Bizarre, Tiny 'Mermaid' Found in Japan Appears To Be Half-Monkey, Half-Fish

A team of Japanese scientists is examining a bizarre "mermaid" mummy that has baffled experts for centuries.

The mummy, which is possibly around 300 years old or older, appears to have the upper body of a monkey—with an eerily human-like face—and the lower body of a fish.

The nightmarish creature has long been kept at the Enjuin Temple in the city of Asakuchi—located in Okayama Prefecture—and has even served as an object of worship.

But now researchers from the Kurashiki University of Science and the Arts, as well as other institutions, are scientifically analyzing the mummy for the first time in the hopes of casting light on its origins, Japanese newspaper The Asahi Shimbun reported.

In February, Kozen Kuida, 60, chief priest at Enjuin temple, removed the mummy from its special box and placed the object in a CT scanner at the university.

Scientists proceeded to conduct CT scans of the mummy. The team is also planning to carry out DNA analysis of the mummy to see if they can determine what animals, if any, it is made from. The researchers expect to publish the results of their research later this year.

The roughly 12-inch-long mummy features nails, teeth and hair on its head, as well as scales on its lower body. The expression on the creature's face almost makes it look as if the creature is screaming or grimacing.

An old note in the box claims that the "mermaid" was caught in a fishing net off Shikoku—the smallest of Japan's major islands—between 1736 and 1741.

The mummy subsequently passed through the hands of different owners before the Enjuin Temple eventually acquired it, although the circumstances of how this happened remain a mystery.

Kuida told the Shimbun that the mummy was placed in a glass case for public viewing around 40 years ago but is now being kept in a fireproof safe to prevent deterioration.

The project to investigate the mummy was spearheaded by Hiroshi Kinoshita, 54, a board member of the Okayama Folklore Society, who came across a photo of the strange creature while reading materials left behind by Kiyoaki Sato (1905-1998)—a Japanese natural historian.

Sato is thought to have written the first encyclopedia detailing the various supernatural creatures present in Japanese folklore.

Kinoshita eventually found out that the mummy was being kept at Enjuin Temple and he managed to persuade temple officials and researchers to carry out a study of the artifact.

Kinoshita said the mummy could have religious significance. "Mermaid" mummies have reportedly also previously been used as objects of worship in other parts of Japan.

One of these mummies has the upper body of a monkey and the lower body of a salmon, according to Kinoshita.

"Japanese mermaids have a legend of immortality," Kinoshita said, according to Metro newspaper. "It is said that if you eat the flesh of a mermaid, you will never die. There is a legend in many parts of Japan that a woman accidentally ate the flesh of a mermaid and lived for 800 years. I heard that some people, believing in the legend, used to eat the scales of mermaid mummies."

Kinoshita said he believes the mummy being kept at Enjuin was created at some point during Japan's Edo period—which spanned the years 1603 to 1867.

"Of course, I don't think it's a real mermaid," he said. "I think this was made for export to Europe during the Edo period, or for spectacles in Japan. The legend of mermaids remains in Europe, China and Japan all over the world.

"Therefore, I can imagine that people at that time were also very interested in it. I think it is made from living animals and we would like to identify them by CT scans or DNA testing. It looks like a fish with scales on the lower body and a primate with hands and a face on the upper body."

Kuida compared the mummy to a creature in Japanese folklore called Amabie that is believed to have the power to ward off plagues.

"We have worshipped it, hoping that it would help alleviate the coronavirus pandemic even if only slightly," Kuida told the Shimbun. "I hope the research project can leave [scientific] records for future generations."

An underwater mermaid statue
Stock image showing a mermaid statue underwater. Japanese scientists are examining a bizarre “mermaid" mummy that has baffled experts for centuries. iStock