Priest Vows to Take Care of ‘Mummified Mermaid’

Although the mummified ‘mermaid’ that scientists discovered last year in a temple in Japan has been proven fake, the chief priest of the temple has promised to continue looking after it.

The mermaid has been in the Enju-in Temple in Asakuchi City for decades, though no one knows its true back story. A note with the mermaid claims that it was caught in a fishing net off the coast of Kochi between 1736 and 1741. It goes on to say a person in Bingo Fukuyama bought the mermaid between 1868 and 1912.

At the time, the temple’s then-chief priest was from that region. It is possible that he made the purchase.

“My guess is that he thought it would be good to pray for the departed creature at the temple, as its spirit resided in the mummy,” said Kozen Kuida, the current chief priest.

The ‘amabie.’ Photo: Shutterstock


Became popular during COVID

The mermaid resembles an amabie or ningyo from Japanese folklore. The amabie is a mermaid with a bird-like mouth, three webbed feet, and long flowing hair. According to legend, it emerges from the sea to warn of oncoming disease. During the pandemic, Japanese Twitter was rife with images of the sea creature.

Similarly, the ningyo resembles a mermaid. Rather than warning of the disease, it is said to bring longevity and good health. Many turned to these tales during COVID for a glimmer of hope.

People have prayed to the mermaid in the temple since the 1970s, but it garnered such a following during COVID that it was taken off display. Authorities worried that the crowds of people at the temple would spread COVID.

It was at this point that the Kurashiki Museum of Natural History asked Kuida if they could add the mummy to their Yokai ghouls’ exhibition and analyze it. Kuida agreed to both requests. The ‘mermaid’ turned out to be made of cloth, paper, cotton, and the tail of a fish.

A ningyo. Photo


Some tried to eat the scales for good health

By now, the mermaid had started to deteriorate. Its scales were peeling off, and its nails had begun to chip, partly due to age and partly due to visitors. Some had tried to peel off the scales and eat them to bring good health.

“I thought if the researchers unveiled more details, they could help us preserve the mummy,” Kuida said of his decision to let the museum examine the specimen.

Now it has been returned to the temple. Kuida is adamant he will continue to look after the mermaid, despite the fact that it was always an elaborate hoax.

“I feel really sorry for the mermaid,” he told the newspaper Asahi Shimbun. “It was sleeping peacefully. But it was exposed to the public eye, and people discussed whether it was real or fake.”

Since learning that it is made of paper and cotton, he has said he will care for it even more carefully than before.

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.