Japan’s “Mermaid Mummy” Finally Identified via New Research

Japan’s “Mermaid Mummy” Finally Identified via New Research

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Picture: にーな@優しいイラストアイコン / PIXTA(ピクスタ)
A team of researchers set out to discover the true identity of a "mermaid mummy" enshrined in a Japanese temple. The result?

A “mermaid mummy” found in a temple in Japan is not what she appears to be, a team of researchers announced.

The “mummy” belongs to the Enjuin Temple in Asaguchi, Okayama Prefecture. It was originally found in a paulownia box with a note that reads, “A mermaid caught in a net off the sea off of Tosa [one of the states of feudal Japan] in the Genbun era [1736-1741 CE]”.

The mermaid mummy of Enjuin. (Picture: RSK)

The mummy is 30 centimeters long and has human features on its face. However, it also has scales running down its back.

No one is quite sure when or how the mummy made its way to Enjuin.

Last year, a team of researchers began a mission to discover the mummy’s true identity. Scientists at Kurashiki University of Science and the Arts (倉敷芸術科学大) carefully subjected the artifact to X-rays and other examinations at the University’s animal research college.

Initially, researchers observed that, while the figure is shaped like a primate, it bears some markings of a fish, particularly in its teeth.

Further examination using a CT scanner at a dental lab in Yokohama, however, helped unravel the mystery: the “mummy” is actually a model made of paper, cloth, cotton, glue, and other components.


As for the scales? They’re the skin of a fugu fish, cleverly woven into the doll to make it seem like a sea creature.

The model is so well-crafted it even had some researchers going. But, ultimately, they determined the creature has no bones and is not – and never was – a living thing.

The “mummy”, according to the research team, likely dates a little more forward than its cryptic note contends. It was likely created sometime in the second half of the 18th century.

Social media reaction

The article on LiveDoor received over 20,000 likes and several hundred comments. Obviously, this news shocked few people. But many said it did nothing to diminish the “mermaid’s” value.

“It still has a value as a creation of the Edo era,” said one user. “It doesn’t change its importance.”

“While I wish they’d let us have our dream,” said one user expressing disappointment over the discovery, “I realize that there was someone who could make a spectre of this nature as a work of art and my interest is piqued once again.”

For its part, the temple says it’ll continue to preserve the artwork as a religious object. “It’s like the saying ‘the soul of the Buddha resides in objects carved from wood’,” said head priest Kuida Kozen.

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寺に眠る “人魚のミイラ” 解明プロジェクト ついに最先端技術が謎を解き明かした その正体は【岡山】. RSK / Yahoo News

「人魚のミイラ」は造形だった、骨格なし 現代科学を駆使して調査. LiveDoor News

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Jay Allen

Jay is a resident of Tokyo where he works as a reporter for Unseen Japan and as a technial writer. A lifelong geek, wordsmith, and language fanatic, he has level N1 certification in the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) and is fervently working on his Kanji Kentei Level 2 certification.

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