I, too, would absolutely spend my vacation looking for a mythical snakelike creature which comes with a 1.31 million-yen reward for its discovery.

Last week in Japan was Golden Week, one of the country’s longest collective stretches of time-off in the year due to a series of consecutive holidays. While many families took the opportunity to travel or even just relax at home during this time, a select few headed to the small town of Higashishirakawa in Gifu Prefecture for the revival of an annual event not held in four years since the start of the pandemic–the 31st Tsuchinoko Festival. 

The tsuchinoko (ツチノコ) is a mythical Japanese snakelike being with a thicker middle section of the body. It’s said to be about 30-80 centimeters (11.8-31.5 inches) in length, but take that with a grain of salt since there’s no definitive proof that the creature even exists. There were several reported sightings in Higashishirakawa in the past, however, and so the town has become a hotbed for cryptozoologists eager to spot their very own [significantly smaller] Nessie in the wild.

▼ One depiction of the tsuchinoko

On May 3, over 2,500 people gathered in Higashishirakawa from all over the country. Considering the regular population of the village is 2,092 people, visitors actually doubled the population overnight. The day began with ceremonial proceedings before families broke off on their own to search in the surrounding brush and other designated areas. Children and adults alike were buzzing with excitement as they ran around searching for any signs of the slithering cryptids. Some families even tried to entice the tsuchinoko out of hiding by pouring small amounts of Japanese sake and squid, supposed favorite treats of the creatures, onto the ground. It was a smart tactic, but sadly not one that ultimately proved to be successful at the end of the day.

▼ News coverage of the festival, including the two tsuchinoko mascots walking around the venue area

If you’re wondering why so many people would go to such lengths for an event based on a supposedly imaginary creature, perhaps even you could be enticed to the countryside upon learning that the prize money for catching a real, live tsuchinoko during the festival was 1.31 million yen (US$9,767). In fact, the prize goes up by 10,000 yen every year one isn’t caught, so next year’s reward will be even higher. As a fun secondary prize, participants who discovered hidden panels in the shape of tsuchinoko that were placed in the area by event volunteers in advance could exchange their findings for 12 bottles of a particular kind of specialty tea from the village.

Even taking the monetary prize into account, if you still think the whole idea of a Tsuchinoko Festival is basically bananas, perhaps you’re better off sticking with something slightly more grounded in reality such as Pokémon Go live events.

Source: Livedoor News via My Game News Flash
Top image: Pakutaso
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