View Full Version : ‘Mermaid bones’ from 13th century keep legend alive in Fukuoka

17th February 2017, 22:46

Bones kept at Ryuguji temple’s main hall in Fukuoka’s Hakata Ward are said to be from a mermaid
that was buried in 1222 and dug up in the Edo Period (1603-1867).

FUKUOKA--The main hall of a legendary temple here surrounded by modern multistory buildings contains bones believed to be from a mermaid that washed ashore in the 13th century.

Ryuguji temple in Fukuoka’s Hakata Ward has preserved the “mermaid bones” for almost eight centuries, and visitors can see them in person if they make an appointment by phone.

According to the legend, which is even mentioned on a Hakata tourist map, a mermaid was buried in a temple in the ward after it washed up at a wharf in the Hakata area of medieval Japan on April 14, 1222, on the southern island of Kyushu.

Abe-no Otomi, an “onmyoji” shaman who was known to have great divination abilities, said the emergence of the mystical creature was “a good omen for the long prosperity of the nation.”

Based on the shaman’s words, the mermaid was buried in Ukimido, a hall next to the main one dedicated to the Kanzeon Bodhisattra. Ukimido was later called Ryugu-Ukimido because people believed the mermaid must have come from Ryugu, a mystical palace where the dragon god of sea resides at the bottom of the sea.

Ryugu-Ukimido is now part of Ryuguji temple.

The temple is located on Taihaku-dori avenue, the main street stretching from busy JR Hakata Station, a terminal for two Shinkansen lines and many local trains.

A stone monument at the temple carries the engraving “Ningyo-zuka” (mermaid grave), indicating that a mermaid was once buried there.

Ryusei Okamura, 65, the chief priest of the temple, showed the set of bones in the main hall, where they are usually kept.

According to a description text provided, the bones are believed to be from a “mermaid excavated from the premises of Ryuguji temple.” Another line said, “All of them are considered to be of some mammals.”

Only six pieces of the bones, which are said to have been dug up between 1772 and 1781, remain today.

The surface of one of the larger pieces looks like wood. Many of them have glossy surfaces, apparently caused by the polishing effect from visitors touching them.

The temple also has a scroll of a mermaid believed to have been painted in the Eiroku era (1558-1570) of the Muromachi Period.

Until the Meiji Era (1868-1912), Ryuguji temple had offered visitors water used to soak the mermaid bones at a summer festival. Drinking the water was believed to ward off epidemics.

The natural question in all of this is: Are the bones really from a mermaid?

Naysayers say mermaids in legends around the world are probably the result of dugong sightings.

Yoshihito Wakai, vice director of the Toba Aquarium in Toba, Mie Prefecture, the only aquarium in Japan to have a dugong, looked at photos of the mermaid bones.

“I cannot say anything definitively,” said Wakai, an expert on dugongs. “I think it’s better to keep a legend a legend.”

Serena, the dugong at the aquarium, is about 2.6 meters long and weighs around 380 kilograms. Her pool is called Mermaid Sea. She was a gift from the Philippines almost 30 years ago.

The northernmost dugong habitat around Japan is said to be seas around Okinawa Prefecture, south of Kyushu.

The temple’s mermaid bones may have come from a finless porpoise that swims up to the Seto Inland Sea between Kyushu and the main islands of Shikoku and Honshu, as well as waters off the northern coasts of Fukuoka Prefecture.

Wakai looked at finless dolphins in a tank at the aquarium, and the mammals looked back.

“Their bearing resembles human, doesn’t it? Many sea creatures can be mistaken for mermaids,” he said.

Source: http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201702130001.html