Foot-Long ‘Mermaid’ Mummy Discovered in Japanese Temple

In 2022, researchers found a foot-long ‘mermaid’ inside the Enju-in Temple in Asakuchi City, Japan. Months later, they discovered that it is even weirder than they initially thought.

Researchers initially assumed that the Enju-in mermaid was made out of the head and torso of a monkey attached to a fish’s body, like the infamous Fiji Mermaid hoax exhibited by P.T. Barnum. That composite creature also originally came from Japan.

The mermaid mummy.

Photo: Kurashiki University of Science and the Arts


Enju-in temple mermaid

The Enju-in Temple mermaid was in a box with a note describing how a fisherman caught it off the coast of southern Japan between 1736 and 1741. For years, temple visitors worshipped the creepy specimen. They believed it was a Ningyo, a fish-human hybrid. In Japanese mythology, a Ningyo can cure disease and bestow long life.

Finally, about 40 years ago, the mummy was packed away.

A scan clearly shows how the Fiji Mermaid was created.

A scan clearly shows how the Fiji Mermaid was created. Photo: Kurashiki University of Science and the Arts


Researchers at Kurashiki University analyzed the creature with X-rays, CT scans, radiocarbon dating, and DNA analysis. They wanted to determine what the specimen was without damaging it. Instead of the expected monkey-fish creation, they found that the mermaid had no skeleton at all. The only bone present was a single jaw bone.

The mystery creator had fashioned the body from cloth, paper, cotton, and pins. They had then coated it in a sand and charcoal paste and covered it in a layer of pufferfish skin. The hair on its head was from an unidentified mammal and its nails were keratin. As well as the fish skin, teeth from a carnivorous fish had been used in the creature’s mouth. The mermaid’s tail came from a fish, likely a croaker.

A scan showing the jaw bone in the mermaid mummy.

A scan showing the jaw bone. Photo: Kurashiki University of Science and the Arts


Made in the early 1800s

Radiocarbon dating suggests that someone made the mermaid in the early 1800s, perhaps motivated by the mythological significance of mermaids in Japan. Barnum’s mermaid came from roughly the same era.

Hiroshi Kinoshita, who worked on the study, said: “Japanese mermaids have a legend of immortality. People believe 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.”

The researchers hope to study 14 other “mermaids” found in Japan.

Rebecca McPhee

Rebecca McPhee is a freelance writer for ExplorersWeb.

Rebecca has been writing about open water sports, adventure travel, and marine science for three years. Prior to that, Rebecca worked as an Editorial Assistant at Taylor and Francis, and a Wildlife Officer for ORCA.

Based in the UK Rebecca is a science teacher and volunteers for a number of marine charities. She enjoys open water swimming, hiking, diving, and traveling.