Town touting mythical snake find; is ‘rare’ creature really a cash cow?

by Kenzo Moriguchi

MIKATA, Hyogo Pref. — The recent discovery of an unusual reptile in this small skiing town is being touted by some as the first recorded capture of the mythical “tsuchinoko,” a legendary snakelike creature first documented in the eighth century.

Gawkers have a look at the “tsuchinoko” in Mikata, Hyogo Prefecture

The creature was first mentioned in the “Kojiki,” a text from the eighth century that is Japan’s oldest existing chronicle and the oldest book written in Japanese.

While unproven sightings of creatures believed to be tsuchinoko have been common in the postwar period, they have been met with skepticism as none has ever been found and studied.

But all this may change, according to local government official Toshikazu Miyawaki. While he says the creature they have had on display for tourists since its capture June 6 may well be the mythical animal, the town is in no rush to test its authenticity.

“We decided to let it first recover in an environment similar to the natural habitat it is used to,” he said.

Toshikazu Miyawaki explains what the creature is reputed to look like.

The town has built a cage on a patio of its souvenir shop, and the animal will be transferred to the cage as soon as it is ready.

Based on reported sightings, a tsuchinoko is a creature 30 cm to 80 cm long with a big, constricted head and poisonous fangs.

The features distinguishing it from snakes are that it squeaks like a mouse and its body is much thicker than its head or stubby tail.

“Considering such criteria, the creature we have here might be a tsuchinoko,” Miyawaki said. “When the creature was brought to the town hall, its body was really thick and short. And several people did hear it squeak.”

The town’s pursuit of the mythical creature is not new — it has used “sightings” of the creature in the past to attract media attention.

Mikata made headlines in 1989 when the town, under former Mayor Tsujio Yoshida, announced a reward of around 330 sq. meters of land to any person capturing a tsuchinoko.

Miyawaki said the creature they have was about 70 cm long when it was caught June 6 and it now measures more than 1 meter.

Although snakes are a reasonably common sight around Mikata, locals have greeted the latest “discovery” with curiosity.

“Wow, it is very black, even its tongue,” exclaimed a woman from the town’s Niiya district. “I have never seen a snake like this. It is more like a dinosaur.”

After more than a week in the public eye in a plastic tank at the town’s tourist association, the reptile looked a little tired before the constant display of visitors from as far away as Saitama and Chiba prefectures.

After the condition of the critter stabilizes, Miyawaki said the town will consider how it should be examined — perhaps through DNA analysis, which would only require a tiny sample from its body.

So it will still be some time before the captors receive their promised plot of land.

“Even if it turns out not to be a tsuchinoko, it might be a new snake never before found in the world. I hope this ‘snake’ will be the first such species recognized in the 21st century,” Miyawaki said.