In remote locations, far from the eyes of foreign tourists, Shinto temples across Japan claim to house the ancient, mummified remains of everything from ogres to mermaids. Many of the alleged remains of strange creatures are of cryptids that have strong folkloric ties, they have been enshrined within various temples across the country and treated as sacred objects. And mummies of all sorts of supposedly supernatural creatures — from the kappa river imps to the thunder-bringing raijū — have turned up as well.
Below are a few remarkable specimen for the adventurous and brave at heart.
The Buddhist temples in Japan houses weird Demon mummies such as the Zengyōji temple in the city of Kanazawa, which is home to mummified head of a three-faced demon, which a resident priest discovered, in a temple storage chamber in the early 18th century and nobody knows where it came from.
At Daijōin temple in the town of Usa, another weird mummy can be found claimed to once been the treasured heirloom of a noble family and it changed owners several times before ending up in the hands of a Daijōin temple parishioner in 1925, and is today, revered as a sacred object.
Another one in the Rakanji Temple at Yabakei, had a much smaller mummy claimed to be of a small demon, but it was unfortunately destroyed in a fire.
The mermaid mummies were a common sight at popular sideshow carnivals called misemono, in the 18th and 19th centuries, and over time the people mastered the art of stitching the heads and upper bodies of monkeys onto the bodies of fish. One such mummy resides in the National Museum of Ethnology in Leiden.
Another old mermaid mummy was also found, exhibited at a museum in Tokyo several years ago.
The kappa mummies are believed to have been crafted by Edo-period artists using parts of animals ranging from monkeys and owls to stingrays, similar to the mermaid mummies. This mummified kappa, residing in a Dutch museum, appears to comprise of various animal parts put together in a seamless whole apparently created for the carnival in the edo period.
Another mummified kappa, 70-centimeter long, dating back to 1682, can be found at Zuiryūji temple in Osaka, while another notable kappa mummy can be seen in a sake brewery in the town of Imari.
The supernatural creatures called Raijū were believed to inhabit rain clouds and occasionally fall to earth during lightning strikes, and the earliest known records of them dates back to 18th century. The descriptions of this creature vary, but most of the people believe that it had webbed fingers, sharp claws, and long fangs that, by some accounts, could shoot lightning.
An illustrated document describes it as a crab-like creature with a coat of black fur measuring about 11 centimeters (4 inches) thick. Similar other descriptions are present based on different encounters.
In the 1960s, Yūzanji temple in Iwate prefecture received a raijū mummy as a gift, from a parishioner but its origin is a mystery. It looks like a cat but has a longer skull.
Tengu is another supernatural sky creature, depicted as half human and half bird features. A tengu mummy is found in the Hachinohe Museum, in northern Japan, appears to have a humanoid head and the feathers and feet of a bird. Apparently, it made its way north after being passed around between members of Japan’s ruling samurai families.
Self Mummified Monks
A few Buddhist temples in northern Japan are home to living mummies – sokushinbutsu, which are those of ascetic monks who willingly mummified themselves in the quest for nirvana. This was a whole process including three steps where in the first step, there was shedding of weight for 1000 days.
Next step involved measures to create a germ-free environment within the body and helped preserve whatever meat was left on the bone.
Finally the third step involved retreating to a cramped underground chamber connected to the surface by a tiny bamboo air pipe where they would meditate until dying. Apparently the Japanese government outlawed the practice of self-mummification in the late 19th century.