Almost four decades ago, a phantom creature of ancient Japanese folklore captured the public imagination in a craze that would rival sightings of Scotland's Loch Ness Monster.

It began with a remote western village appealing to the rest of the country for volunteers to join a hunt for a snake-like being called the "tsuchinoko." A feverish but short-lived boom followed with offers of cash prizes that appeared to reflect the zeitgeist of the bubble economy, then at its peak.

Now, the village of Shimokitayama in Nara Prefecture where the hunt started is using the tsuchinoko legend once again to promote regional revitalization as it struggles to cope with depopulation and economic lethargy.