The Eerie Legend of Japan’s Mermaid Mummies

  • A mermaid is one of the most popular legendary aquatic creatures known to have the head of a human and the tail of a fish. In some temples and shrines in Japan, you may be able to see some of these creatures mummified in boxes. They originated from the Edo Period (during the 18th and 19th centuries) where they became a common sight for many carnivals.

    The Origin

    Sideshow Carnivals or “Misemono” were very important part of the urbanized life of the Edo Period. They were clearly distinct from other performances due to their crudeness. Most of them were put up unhampered and in a hurry so as to provide funds for temples and shrines. Many of them provided crafts, acrobats and animals in blended attractions as these were believed to bring good fortune. One of the creatures being shown was the mermaid which brought about the practice of mermaid mummification. The technique was perfected by fishermen by stitching a monkey’s upper body into the tails of fish. Some of these mummies can still be found in Japanese temples and shrines throughout the country.

    The Legend

    The oldest mermaid mummy which is reportedly 1,400 years old is being cared for at the Tensho-Kyosha Shrine. It is also believed to be the first of the Fiji Mermaids. A story has been told about its existence long time ago at Lake Biwa where it first appeared to Prince Shotoku, a semi-legendary regent and politician. The creature spoke in its last breath that it used to be a fisherman but was cursed into becoming a beast because of trespassing in protected waters. It also requested the prince to find a shrine where his horrible, mummified remains could be displayed as a warning and example to those fishermen in the sea. From then on, it became a learning lesson of the importance of life. Many people visit the shrine to remember its teachings.

    The original temple seems to have had many misfortunes and it was moved from one place to another until it finally settled in its current location.

    There are so many legends claiming the existence of mermaids in Japan. Whether you believe in it or not, it is still an interesting story to look into!