something fishy | 

Japan’s venerated ‘mermaid’ revealed to be made of paper, cloth and cotton

‘It is said that if you eat the flesh of a mermaid, you will never die’

The 'mermaid' has been worshipped for centuries

Neil FetherstonhaughSunday World

Japan’s venerated mummified “mermaid” has been revealed to be made of paper, cloth and cotton, almost 300 years after it was found.

The mysterious creature was discovered in the Pacific Ocean, off the Japanese island of Shikoku, between 1736 and 1741.

Measuring 30cm-tall, it has two hands reaching up towards a grimacing face and hair is still visible on its head.

There are also the remains of sharp, pointy teeth in its mouth, while its body features a fish-like tail.

Locals worshipped the mystery creature for years - believing it granted immortality to anyone who tastes its flesh.

The mummy usually rests in the Enjuin Temple in the city of Asakuchi, having been put on display some 40 years ago.

Chief priest Kozen Kuida told the Japanese newspaper The Asahi Shimbun they even worshipped it in the hope it "would help alleviate the coronavirus pandemic".

But last year, researchers from the Kurashiki University of Science and the Arts took the mummy for tests and CT scans in a bid to unravel its secrets.

And they have now discovered that the creature is completely artificial, made in the late 1800s.

There's no evidence of any skeleton – instead it is made of paper, cloth and cotton.

Scientists said the lower half of the body comes from a fish's tail - but believe it was added by whoever created it.

After launching the project last year, Hiroshi Kinoshita of the Okayama Folklore Society said the creature could have had religious significance.

“Japanese mermaids have a legend of immortality,” he said.

“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.

“This ‘Yao-Bikuni’ legend is also preserved near the temple where the mermaid mummy was found.

“I heard that some people, believing in the legend, used to eat the scales of mermaid mummies.”

He believes it was manufactured at some point during the Edo period – an era of Japanese history stretching from 1603 to 1867.

“Of course, I don't think it's a real mermaid,” he said last year.

“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.”

A similar specimen was exhibited by P.T. Barnum - whose life inspired the 2017 blockbuster The Greatest Showman - at his American Museum in New York before it burned down in 1865.

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