui hebi. Accounts of the Tsuchinoko can also be found in the Kojiki, Japan’s oldest surviving book from 680 AD.

But this is a yokai that is still reported in modern times. In June, 1994, 73 year old Kazuaki Noda was cutting grass with his wife when they came across a huge snake with a thick body like a beer bottle and a head described as being like that of a tortoise.

On May 8th, 2000, 90 year old farmer Sugie Tanaka was out looking for bamboo shoots in Mikata, Hyogo prefecture, when she happened across two metallic coloured snakes with what she described as “tails like rats.”

On May 21st 2000 in Yoshi, Okayama prefecture, a farmer cutting grass saw one of these weird serpents slithering across his field. He said it’s face reminded him of the popular Japanese cartoon cat Doraemon. He slashed at it with his weed whipper but it escaped into a stream. He said he had heard of the creatures before and thought they make a kind of chirping sound.

Four days later seventy two year old Hideko Takashima found the creature’s body lying beside a stream. Government officials collected the body and sent it to Kawasaki University of Medical Welfare to be examined. Professor Kuuniyasu Saton examined and said that the creature may indeed have been the beast referred to as Tsuchinoko in ancient legends but “scientifically speaking, it was a kind of snake.”

If the professor ever established the species or if it was indeed a new species is unknown.
A live Tsuchinoko was reportedly captured in Mikata on June 6th, 2000. It was supposedly put on display in a glass box in the Mikata’s visitor center. It may well have been a hoax to drum up publicity for the Tsuchinoko hunts held each year in the area.

Also in June, 2000. 82 year old Mitsuko Arima saw a Tsuchinoko swimming along a river. She described its eyes as being the most striking feature, saying “I can still see the eyes now. They were big and round and it looked like they were floating on the water.” She added “I’ve lived for over 80 years but I’ve never seen anything like that in my life.”
On 30th of August 2000 the Mainich Daily News reported that a bounty had been put on Tsuchinoko’s head. People throughout Kansai and from as far away as Kanto had throng to the town in central Okayama Prefecture in order to try and catch a Tsuchinoko and claim the reward of twenty million yen from the Yoshi Municipal Government. Though the scaly little yokai remained elusive local sales of Tsuchinoko wine and Tsuchinoko rice cake sky rocketed.

Other supposed bodies of this animal have turned up. In Mikata, (the area said to have the highest concentration of sightings in Japan) a corpse was found by four loggers in the Spring of 2001. The body was actually turned over to the Japan Snake Center in Gunma prefecture, where an analysis was done on it that confirmed it as a common grass snake. Another body was found by a villager near Mikata around the same time in May that year, and it too was turned in to the same center for examination. It was determined to be a rat snake.

Back in 1969 A live Tsuchinoko was reportedly captured in by an M. Tokutake in Mikata. He supposedly captured it with a forked stick and kept it for a couple of days before deciding to eat it.

According to Naoki Yamaguchi, who has interviewed over 200 eyewitnesses and is author of the book Catching the Illusory Tsuchinoko, the specially organized mass searches are of little use. The searchers do not go far enough into the wilderness. Most sightings are by hikers, fishermen and loggers.

If Tsuchinoko is a real creature then it seems probable to me that it is an aberrant species of pit viper (Crotalinae). The flattening of the body could enable the snake to hide in rock crevices. There is a president for thin in reptiles. The chuckwalla (Sauromalus) are a genus comprising of five species of Iguanid lizards of the arid areas of the southern USA.
They are dorso-ventaly flattened and once in a crevice inflate their bodies to make extraction by a predator near impossible.

The Pancake tortoise (Malacochersus tornieri) of eastern Africa has a flattened shell so it can slide into crevices. It is not impossible that Japan, a country with a surprising number of snake species) plays host to an undiscovered pit viper of unique form and one of the most ancient yokai is in fact very real.

1 comment:

Nick Redfern said...

Go wild in the country!