FOLKLORE & URBAN LEGENDS: UMIBOZU
Japan has always had a strong connection with the sea. With the size of its fishing market, many of its resources come from the surrounding water. When something plays such a big role in society, stories naturally develop.
In Japanese culture, most folklore and urban legends involve spirits known as the Yokai. These spirits take the form of various creatures, or other natural phenomenon. Though usually developed in smaller regions, taking on characteristics of these areas.
One of the most feared Yokai is seen throughout the sea surrounding the country. Many sailors warn about the legend of the Umibōzu.
The spirits name translates to “sea monk”, because its silhouette resembles a Buddhist monk. Described as a bald, humanoid figure, with no other feature besides a black surface and glowing white eyes. Some legends say they are the spirits of drowned monks, but others describe the creature as a completely unknown force.
The creature has only been seen from the shoulders up, nobody has ever seen what it looks like bellow the water. But there have been stories about large black tentacles erupting from the ocean when the Umibōzu is present.
The spirit is known to capsize ships, flood boats, or just split them in half. Most encounters end in death, so reports from witnesses are rare.
Stories of the Umibōzu make most sailors and fisherman anxious even if the water looks calm. While the Umibōzu usually attacks ships during heavy storms it has been know to sink ships even on calm days. When it rises from the ocean, a storm will begin brewing around its presence, the waves we begin to crash violently, sinking most ships.
There is only one possible way to escape the Umibōzu.
On occasion, when the spirit rises from the ocean, it will gesture for a barrel. If given one, it will begin to scoop water from the ocean and poor it onto the ship, slowly sinking it. However if you give it a barrel with a fake bottom, it will become frustrated as it can’t fill the boat, and retreat to the sea.
Like all folklore, to the people who experience the Yokai, they are very real. We may be able to explain some of these stories with modern science, such as rouge waves. Though these stories were ways for people in the past to make sense of the unknown.
These stories can also help people cope with tragedy. People blame the Umibōzu for the Toya Maru accident; a large commercial ferry was capsized during a storm, killing 275 people. This was part of a larger typhoon in 1954, which clammed the lives of over 3000 people.
These kinds of stories extend well outside of Japan. The Funayūre of China is eerily similar in description. Depicted as a large humanoid spirit rising from the water to sink the ships of sailors.
The ocean is still a mystery; we explored just a fraction of what’s out there. So the ocean has always contained an element of the unknown, and what makes the Umibōzu so terrifying is it will always represent the unknown element of the sea.
Let me know of any Myths or Urban Legends you want to see!
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