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8 Mummified, Mythical Monsters Found in Remote Japanese Temples

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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)

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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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History
The Day Notre Dame Students Pummeled the Ku Klux Klan
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At first glance, there was nothing unusual about the men who stepped off the train in South Bend, Indiana on the morning of May 17, 1924. Dapper and mannered, they drifted from the station to the downtown area. Some headed for a nearby office that sported a red cross made out of light bulbs stationed in the window. Others roamed around looking for Island Park, the site of a planned social gathering.

A closer look at these visitors revealed one common trait: Many were carrying a folded white robe under their arm. Those who had arrived earlier were fully clothed in their uniform and hood, directing automobile traffic to the park.

The Ku Klux Klan had arrived in town.

Fresh off a controversial leadership election in Indianapolis, Indiana, there was no reason for Klansmen to have any apprehension about holding a morale booster in South Bend. Indiana was Klan territory, with an estimated one in three native born white men sworn members within state lines. Just a few months later, Klansman Ed Jackson would be elected governor.

It was only when Klansmen found themselves guided into alleys and surrounded by an irate gang of Catholic students from nearby Notre Dame University that they realized mobilizing in South Bend may have been a very bad idea.

The Klan wanted a rally. What they got was a full-scale riot.

Photo of KKK Indiana Grand Dragon D.C. Stephenson
Indiana Grand Dragon D.C. Stephenson
By IndyStar, Decemeber 12, 1922 issue, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Politically-endorsed prejudice was the order of the day in the early part of the 20th century, when the Klan—first created in 1866 to oppose Republican Reconstruction with violent racial enmity and then revived in 1915—expanded its tentacles to reach law enforcement and civil service. No longer targeting people of color exclusively, the KKK took issue with Catholics, the Jewish faith, and immigrants. An estimated 4 million Americans belonged to the Klan in the 1920s, all echoing the group’s philosophy that only white, God-fearing citizens were worthy of respect.

Under the guidance of Indiana's Grand Dragon D.C. Stephenson, the group had attempted to shift public perception from the lynch mobs of the past to an orderly and articulate assembly. Rallies were held in KKK-friendly areas; propaganda material was becoming an effective weapon for their cause. Acceptance of the Klan’s ideology seeped into political office; Stephenson was a prominent Indiana politician.

To help continue that indoctrination, the Klan made plans for a parade in South Bend to be held on May 17, 1924. That it would be in close proximity to the Notre Dame campus was no mistake: At the time, 75 percent of the school's nearly 2000 students were Catholic, a religion the Klan found abhorrent. By pledging allegiance to the Vatican, their reasoning went, Catholics were acknowledging a foreign power. In the fall of 1923, they had persisted in setting crosses on fire near the University of Dayton in Dayton, Ohio, a predominantly Catholic college, and were frequently chased off by angered football players. That December, the Klan set off firebombs in Dayton during Christmas break. While no one was seriously injured, the intent was to send a message—one they wanted to spread to Indiana.

In the weeks and months leading up to the parade, both students and faculty began to get a taste of that perspective. Copies of the Fiery Cross, the official Klan newspaper, circulated on campus; one Klansman showed up at an auditorium to broadcast that Catholics were not good Americans. He exited the stage when attendees began throwing potatoes at him.

If that public response was foreshadowing, the Klan either ignored or failed to heed the warning. Members began arriving the Friday evening prior to the rally and were met at the train station by irritated students, who scuffled with the early arrivals by ripping their robes. By Saturday morning, when more Klansmen arrived, hundreds of students were in town, a loosely organized anti-Klan task force.

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Klan members were used to breezing into towns without incident. Here, they were immediately confronted by young, ornery college kids proud of their Catholicism. Klansmen were led into alleys and tossed into walls; students who played for the school’s legendary football squad formed wedges, the offensive line-ups found on the field, and plowed into groups of Klan members like they were challenging for a state title.

The violence, swift and sudden, prompted the Klan to retreat to their headquarters in South Bend. The students followed, their blood pumping hot at the sight of the red cross lit in the office window. Below it stood a grocery store with barrels of fresh potatoes. The students lobbed them at the glass, smashing the bulbs inside.

The conflict had been uninterrupted by law enforcement, but not for lack of trying. Deputy Sheriff John Cully, himself a Klansman, tried to enlist the National Guard but was shot down by officials. Notre Dame president Matthew Walsh had already implored students not to go into town, but his words went unheeded.

Unencumbered by authority, the 100 or so students idling near the Klan’s office decided they wanted to seize the hideout. Dozens began running up the stairs but were greeted by a Klan member who produced a gun. Unarmed, the students backed off. Four seniors went back and came to an impromptu truce: The student body would disperse if the Klan agreed to hold their rally without weapons or their robes.

The agreement seemed to placate both sides until Stephenson finally arrived in town before the parade’s scheduled 6:30 p.m. start. Assessing the roughed-up Klansmen and their skittish behavior, he complained to the police, who posted officers on horseback around their assembly at Island Park.

But there would be no rally: A heavy downpour prompted Stephenson to call it off, although the potential for further violence likely weighed on his mind. Lingering students who still hadn’t returned to campus met departing Klansmen as they attempted to drive out of town, smashing windows and even tipping over one car.

By Sunday, things seemed to have settled down. Walsh cringed at newspaper reports of the incidents, fearing it would portray the students as thugs.

Unfortunately, neither side was done protesting. And when they met a second time, the robed men would be backed up by lawman Cully and a squad of 30 deputized Klansmen.

Denver News - The Library of Congress (American Memory Collection), Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Students back on campus Monday had taken to hanging up seized Klan robes and hoods on their walls like trophies. It had been a rout, with the Klan barely putting up a fight.

Now, word was spreading through the halls that the Klan had captured or perhaps had even killed a Notre Dame student. Roughly 500 students jogged the two miles back into South Bend, eager for another confrontation.

When they arrived at the Klan’s headquarters, the light bulb cross had been rebuilt. It was an act of defiance, and the students moved forward. But the Klan was prepared: Many had been deputized, and uniformed officers joined the melee. Axe handles and bottles were brandished, and blood began to stain the street. It was a clash, with parties on both sides laid out.

When he got word of the conflict, Walsh rushed to the site and climbed on top of a cannon that was part of a monument. Shouting to be heard, he implored students to return to campus. His voice cut through the sounds of breaking glass, snapping the students out of their reverie. They returned to the school.

Absent any opposition, the Klan did the same. Stragglers from out of town returned home. With bombastic prose, writers for the Fiery Cross later recapped the event by accusing Notre Dame students of “beating women and children.” Later that summer, they declared they’d be returning to South Bend in greater number.

It never happened. Although the Klan maintained an aura of strength for several more years, the conviction of Stephenson for raping and murdering a woman in November 1925 extinguished one of their most enthusiastic leaders; the Depression dampened the ability of new recruits to pay dues. By 1930, the Klan was down to an estimated 45,000 members.

While Walsh never condoned the vigilante justice exacted that weekend, he never disciplined a single student for it.

Additional Sources:
Notre Dame vs. the Klan, by Todd Tucker (Loyola Press, 2004)
"Hearing the Silence: The University of Dayton, the Ku Klux Klan, and Catholic Universities and Colleges in the 1920s" [PDF], by William Vance Trollinger

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Why the Berlin Wall Rose and Fell
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One of history's most notorious barriers broke ground early in the morning on August 13, 1961, when East German construction workers, guarded by soldiers and police, began tearing up the Berlin streets.

As European history professor Konrad H. Jarausch explains in this video from Ted-Ed, the roots of the Berlin Wall can be found in the period of instability that followed World War II. When the Allies couldn't decide how to govern Germany, they decided to split up the country between the Federal Republic of Germany in the West and the German Democratic Republic in the East. Eventually, citizens (especially young professionals) began fleeing the GDR for the greater freedoms—and higher salaries—of the West. The wall helped stem the tide, and stabilized the East German economy, but came at great cost to the East's reputation. In the end, the wall lasted less than three decades, as citizen pressures against it mounted.

You can learn more about exactly why the wall went up, and how it came down, in the video below.

[h/t The Kid Should See This]

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