Alien Abduction in Japanese Folk Tale?

Woodblock print. Urashima Taro returning. Alien abduction?

Urashima Returning. Woodblock Print by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (Japan, 1839-1892)

Does a statue at an ancient shrine in southern Japan depict an alien abduction? Some Modern UFOlogists think it does.

Urashima Jinja Bronze Statues of Princess Oto and Urashima Taro. Alien abduction?

Urashima Jinja Bronze Statues of Princess Oto and Urashima Taro (Chuzaa © 2015)

The statue depicts the very old and popular legend of Urashima: Taro the Fisherman. In the 8th century folktale Taro saves the life of a injured tortoise and is rewarded with a journey to an undersea kingdom. There he sees many things of wonder, including a huge and luxurious subterranean palace. If that wasn’t enough, the tortoise he saved has now transformed herself into a beautiful princess. She brings Taro to her father, the Emperor, who thanks him for saving his daughter and gives Taro special, magical powers. But all is not well. The Emperor warns the young man that he can never leave the undersea kingdom again.

Portrait of Urashima Tarō by Kuniyoshi. Alien abduction?

The print by Kuniyoshi depicts Urashima Taro beneath a pine tree on the shore; he is accompanied by a tortoise, from whose mouth issues a vision of Horai.

After only three days Taro becomes unbearably homesick. He begs the princess to help him. She agrees and takes him back to where they first met, to the shore where he saved her life. The princess tells Taro they can never meet again. She gives him a gift – a small wooden box that he must not open. She then vanishes beneath the waves.

When Taro enters his village he realizes something is terribly wrong. He doesn’t recognize anyone or anything. The villagers gather around him, wondering who this intruder is. He explains and they tell him they heard a tale of a fisherman who had vanished in the sea and was never seen again. This, they say, happened three hundred years ago!

Taro realizes to his horror that during the three days he spent in the kingdom, three hundred years had actually passed. Saddened and confused, he opens the box. The legend goes on to say that the villagers then witnessed the young Taro instantly age into a feeble old man. Some versions have him perish here, leaving nothing behind but the small wooden box.

Urashima Taro opening the box. Alien abduction? Handscroll at Bodleian Library, Oxford.

Urashima Taro opening the box. Handscroll property of Bodleian Library, Oxford.

Could this innocent folktale actually be one of the earliest recorded cases of alleged alien abduction?  

There are similarities. First, the most obvious connection to abduction accounts would be the element of what research pioneer Budd Hopkins called missing time – in this case, three hundred years of it in which the victim has no knowledge of losing. Though the argument could be made that the Urashima story involves an element of time travel and not missing time.

Structures on the bottom of the ocean? (Map data © 2015 Google Earth)

Structures on the bottom of the ocean? (Map data © 2015 Google Earth)

Did he grow gills? The ability of Taro to breathe underwater may hint to a specific genre of UFO sightings: the so-called Underwater UFOs. There are many reports around the world of craft entering and exiting the ocean effortlessly, without disturbing the surface of the water. Researchers speculate this may be due to some kind of Force-field. An energy barrier such as this could also explain how Taro could breath underwater. When reading the legend’s description of Taro being transported by magic, one is reminded of Arthur C. Clark’s famous quote:

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial: photo still. © 1982 Universal. Alien abduction?

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial: photo still. Amblin Entertainment. © 1982 Universal.

That brings us to the one point that originally caught the eye of modern UFOlogists and abduction researchers. It is perhaps the most whimsical, as well. In some versions of the story the tortoise is depicted without a shell and standing upright and communicating in Taro’s language without speaking. One doesn’t have to think long and hard to remember the lovable character in Steven Spielberg’s film E.T. who looks remarkably like a tortoise without a shell, indeed possessing unique magical powers.

Is this just a case of life imitating art – or the reverse? Did Steven Spielberg refer to this tale or was it sheer coincidence? We do know that when the director screened the film to then President Ronald Reagan, the Commander-in-Chief commented afterward that only a handful of people in the world knew how true the film was. Spielberg has said many times since that this comment unnerved him and that it wasn’t said in a joking manner like Reagan was known for. Nor did anyone in the room laugh.

Reagans speaking with Spielberg. ET screening. Alien abduction? (image credit: Ronald Reagan Library)

Ronald and Nancy Reagan speaking with Spielberg after the screening of ET. (image credit: Ronald Reagan Library)

More coincidence or just movie gossip, perhaps? Considering the mystique surrounding the  intersection of Hollywood, politics and UFOs, we’ll more likely discover who killed JFK before we ever know the answer to that one.

In any case, if you happen to find yourself in the small village of Ine in northern Kyoto, stop in at the local shrine. You’ll see modern statues depicting Urashima Taro and his princess. Inside one of the buildings, there in the corner without any fanfare, you might be able to make out a very old and faded small wooden box. It might be best to leave it unopened.

Urashima Shrine, Kyoto, Japan. Alien abduction?

Urashima Shrine, Kyoto, Japan (東照大権現)

By the way, there’s no need to give an offering at the shrine. It’s strictly voluntary. But if you happen to have some Reese’s Pieces handy… well, you just never know.

Rob Reilly

Tokyo, Japan

Learn more about it:

Dark Matter News

Urashima Shrine in Kyoto, Japan.

Author of Missing Time, Intruders, Witnessed and pioneer abduction UFOlogist, Budd Hopkins page at Wikipedia.

Budd Hopkins giving a presentation UFO Abduction Cases on Youtube.

Harvard psychiatrist and abduction phenomenon researcher John Mack on PBS’s NOVA.

Trivia point: The Japanese modern phrase containing Taro’s name, ‘Urashima Jōtai’ (浦島状態) means, ‘in the style of Urashima’ and refers to one who has lost his way, is out of his own time or reappears after a long absence, hence abduction.

Urashima Taro. Alien abduction? Handscroll at Bodleian Library, Oxford.

Urashima Taro returning to the village. Handscroll property of Bodleian Library, Oxford. CC BY 4.0

Along with the considerable amount of graphic fine art, the story of Urashima Taro, whether it hints at abduction or not, appears in many works of fiction. The story has influenced many writers of various genres including Lafcadio Hearn and Ursula K. Le Guin as well as an assortment of animation, manga and video/computer games.

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Rob Reilly

Rob Reilly

Star of Stage, Screen and Radioactivity! Rob Reilly (aka Rye Dano) works as an actor, writer, director, student, teacher, anthropologist and Gentleman-Scoundrel based in Tokyo, Japan - All of which he loves doing with as little effort as possible. Movie host at The Cinemated Man ( and currently a contributor for Dark Matter News on the one and only Art Bell's Midnight in the Desert.

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  1. September 22, 2015

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