As 2013 is the Year of the Snake, for your serpentine pleasure, I’ve put together a list of snake-like creatures from Japanese legends and folklore. Loch Ness monster fans, Yeti fans and Bigfoot fans, you’re going to have a heck of a year in 2013 with all the cryptids waiting to be discovered. Japan is crawling with ’em.
Keep in mind there are regional interpretations of these creatures as well as those based on fuzzy citizen journalist iPhone photos and descriptions of one-on-one encounters.
In 2013, beware of misfortune and illness brought by the nue, a creature referred to in Japanese literature since ancient times. Like many Japanese creatures, the nue is a chimera, consisting of the head of a monkey, the body of a tanuki (Japanese raccoon dog), and believe it or not, the feet of a tiger. And no nue is complete without a snake-headed tail. Oooowey! Yucky poo. That’s one ugly creature. Appearance alone at your doorstep would be enough to make you ill. And to think of how fast it can travel if it has the legs of a tiger! In addition, the nue can change into a black cloud and fly.
I warn you — do not take the nue lightly. Emperor Konoe had a terrible experience with one in the summer of 1153 at the Imperial Palace in Kyoto, as chronicled in the “Tale of the Heike.” Keep in mind that the hot summer is the time for ghost stories in Japan. Furthermore, this incident happened at 2 a.m., the hour of the ox, when bad, scary things are known to happen.
As the story goes, on a hot summer evening, the emperor fell ill. He had terrible nightmares. A dark cloud appeared over the palace. Determined to save the emperor from his misery, the samurai Minamoto no Yorimasa aimed his bow and arrow at the black cloud and fired an arrow. And what fell out of the sky? A dead nue! Resisting his keen curiosity and hankering to filet up some nue sashimi dipped in soy and wasabi, he instead buried the nue in the Sea of Japan.
Not afraid of 2013 yet? Don’t be naive. Are you prepared for what you will do if you see a nure onna (wet woman)?! Not just a regular wet woman, mind you, but one with the body of a snake, the head of a woman, and the tongue of a snake (which we’ll get back to later). At approximately 300 meters long, with snake eyes, claws and fangs, she’s one wild amphibian! She hangs out on shore washing her long hair. Is it just me or does anyone else wonder what shampoo she uses?
Some say she feeds on humans. She is rumored to carry a “baby-like” bundle. If you are attracted to baby-like bundles, then do beware. If you approach her and offer to hold the baby for her, she’ll be nice to you, but if you plan to do anything else with the baby, the baby will become something very heavy, that won’t let you escape. At this point, the wet woman with the snake tongue will suck your blood out. Seems fair enough to me. Any self-respecting mother would do the same if someone had evil intentions with their baby.
The wet woman has relatives too — mainly the rokurokubi, or long-necked woman, who appears to be a normal dry woman but with a neck that grows long overnight. So long that her neck makes her look like a snake with a human head. She has a unique feature in that her head can go searching for victims to dine on while her body stays where it is. Nice. Look for stretch marks around the neck if you suspect a woman to be a rokurokubi. This dame is not to be messed with.
Some say she can even detach her head from her long body if she wants to. Therefore, should you find her headless body, you should bury it so she can’t find it. I’m not so sure I agree with this though — her head will still be out there roaming the countryside.
How does a seemingly normal woman become a rokurokubi? Glad you asked! It all gets back to karma. If you break many of the rules of Buddhism, you’ll have low karma. And that means you just may be the next rokurokubi — beware of yourself!
As if the nue, wet woman and rokurokubi aren’t enough to gross you out, how about the tsuchinoko? This viper goes by the name of bachihebi in northern Japan, and tsuchinoko in western Japan, where I live. It was first mentioned in the “Kojiki.” Resembling a fat snake, the tsuchinoko is said to be 30 to 80 cm long with a very fat middle. It has fangs and venom, squeaks like a mouse and may be able to jump up to one meter. Hmm, sounds like a gyrating snake doing a breakdance routine. They like to drink alcohol, and if they speak, they usually lie. They may also swallow their tail so they can roll like a hoop. If one rolls by, you might offer it some shochu. Sightings have been reported in Mikata, Hyogo Prefecture.
If on the other hand, you meet a person who appears to be normal, but is a very quiet deep thinker, you might be a bit suspicious. Such creatures are sure to be successful, wealthy and full of wisdom. They may drink alcohol and sing karaoke. But don’t worry, these creatures are not to be feared. They’re not snakes in the grass. They’re people who were born in the Year of the Snake (2001, 1989, 1977, 1965, 1953, 1941, 1929, 1917). Some well-known snake-year people are Picasso, Brooke Shields, Audrey Hepburn and Jackie Onassis. If you were born in a snake year too, you’re lucky, because you are a determined individual who will always succeed.
Happy hunting for these cryptids and have a happy snake year!