The image above is one of many illustrations of the Utsurobune no Banjo incident that happened in Japan in the early 19th century. Although there are various accounts of the event, it is believed by many to have been an encounter with extraterrestrials, and not just because the vessel fishermen found in the ocean looks like a flying saucer.

■ The incident
One day late in the winter of 1803, some fishermen located a vessel floating in the Pacific Ocean of the coast of Ibaraki Prefecture. They towed it back to the shore for further investigation.

It’s been described as a round “boat” with some iron plating and glass windows. On the windows were strange geometric shapes that they had never seen before. This craft, which was dubbed an utsurobune or “hollow boat,” measured somewhere between 5 to 10 meters (16.4 to 32.8 feet) across.

Upon opening the craft they found a woman inside. The woman was described as a banjo, a word which meant “barbarian woman” or simply referred to a white woman. Remember, political correctness was still ages away at this point.

However, this woman spoke a language that no one could understand and likewise she couldn’t understand them. She wore clothes like they had never seen and a long white colored hair extension. She also clung to a rather large box that no one was allowed to look inside.

With communication at an impasse the locals all decided the best course of action would be to put her back in the craft and into the ocean where she came from. That’s just what they did and the woman was never heard from again. You have to hand it to old-timey Japanese people. They really knew how to deal with a complex situation efficiently.

■ What was it?
The problem was solved for them at least. For the rest of us it just leaves one big question mark over what exactly happened there. The combination of strange clothes, language, symbols and boat leads many to envision an alien encounter. Added to that, all of the illustrations of the utsurobune certainly seem to resemble a flying saucer (bear in mind they are not drawn to scale).

However, a more likely explanation may have been a hot air balloon’s gondola. Ballooning was just becoming big in Western countries around this time and widely used. This French illustration depicts a hot air balloon from 1808.

Japan, on the other hand, was still a largely closed-off country and not too aware of these developments, especially in small fishing villages. It’s this same closed-off nature that might have made other nations really eager to take a peek inside. So, it might not be far-fetched to assume the utsurobune was just a spy balloon from somewhere like Russia that had crashed into the ocean.

That’s just a theory though, and there are still many mysteries about this incident. For example, stories of similar vessels found in the ocean have been recorded in years before along with other tales of people finding strange women alone in odd places. This year’s Oscar nominee The Tale of The Princess Kaguya is one such fable that was written almost a millennium before.

Unfortunately, with little else to go on, it’s hard to say whether the utsurobune encounter was an international incident, interstellar incident, or just a relatively modern rehashing of an old folktale. Too bad Leonard Nimoy wasn’t alive in 1803. He’s pretty good at figuring this stuff out.

Source: Japaaan Magazine (Japanese)
Images: Wikipedia – Kyokutei Bakin, Nagahashi Matajirou, Kyokutei BakinJordaki Kuparentko