Utsuro Bune: Japan’s First Modern UFO Encounter

Have you heard of utsuro bune? No, I don’t mean the metal band. Utsuro bune was one of the first modern UFO sightings, and it happened way back in the Edo period in Japan. A lot of people believe that utsuro bune is definitive proof that we aren’t alone in the universe, but I’m a little more skeptical. Let’s go all Mulder and Scully on this thing and find out what utsuro bune is all about.

Tales Of Castaways

In a book repository in Japan, there’s a document dating back to the 1800s called “Tales of Castaways.” In it, there’s a strange story about utsurso bune, or “hollow ship.” It describes an incident in which a 3 meter by 5 meter round, metal ship with crystal windows washed up onto a Japanese beach in modern day Ibaraki prefecture.

Inside the ship was writing in a language the Japanese had never seen before.

You can see some of the writing in the top right

A pale, redheaded woman was inside the ship, clutching a wooden box close to her. When she spoke, it was in a language that no Japanese person had ever heard before. What language was she speaking? Where did she come from? What was in the box? Nobody knows for sure. What makes things even weirder is that this same woman and craft were reported to have visited many different parts of Japan. People from all over Japan described having seen the exact same woman in the exact same ship, still tightly holding her wooden box

What was so important about the box, though? What was in it? Some people say that it had the head of her lover in it, and the reason she was in this UFO-boat in the first place is because of some scandal in her home-country (one person says China). The box, however, “wasn’t the type of box traditionally used for severed heads.” I don’t know what kind of box you’re supposed to use (no experience in heads myself… boxes for severed arms and legs is another thing, though) but the stories about the severed head came well after the original documents, and seem to be speculation. Seriously. OPEN THE BOX.

As for what happened to the lady afterwards seems to be unknown. Maybe she got back in her UFO and drifted off again. I don’t know why all these guys didn’t open her box, not that that’d be the nice thing to do, but still… curiosity is a strong thing. Also, if she didn’t float off again (which it sounds like she might have, she did apparently show up in a few different places) what happened to the Utsurobune? I guess the world will never know…

UFO Encounter Or Made Up Story?

“What are those naked dudes doing outside my ride? Nobody’s touching my box until they put some clothes on…”

To me, this all sounds like something out of a Junji Ito comic. It’s supernatural, creepy, and kind of incredible. But real? Hard to say. A lot of UFO fanatics get excited about usturo bune for a few reasons: the design of the ship is really similar to other descriptions of UFOs, and it happened in Japan in the 1800s – a time before modern UFO stories and a place not known for its UFO sightings.

But a lot of people doubt the credibility of these stories. The tale of utsuro bune comes from a collection of fishermen stories. Fishermen have been known to exaggerate their stories, like the size of their catch, so who knows if “Tales of Castaways” is accurate.

On the other hand, UFO enthusiasts might tell you that this particular story is plausible. The Bermuda Triangle’s sister, the Dragon’s Triangle (also known as the Devil’s Triangle), is a “danger zone” in the sea off the Southern coast of Japan. A large amount of boats have gone missing there along with 800+ people, never to be seen again. Some people believe that both the Bermuda and Dragon’s Triangle are actually where aliens have set up underwater bases (because it’s tough for us to find them there). Boats that make their way into alien territory aren’t guaranteed to make it through. Some would say that the Utsuro bune came from this “Dragon’s Triangle.” Who really knows, though?

If nothing else, utsuro bune makes an interesting story, even if it is a complete hoax. I like to think of utsuro bune more as a cool myth like Momotaro instead of fact.

Visiting The UFO Site

In Hokota City, Ibaraki Prefecture you can visit a park that “commemorates” the whole Utsuro bune thing. There’s an artist’s rendering of the UFO (by artist, I mean someone who designs things for kids to play on), and you can go inside and check it out. I wish America was still allowed to have UFO play structures (not to mention swings, teeter totters, and anything higher than 2 feet).

I’d suggest going to a 7/11 or some other conbini and getting some picnic food then hanging out. Looks like a cool beach, plus you could probably eat inside the UFO. If you’re really lucky, you may even see something floating to the shore… if the alien/person who comes out has a box, be sure to pop them in the face Will Smith / Independence Day style and snatch it away to see what’s inside (then let us know what you found).

PS: What do you think was in the box? Let us know on Twitter!

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  • Box Snatcher

    Maybe her lunch was inside the box….just saying

  • Anonymous

    Appropriate name :p

  • J.Paul

    Does this mean “Oh! Edo Rocket” is a true story?

  • murasaki

    I imagine a hat box would do in a pinch…

  • Anonymous

    Maybe it was an obento

  • murasaki

    Yum! :D

  • Kibibobo

    :/ sounds more like a folktale…still, its something you don’t hear everyday lol great article

  • doggybiscuits

    thats where they got their advanced technology! lol

  • http://profiles.google.com/japan.alana Alana Green

    I wouldn’t believe anything about the contents of the box.  I love UFO stories, so I tend to believe it is entirely possible that some crystal-windowed orb landed in Japan.  PS-HILARIOUS dragon pic for the Devil’s Triangle.

  • http://mistersanity.blogspot.com Jonadab

    Does the story, in its oldest known form, say anything about the ship _flying_?  If not, it is entirely plausible that the story could be based on a real object, of European origin.  *Most* nineteenth-century ships were neither round nor metal, but the technology to make such a thing existed, and numerous people had experimented with it under various circumstances and for various reasons.

    It is, of course, also entirely possible that some Japanese fisherman had had a little too much sake and then later threw in the usual amount of storytelling hyperbole when relating the weird dream he had.

    Come to think of it, even if the story does say the ship flew, there are at least two ways to explain it as a European object once you allow for the hyperbole of storytelling.  The flying itself could be hyperbole, or the notion that it was made of metal could be.  (Hot air balloons date to the eighteenth century.)

    Incidentally, statistically speaking, the number of ships that have gone missing in the Bermuda Triangle is entirely consistent with the number of major shipping lanes that pass through the area.  I don’t happen to know whether that’s also true of the Dragon’s Triangle.

  • http://www.callistospatches.com Callisto

    This whole thing kind of reminds me of the Voynich Manuscript, which I personally believe is a rather elaborate, albeit completely cool and ingenious, hoax. Along the lines of what Jonadab said, it’s possible some foreign contraption got swept out to sea, some fishermen saw it and the story just expanded to legendary proportions. Because, really, they’re fishermen. They’re bored. The more fanciful the story, the more fun it is to tell and speculate about. And with them not being able to recognize or understand the language, it lets one’s imagination go wild, when it could have just been Russian or something for all they knew.

    Very intriguing though. Mysterious stuff like this is always fun to read about and dissect.

  • http://twitter.com/Silgrond Szilárd Csermely

    What’s in the bo~x? http://images.dailyfill.com/548ee5a329d74d64_b56759c6d4c046ff/o/seven.jpg
    (se7en reference)

    Also it’s interesing to mention Ito Junji, his manga is real creepy stuff. (Only read Uzumaki, was enough for a while :D)

  • http://mistersanity.blogspot.com Jonadab

    Another guess for the contents of the wooden box:  a sextant.  (It would be odd, however, for a woman to have one in that era, even if she were a fiery redhead.)  Another possibility would be a marine chronometer.  Both of these guesses assume she was human and of terrestrial origin.

  • http://mistersanity.blogspot.com Jonadab

    Another guess for the contents of the wooden box:  a sextant.  (It would be odd, however, for a woman to have one in that era, even if she were a fiery redhead.)  Another possibility would be a marine chronometer.  Both of these guesses assume she was human and of terrestrial origin.

  • Anonymous

    Haha, I thought about putting in a Se7en reference, but any video of Brad Pitt saying “WHAT’S IN THE BOX” only goes for about two seconds before he starts cursing up a storm. Not Tofugu appropriate :x

    You should check out more of Ito Junji’s stuff! It’s all really creepy, but a lot of fun to read :)

  • clc88

    she might have been pandora and that was here box!

  • Guest

    Just because it may seem like a folktale it doesn’t mean it’s fiction. The Utsure Bune story actually appeared in many different places along the cost line of Japan. The documents are more like records than folktales.  PS: think about those symbols, that type of calligraphy is not native to Japan or any other neighboring nation.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jdookie Jonathan Dookie

    its her purse

  • http://www.facebook.com/jdookie Jonathan Dookie

    its her purse

  • a.

    That playground thing looks like one of the locations in the game Psychonauts.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rachel-Green/1748057643 Rachel Green

    When I read that the woman inside was pale, red-headed, and spoke a language other than Japanese that they never recognized, my first thought was: a European ship got lost. Although, that would make more sense if this happened pre-Columbus, not during the Edo period.

  • Ipconfig42

    Maybe it wasn’t a UFO but time travel? And there was some kind of error with her ship that caused her to warp out doing Edo period. And the box was the whole reason she was time traveling. Some artifact she took from the past?

  • Ipconfig42

    Maybe it wasn’t a UFO but time travel? And there was some kind of error with her ship that caused her to warp out doing Edo period. And the box was the whole reason she was time traveling. Some artifact she took from the past?

  • Junji Ito reader

    Where the image ‘utsuro bune manga’ is from?
    Thanks!

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  • Paulb_decoy

    Great story. I doubt it is made up. Can you imagine the amazement of those coming upon this thing on the beach way back then?

    Are there more examples of the writing?

  • KALKAN!!!

    To know the true story of the utsuro bune you only have to go to Google and type in “images of Venus on the shell” then type in “Pandora’s box” print both images lay them down side by side with pictures of the bune mystery solved.

  • KALKAN!!!

    Bingo but its bigger than that. There’s more. “And the gods created Venus and she washed ashore on a clam shell, covered in fine white foam”

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  • TeensyBitSkeptical

    OH. MY. GOD. I think that weirdo is carrying a head in that box. Doesn’t she know that’s like totally not the normal box for carrying heads around?

  • ninjawannabe

    Reminds me of Urashima Tarou, a fisherman who, after saving a turtle (who turns out to be a beautiful princess), lives in the “Dragon God Palace” (Dragon’s Triangle??) for 300 years. When he returns to the real world, he is given a box by the princess which he must never open. However, he chooses to open it, and it turns out it contained his old age, so he dies :/