The Mysterious And Elusive Tsuchinoko Part snake, part salamander, all mystery

    We’ve written about some elusive Japanese creatures before, but the tsuchinoko is probably one of the more popular ones. While not quite as visually impressive as some of the others, the tsuchinoko definitely has its place in Japanese mythology. But is it real? Will a tsuchinoko ever be found? Many have tried, many have failed.

    The Hammer’s Spawn

    Chubby matte black snake-looking creature with a short head

    Tsuchinoko literally translates to “hammer’s spawn” but I’m not really sure as to why. It doesn’t look like a hammer at all! It is a legendary snake like creature and is also known as “bachi hebi” in some areas. The tsuchinoko is described as being 30-80cm in length with a central girth much larger than its head or tail. It kind of looks like a short snake that hasn’t quite finished digesting its last meal.

    It is said to have fangs as well as venom, similar to a viper. Some also claim the legendary snake can jump up to a meter in distance. What’s scarier than a venomous snake? A venomous snake that can also jump at you. Terrifying.

    Illustration of a snake eating its own tail

    It is believed that some of these tsuchinoko are capable of speech and have a tendency to lie. They also have a taste for alcohol apparently. Some will bite their own tail and roll like a hoop, similar to the Greek uroboros or a hoop snake, a legendary creature in the US, Canada, and Australia.

    Some reports claim that the tsuchinoko can chirp or squeak (as well as or instead of speaking), and most agree that they have a distinct neck with black, grey, or brown scaly skin. The earliest records of these (as with many Japanese things) show up in the Kojiki, the oldest surviving book in Japan. These records date back to the 7th century.

    Grand Hunts for Tsuchinoko

    Men in coveralls and rubber boots looking for something in the ground

    Since the 7th century, people have been on an endless hunt for this fabled creature. Many have claimed to have found, caught, or seen one, and there are plenty of tsuchinoko pictures and videos out there floating around the internet.

    One of the more recent widespread searches for the beast came about in the year 2000. People flocked to Yoshii, Okayama to hunt the thing due to a 20 million yen (~$205,000) reward offered by the local government.

    It all started when a farmer thought he spotted one while cutting grass. He described what he saw as a snake like creature with a face like Doraemon (talk about creepy). The farmer hit the beast with his weed whacker, but the crafty thing managed to escape. Crikey!

    Dissected fat short snake with arms

    A few days later, an elderly woman spotted what she thought was a tsuchinoko by a stream. Instead of showing anyone her find or investigating further, she just buried the thing. Eventually, word got out of what the woman had done so the local government sent out a team to dig up the creature and send its remains over to the local university for examination.

    The professor who analyzed the thing said that it may indeed have been a tsuchinoko, but “scientifically speaking, it was a kind of snake.” From the sound of it the remains must have been pretty out of sorts for this to be the only result of the investigation. Scientifically determining that it was in fact some sort of snake creature? How illuminating! So much for that.

    Another old lady said she saw one the following month.

    I was surprised. I just pointed at it and asked ‘Who are you? Who are you?’ It didn’t answer me, but just stared. It had a round face and didn’t take its eyes off me. I can still see the eyes now. They were big and round and it looked like they were floating on the water. I’ve lived over 80 years, but I’d never seen anything like that in my life.

    There have been numerous events with rewards offered for the capture of a tsuchinoko, but so far, no one has collected. From what I can tell, the largest posted reward was 100 million yen (about $1,000,000). That’s a lot of money, so it’s no wonder people come out to search for them.

    Poster offering a reward for the tsuchinoko with a hand-drawn illustration of the animal

    Tsuchinoko hunts are probably great advertising strategies to attract tourists though. Want more people to come to your town and give you money for various goods and services? Have a tsuchinoko “sighting” and offer up an outrageous reward! People will be sure to flock to the area in droves.

    Just a Case of Mistaken Identity?

    So if there have been so many hunts over the years, why hasn’t anyone found a real live tsuchinoko yet? Skeptics dismiss these creatures and their sightings most often as a case of mistaken identity. Many believe that they are just sightings of snakes or caecilians in process of digesting a large meal, or perhaps even some sort of exotic lizard.

    Cloese-up of a man holding a fairly normal-looking black snake
    Source: San Diego Zoo

    Regardless of whether or not the things are real, they continue to be popular to this day. Many replicas have been made of the tsuchinoko – everything from fancy display pieces to toys. They’ve also shown up in video games like Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. They inspired the Pokemon Dunsparce. They’ve made appearances in visual novels, manga, and anime.

    Picture of the pokemon Dunsparce, which is a bug-like, snake-like creature

    So even if the things aren’t real, they’re still very much a part of Japan’s myth culture. People are still going on hunts for them, and they’re still showing up in popular media. Considering the idea of them has been around since the 7th century, they’ll probably be around for a long time to come.

    And then there’s also this music video entitled “Tsuchinoko” that has nothing to do with them. Still pretty cool though.

    So what do you think about the tsuchinoko? Think it’s real? I feel like I have to side with the skeptics on this one. These things seem to be made up of a lot more fiction than fact.

    On the other hand, what would you do if you met a talking snake creature drinking some sake?