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Zardulu

8 Mummified, Mythical Monsters Found in Remote Japanese Temples

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Zardulu

In remote locations, far from the eyes of foreign tourists, Shinto temples across Japan claim to house the ancient, mummified remains of everything from ogres to mermaids. These artifacts are commonly believed to be elaborate pieces of faux-taxidermy created for entertainment purposes at Edo Period carnivals called Misemonos. The proceeds of these carnivals often benefited local shrines, and the mummies were either presented alongside or later associated with myths that represented local beliefs and practices. Now, hundreds of years later, they stand out as some of the most unusual pieces of cultural history in the world. Here are some examples of mythical mummified creatures—and where they can be found.

1. OGRES (ONI)

Original illustration by Zardulu

Ogres, or oni, are one of the most common figures in Shinto folklore. While most of them live in the netherworld, a few of these brightly colored brutes end up wandering the Earth doing all kinds of terrible things like eating people. One ogre may have bitten off more than he could chew when he visited the town of Naruto—at least that's what we can guess based on the remains at Kikotsuji Temple. Inside is a golden shrine that holds a few thumb-sized ogre molars and a bulbous horn.

Original illustration by Zardulu

The remains of a second ogre can be found in the town of Usa, near the Jyuppouzan Daijyoin temple complex. A set of 108 stairs leads to an entire mummified body, complete with horns and three-fingered hands. No one knows for sure how old the specimen is, but for many generations, it was in the possession of a noble family—until the patriarch fell ill in 1925. Believing himself to be cursed by the ogre heirloom, he handed the mummy over to the local temple, after which he reportedly made a complete recovery.

2. USHI-ONI

Original illustration by Zardulu

Ushi-Oni is a term that's come to encompass any supernatural creature with the head of an ox; the most common depictions feature giant, bipedal flying squirrels. If you've never had the opportunity to see one, look no further than Negoro-ji, a temple near the town of Iwade. Not only is there a statue of a googly-eyed, dancing ushi-oni outside—the inside houses the horns of one that, according to legend, was slain 400 years ago by a famous archer, Yamada Kurando Takakiyois.

Original illustration by Zardulu

The remains of another ushi-oni are housed in the city of Kurume's Ishishikakizan Kannonji temple. This one was vanquished by a priest named Konko Fujinori Konnon using only the power of prayer. According to the temple, the creature’s foot, now mummified, has been in their possession for the nearly 1000 years since its disembodiment.

3. MERMAIDS

Original illustration by Zardulu

Almost everyone is familiar with the Disney cartoon The Little Mermaid, where Ariel gives up her life in the sea to become human. But in the Japanese mermaid tale of happyaku bikuni, things turn out a bit differently, with the mermaid giving up her life to become ... dinner.

The mummified remains of a mermaid that managed to avoid the dinner plate can be found in a little temple outside Hashimoto. The creature—which is said to have been caught a thousand years ago in a local river and brought to the temple—is not likely to get a kiss from a Disney prince: Its grotesque face is captured in the middle of a terrifying scream.

Original illustration by Zardulu

A second mermaid mummy can be found in the Hachinohe City Museum. It has the unique distinction of having not one, but two screaming faces on a single head. The museum also claims to possess the remains of another supernatural creature, the tengu.

4. TENGU

Original illustration by Zardulu

The tengu varies in appearance but is most famously some combination of a human and a crow. The creatures have a nasty reputation—they’re known for carrying people off into the sky, after which they’ll leave them at the top of mountains or drop them to their doom. The Wakayama Prefectural Museum of History and Folklore has an entire mummified tengu, its withered body propped up by a wooden crutch.

Original illustration by Zardulu

The long-beaked skull of another, larger tengu can be found in the city of Ibaraki at Sōji-ji temple. Even more impressive may be the mummy on display next to the skull—the contorted body of a storm spirit, the Raiju.

5. RAIJU

Original illustration by Zardulu

Raiju are said to be the embodiment of a storm: They strike the earth, tear through trees, and set fields on fire when they're angered. Though descriptions of their appearance vary quite a bit in Shinto folklore, all of the mummified examples appear to be feline. In the town of Nagoka, the treasury of Saishō-ji temple displays the dried up husk of a raiju stretched out among other ancient relics. Another raiju, very similar in appearance, is nestled in an ornate wooden box in Iwate-ji Temple in the town of Hanamaki.

6. KUDAN

Original illustration by Zardulu

The kudan is a creature that has the body of a cow and the face of a human. These creatures (which probably originate from real calves born with genetic defects) live only a few weeks—and, according to legend, they're able to foretell the future. While there are many historical accounts of mummified kudan, the only remaining example is in the private collection of Chan Kihon Kihara, a self-described “mystery collector” who loans it to museums from time to time.

7. DRAGONS

Original illustration by Zardulu

Like their Chinese counterparts, Japanese dragons are wingless, flying serpents with four clawed feet. The Zuiryūzan Hōun-ji temple, located outside the town of Chichibu, claims to have discovered a dragon's bottom jaw on its grounds several centuries ago.

Original illustration by Zardulu

In Osaka, the mummified remains of an entire dragon can be found at Ruilong Temple. Legend has it that the dragon was purchased by a Japanese general, Akizawa, from a Chinese farmer who witnessed the creature dying, bashed it with a stick, stuffed it in a sack and smuggled it to Japan. This temple also has a mummified mermaid as well as one of the most popular Japanese supernatural creatures, the kappa.

8. KAPPA

Original illustration by Zardulu

Kappa—which are frequently depicted as bipedal turtles from Shinto folklore that drag people into rivers and lakes—are often blamed for drownings. To stay in their good graces, people leave offerings of the creature’s favorite food: cucumbers. One popular place to leave an offering is Sogenji, a kappa-themed temple in the Kappabashi-dori neighborhood of Tokyo. Inside the temple is a large collection of kappa memorabilia, from ancient scrolls to souvenir coffee mugs—and, inside a wooden box, one kappa's mummified hand.

Original illustration by Zardulu

A more complete set of kappa remains is on display in the town of Imari at Matsuuraichi Shuzo Sake Brewery. A carpenter claimed to have found the mummy while doing renovations on the building in the 1960s. The owner, recognizing the mummy’s cultural significance, turned it into a tourist attraction and adopted it as a symbol of his company. Cheers!

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geography
Interactive Map Shows Where Your House Would Have Been 750 Million Years Ago
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Your neighborhood traveled a long way over several hundred million years to reach the spot it occupies today. To trace that journey over the ages, check out Ancient Earth, an interactive digital map spotted by Co.Design.

Ancient Earth, a collaboration between engineer and Google alum Ian Webster and Paleomap Project creator C.R. Scotese, contains geographical information for the past 750 million years. Start at the beginning and you'll see unrecognizable blobs of land. As you progress through the ages, the land mass Pangaea gradually breaks apart to form the world map we're all familiar with.

To make the transition even more personal, you can enter your street address to see where it would have been located in each period. Five hundred million years ago, for example, New York City was a small island in the southern hemisphere isolated from any major land mass. Around the same time, London was still a part of Pangaea, and it was practically on top of the South Pole. You can use the arrows on your keyboard to flip through the eras or jump from event to event, like the first appearance of multicellular life or the dinosaur extinction.

As you can see from the visualization, Pangaea didn't break into the seven continents seamlessly. Many of the long-gone continents that formed in the process even have names.

[h/t Co.Design]

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The Body
11 Facts About the Appendix
Illustration by Mental Floss / Images: iStock
Illustration by Mental Floss / Images: iStock

Despite some 500 years of study, the appendix might be one of the least understood structures in the human body. Here's what we know about this mysterious organ.

1. THE ANCIENT EGYPTIANS CALLED IT THE "WORM" OF THE BOWEL.

The human appendix is small, tube-shaped, and squishy, giving ancient Egyptians, who encountered it when preparing bodies for funerary rites, the impression of a worm. Even today, some medical texts refer to the organ as vermiform—Latin for "worm-like."

2. THE APPENDIX SHOWS UP IN LEONARDO DA VINCI’S DRAWINGS.

The earliest description of a human appendix was written by the Renaissance physician-anatomist Jacopo Berengario da Carpi in 1521. But before that, Leonardo da Vinci is believed to drawn the first depiction of the organ in his anatomical drawings in 1492. Leonardo claimed to have dissected 30 human corpses in his effort to understand the way the body worked from mechanical and physiological perspectives.

3. IT'S ABOUT THE SIZE OF A PINKY FINGER.

The appendix is a small pouch connected to the cecum—the beginning of the large intestine in the lower right-hand corner of your abdomen. The cecum’s job is to receive undigested food from the small intestine, absorb fluids and salts that remain after food is digested, and mix them with mucus for easier elimination; according to Mohamad Abouzeid, M.D., assistant professor and attending surgeon at NYU Langone Medical Center, the cecum and appendix have similar tissue structures.

4. CHARLES DARWIN THOUGHT IT WAS A VESTIGIAL ORGAN …

The appendix has an ill-deserved reputation as a vestigial organ—meaning that it allegedly evolved without a detectable function—and we can blame Charles Darwin for that. In the mid-19th century, the appendix had been identified only in humans and great apes. Darwin thought that our earlier ancestors ate mostly plants, and thus needed a large cecum in which to break down the tough fibers. He hypothesized that over time, apes and humans evolved to eat a more varied and easier-to-digest diet, and the cecum shrank accordingly. The appendix itself, Darwin believed, emerged from the folds of the wizened cecum without its own special purpose.

5. … BUT THE APPENDIX PROBABLY EVOLVED TO HELP IMMUNE FUNCTION.

The proximity and tissue similarities between the cecum and appendix suggest that the latter plays a part in the digestive process. But there’s one noticeable difference in the appendix that you can see only under a microscope. “[The appendix] has a high concentration of the immune cells within its walls,” Abouzeid tells Mental Floss.

Recent research into the appendix's connection to the immune system has suggested a few theories. In a 2015 study in Nature Immunology, Australian researchers discovered that a type of immune cells called innate lymphoid cells (ILCs) proliferate in the appendix and seem to encourage the repopulation of symbiotic bacteria in the gut. This action may help the gut recover from infections, which tend to wipe out fluids, nutrients, and good bacteria.

For a 2013 study examining the evolutionary rationale for the appendix in mammal species, researchers at Midwestern University and Duke University Medical Center concluded that the organ evolved at least 32 times among different lineages, but not in response to dietary or environmental factors.

The same researchers analyzed 533 mammal species for a 2017 study and found that those with appendices had more lymphatic (immune) tissue in the cecum. That suggests that the nearby appendix could serve as "a secondary immune organ," the researchers said in a statement. "Lymphatic tissue can also stimulate growth of some types of beneficial gut bacteria, providing further evidence that the appendix may serve as a 'safe house' for helpful gut bacteria." This good bacteria may help to replenish healthy flora in the gut after infection or illness.

6. ABOUT 7 PERCENT OF AMERICANS WILL GET APPENDICITIS DURING THEIR LIFETIMES.

For such a tiny organ, the appendix gets infected easily. According to Abouzeid, appendicitis occurs when the appendix gets plugged by hardened feces (called a fecalith or appendicolith), too much mucus, or the buildup of immune cells after a viral or bacterial infection. In the United States, the lifetime risk of getting appendicitis is one in 15, and incidence in newly developed countries is rising. It's most common in young adults, and most dangerous in the elderly.

When infected, the appendix swells up as pus fills its interior cavity. It can grow several times larger than its average 3-inch size: One inflamed appendix removed from a British man in 2004 measured just over 8 inches, while another specimen, reported in 2007 in the Journal of Clinical Pathology, measured 8.6 inches. People with appendicitis might feel generalized pain around the bellybutton that localizes on the right side of the abdomen, and experience nausea or vomiting, fever, or body aches. Some people also get diarrhea.

7. APPENDECTOMIES ARE ALMOST 100 PERCENT EFFECTIVE FOR TREATING APPENDICITIS.

Treatment for appendicitis can go two ways: appendectomy, a.k.a. surgical removal of the appendix, or a first line of antibiotics to treat the underlying infection. Appendectomies are more than 99 percent effective against recurring infection, since the organ itself is removed. (There have been cases of "stump appendicitis," where an incompletely removed appendix becomes infected, which often require further surgery.)

Studies show that antibiotics produce about a 72 percent initial success rate. “However, if you follow these patients out for about a year, they often get recurrent appendicitis,” Abouzeid says. One 2017 study in the World Journal of Surgery followed 710 appendicitis patients for a year after antibiotic treatment and found a 26.5 percent recurrence rate for subsequent infections.

8. AN INFECTED APPENDIX DOESN’T ACTUALLY BURST.

You might imagine a ruptured appendix, known formally as a perforation, being akin to the "chestbuster" scene in Alien. Abouzeid says it's not quite that dramatic, though it can be dangerous. When the appendix gets clogged, pressure builds inside the cavity of the appendix, called the lumen. That chokes off blood supply to certain tissues. “The tissue dies off and falls apart, and you get perforation,” Abouzeid says. But rather than exploding, the organ leaks fluids that can infect other tissues.

A burst appendix is a medical emergency. Sometimes the body can contain the infection in an abscess, Abouzeid says, which may be identified through CT scans or X-rays and treated with IV antibiotics. But if the infection is left untreated, it can spread to other parts of the abdomen, a serious condition called peritonitis. At that point, the infection can become life-threatening.

9. SURGEONS CAN REMOVE AN APPENDIX THROUGH A TINY INCISION.

In 1894, Charles McBurney, a surgeon at New York's Roosevelt Hospital, popularized an open-cavity, muscle-splitting technique [PDF] to remove an infected appendix, which is now called an open appendectomy. Surgeons continued to use McBurney's method until the advent of laparoscopic surgery, a less invasive method in which the doctor makes small cuts in the patient's abdomen and threads a thin tube with a camera and surgical tools into the incisions. The appendix is removed through one of those incisions, which are usually less than an inch in length.

The first laparoscopic appendectomies were performed by German physician Kurt Semm in the early 1980s. Since then, laparoscopic appendectomies have become the standard treatment for uncomplicated appendicitis. For more serious infections, open appendectomies are still performed.

10. AN APPENDIX ONCE POSTPONED A ROYAL CORONATION.

When the future King Edward VII of Great Britain came down with appendicitis (or "perityphlitis," as it was called back then) in June 1902, mortality rates for the disease were as high as 26 percent. It was about two weeks before his scheduled coronation on June 26, 1902, and Edward resisted having an appendectomy, which was then a relatively new procedure. But surgeon and appendicitis expert Frederick Treves made clear that Edward would probably die without it. Treves drained Edward's infected abscess, without removing the organ, at Buckingham Palace; Edward recovered and was crowned on August 9, 1902.

11. THE WORLD'S LONGEST APPENDIX MEASURED MORE THAN 10 INCHES.

On August 26, 2006, during an autopsy at a Zagreb, Croatia hospital, surgeons obtained a 10.24-inch appendix from 72-year-old Safranco August. The deceased currently holds the Guinness World Record for "largest appendix removed."

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