The Utsuro-Bune Legend And UFO Encounters Of Ancient Japan

Marcus Lowth
Published Date
May 23, 2020
Last Updated
October 5, 2021
Estimated Reading Time
14 min read
Posted in
UFOs, Close Encounters

An incident recorded in several strange Japanese texts tells of a mystery woman arriving seemingly out of nowhere in a strange, futuristic covered boat seen hovering helplessly on the water in the early 1800s. The account has several varying details depending on the source, but essentially tells the exact same basic story. What is also interesting, is that a similar legend exists from over 1,000 years earlier. Might they be connected or is it simply proof that the nineteenth-century incident is a retelling of a much older account?

A depiction of the Utsuro-Bune Legend

A depiction of the Utsuro-Bune Legend

To many people in the UFO community, though, the account is perhaps evidence of a UFO presence on the planet at least 150 years before the famous Roswell incident of 1947. And to some ancient astronaut theorists, it is further proof of continual extraterrestrial visitation dating back thousands of years.

The account still fascinates many researchers today, over 200 years after it took place. And it does so in various different fields, which consequently offer us various different perspectives and explanations as to the truth at the heart of this most bizarre account.

And when we examine some of the other accounts in the region it becomes clear that there have been many other equally perplexing but captivating encounters that suggest a world that is far different than many of us perhaps realize.

Japan, like many countries in the Far East region, has a long and fascinating history, much of which is intricately documented in sacred and ancient texts. There is also an abundance of history, later documented by researchers, that existed only orally until (relatively) recent times. The legend of Utsuro bune is just one of those enigmatic and intriguing encounters that still fascinates researchers today in the modern world.

A Bizarre Floating Object Off The Shore

According to the most detailed account in the book Toen shosetsu, the incident took place on 22nd February 1803. [1] On that day, fishermen were working as normal along the shore in Harayadori in the Hitachi province. However, the day was about to take a most dramatic turn.

They would suddenly notice a bizarre and extraordinary object floating on the water heading in their direction, although not under any apparent control. Intrigued, the fishermen would reach the boat-like vessel and tow it with them back to the shore.

Using modern measurements, the fishermen would estimate the object was around 10 feet high and almost twice that wide. It was seemingly split into a top half and a bottom half, with the top seemingly made of a red wood-like material, while the bottom was much more metallic and solid. Furthermore, the overall shape was almost identical to an incense burner (names Kohako). What is interesting here is that this shape is very similar to that of a typical “flying saucer”.

A picture showing the strange lady carrying the box

A picture showing the strange lady carrying the box

When they peered inside the windows, that appeared to be made of some kind of clear crystal, they would claim that the interior appeared similar to a wooden rice bowl. It is from these details noticed by the fishermen where the account acquires its name. Utsuro translates to hollow while bune translates to boat – hollow boat.

The windows themselves were covered with strange bars of an unknown material and were covered over with a fluid-like substance. They did manage, though, to see more details inside this bizarre, floating object.

A Beautiful Woman Holding A Strange, Pale Box

As they looked around the inside of the object, they noticed what appeared to be strange writing on the walls. Certainly not anything they could understand. They also noticed a bottle full of water and what appeared to be something similar to a cake. There also appeared to be a supply of meat in this apparent stash of food.

Furthermore, the men saw two large pieces of material which were clearly bed sheets. Shortly after, they noticed the young woman.

She was around 20 years old and all the fishermen agreed she was very beautiful. Her hair, and even her eyebrows, were red. However, where her natural hair finished there appeared to be some kind of extensions, possibly made of white fur. They also noted how her skin had a particular “pink” tone to it, certainly lighter than their own.

A picture of the strange lady inside the floating craft

A picture of the strange lady inside the floating craft

She also wore clothes of a material unknown to the fishermen which were long and smooth. Perhaps most bizarre of all, though, was a strange, light-colored box that she would maintain in her grasp throughout the encounter with the fishermen. What’s more, she would not allow any of them to touch the strange box, appearing fearful when they innocently reached toward it.

When she spoke to them, it was in a language that not only did they not understand, but were not at all familiar with.

From here, it appears that the fishermen, unsure of what to do and perhaps a little unnerved seemingly pushed the boat back out to sea and then let the tide take it away. We should note that another version of the story claims the fishermen simply left the boat where it was at the shore, allowing the woman to remain there until she grew old.

Intriguing “UFO Encounter” Details

What is perhaps an interesting detail is the hairstyle, and more specifically, the hair extensions. [2] According to research, of all the cultures and their warriors, royals, and citizens, these types of extensions and styling is not found in any other records of history.

Might this suggest, especially when we take the strange shape of the object and the obvious similarities to the disc-shaped UFOs witnessed in our modern age, that this strange woman was perhaps from another world? The seemingly bizarre appearance, not known of in any other documents and writings of ancient history, may prove that the woman inside the craft was an extraterrestrial entity.

Perhaps it is also interesting that the object was discovered on water. While it didn’t appear that the craft was workable, many UFO sightings are seen over or near water. Might this incident be a case of an apparently otherworldly craft becoming crippled and trapped on the waves? Perhaps in an attempt to dive to the depths for reasons we can only guess at.

There are also other intriguing details to note. Not least the “pale” color of skin and the smooth clothing of unknown material to the fishermen. Given the fabrics available through trade routes stretching to the rest of the Asian continent and all the way through to Europe, this is also worthy of note.

Of most interest, though, could be the strange box that the lady seemingly grasped on to throughout the exchange with the fishermen. And that she would not allow them to touch or even get close to. We have written before of strange “black boxes” often associated with close encounters. And what’s more, that they are usually fatal to those who touch it. Although the material was pale, might this box be something very similar?

Similar Symbols And Other Strange Incidents

If we turn our attention back to the strange symbols seen by the fishermen on the interior of the vessel, some modern researchers have suggested that the descriptions of these are very similar to the strange symbols noted in the Rendlesham Forest UFO incident. Even stranger, these very same symbols can also be found painted in caves, often alongside strange looking humanoid figures.

There are other similar UFO sightings and encounters with strange entities throughout the history of Japan, some of which we will examine shortly. However, there are also other recorded incidents very similar to the legend of the Utsuro bune. There are also several explanations offered as to what the truth behind the strange incidents might be.

For example, a legend dating back to the 600s tells of another fisherman called Wakegoro. He would make a similar discovery of a young girl in a vessel almost identical to that described in the legend of the early nineteenth century. This time, however, the girl could understand the fishermen, and could speak his language.

The symbols on the vessel compared with those from the Rendlesham UFO incident

The symbols on the vessel compared with those from the Rendlesham UFO incident

She would claim she was the daughter of the emperor of China. However, due to her stepmother, she had been forced to go into hiding. According to the legend, the fishermen would take care of the young girl and raise her as his own.

The story itself is part of the origin myths of the Kono clan. What’s more, the young girl, named Princess Wake by the fishermen, is still a source of worship for many on Gogo Island where she was first discovered by the fisherman.

What is perhaps interesting here is that similar explanations, both at the time and since have been offered to explain the strange young woman in the early 1800s incident.

Explanations Offered At The Time

According to an elder from the village near the shore where the red-headed woman was discovered floating in the strange object on the water, it was likely that she was a “princess of a foreign realm”. He would also offer that she had likely had to flee her country, possibly due to a scandal, quite probably an affair outside of her marriage.

Perhaps even grimmer is the notion that in the strange box that she held was the head of her executed lover, which would explain why she would not wish anyone to see it.

While this story sounds a little bizarre, if also extreme, other similar tales can be found in reports of other, similar incidents. For example, according to other local legends, an unknown amount of time earlier, a similar aquatic vessel washed up on a shore not far from the area. On that occasion, when locals examined the strange boat-like object, not only did they discover a young woman inside, but also a board of wood, to which was nailed a man’s head, presumed to be the woman’s illicit lover.

Even similar legends around the same time as that contained in the Toen shosetsu describe the woman as stunningly beautiful and with extremely pale skin. Are these all reproductions of the same story, perhaps one that was centuries old, even then? Or might each have happened as separate, if almost identical incidents, exactly as recorded?

Connections To Old Russian Traditions From The Past?

According to a book written in 1844 by Kanamori Kinken, Records of Seen and Heard Things From Russia, it was a tradition among some regions to use white powder to decorate the hair. [3] Perhaps even stranger, according to the legends collected in the book, many native Russian women were known to have strikingly red hair.

The records of the investigation suggest that the person may have been a woman of importance, perhaps royalty, and likely of Russian origin. However, the report also makes the suggestion that this mystery woman and indeed the boat in which she was discovered was maybe from Britain or even America. The main reason for this was that similar text and symbols described by the fishermen were similar to ones witnessed on British vessels seen in the region whaling.

Whether this mid-nineteenth century investigation is accurate or not is open to debate and further investigation. Indeed, as the decades have gone on, so has a fascination with the incident. And not just in Japan or the Far East region. In fact, it is to those investigations of our modern and even contemporary era where we will turn our attention next.

A Mixture Of Folklore And Partial Truths From Broken Accounts?

There are many more contemporary reports and examinations of the incident. For example, historian Yanagida Kunio suggests that these round vessels were often witnessed on the waters around Japan and in the Far East region for hundreds of years.

Perhaps we should also take into account the observations of Dr. Kazuo Tanaka, who rightly points out that the vessel doesn’t fly or make any attempt to during any of the accounts.

Might it be that the vessel, if we persist that it was an alien craft from elsewhere, was somehow damaged, hence it was seemingly drifting helplessly? Might it itself have been some kind of escape pod, released from a much larger, flying craft that had perhaps crashed into the sea? These are, of course, simply wild speculation on our part, with nothing to back them up by way of proof. However, they would be likely explanations, if it ever did somehow be proven that the encounter is an extraterrestrial one.

A writing telling of the strange legend

A writing telling of the strange legend

Most modern investigations tend to drift toward explaining the encounter as a mixture of legend and myth, and broken memories of past events that may have had partial truths to them. Over many years, the account has developed into the most well-known versions that exist today. And they very well may be correct. There is, after all, little to hang our collective hats on and state that this most definitely a case of alien visitation hundreds of years ago.

However, when we examine other similar incidents in the same region, while they differ in the content drastically, it perhaps demonstrates that what we would call “UFOs” were very much a part of the psyche of the people of Japan hundreds of years before the Utsuro bune incident took place.

Early Accounts Of UFOs Over Japan

Perhaps one of the earliest recorded UFO incidents over the skies of Japan, for example, occurred almost 600 years earlier in 1235. On the evening in question, General Yoritsune had set up camp for the evening with his army.

However, not long after doing so, they would witness strange lights in the sky overhead. What’s more, this bizarre encounter would last for several hours, with the lights dancing in the skies as if in a purposeful and intelligent way.

With the army unnerved by what was happening, Yoritsune would gather his best men and order them to investigate the bizarre events. Interestingly, the explanation they would offer was just as bizarre, when they claimed that the strange lights were the result of the wind “making the stars sway”.

Just over half a century earlier, in 1180 in the Kii province of the country, a group of fishermen would witness a bizarre glowing object moving across the skies. Even more intriguing, they would describe the object as an “earthern-ware vessel”, which is essentially a similar shape to a plate or a saucer. The awestruck men would watch the craft for several moments before shooting off into the distance with great speed.

The “Divine Man” Incident Of Ancient Japan

Perhaps one of the earliest alien encounters to be recorded as having occurred in Japan dates back to 2357 BC, although we should note that many researchers who have tried to find official surviving documents of the encounter have failed to do so, leading many to question the authenticity.

The incident, however, is recorded in several UFO books, perhaps most notably, Space Visitors To Ancient Japan by Mikhail Rosenshpitz, as well as online. [4] The account claims to come from an ancient manuscript named Sey-to-ki and tells of a “divine man” who came out of the sky and descended to Earth. This divine entity would travel in a “monster that was emitting light”, which leads many in UFO circles to question if this monster is actually a nuts-and-bolts flying vehicle, essentially, a UFO.

Further according to the legend, the people of the region would worship the man as a deity, referring to him as “the master”.

Japan has a long history of UFOs

Japan has a long history of UFOs

If we accept this account is true for a moment, might we accept that this is a case of an alien visitor essentially coming to Earth and possibly passing on knowledge and wisdom to those in the region? Might this be an actual ancient astronaut encounter? As we mentioned, there is considerable doubt as to the credibility of the account, but it is intriguing nonetheless.

In fact, the same author and researcher would tell of another ancient alien encounter in the same book almost 3,000 years after the divine man incident.

The “Tall Man” Of The Katsuragi Mountains

According to the account, in the year 460 in the Katsuragi Mountains in Japan, Emperor Oho-Hatsuse-Vaka-taka-no-Mikoto was hunting in the region when he happened upon a “tall man” who “descended from the sky” and was dressed in tight-fitting clothing as well as wearing a strange hat.

The emperor stood and watched the strange man as he landed to the ground, convinced he was witnessing the arrival of God himself. After several moments, the emperor would approach the mysterious man to ask who he was. According to the legends, the strange man answered:

I am the God of visible people. You give me your king’s name and I will give you mine!

The emperor gave his name, prompted the tall man to answer that he was “your obedient servant God Hito-Koto-Musi”. This is said to translate as “Goodness which sprays evil with one word”.

Nothing much is known of the encounter following these events, other than the tall man vacated his “chariot” – another word that many ancient astronaut theorists state, in this context, is a description of a flying vehicle or spacecraft – and proceeded to go hunting with the emperor.

Was this really a god? Or is the explanation more likely to be that the emperor – if indeed the story is accurate – stumbled upon a visitor from another world, or indeed, as we will discuss in a moment, someone from another time?

The “Transition From The Age Of The Gods” To Human Rule

Like many creation stories of the ancient world, those of Japan speak of a time of the “Age of the Gods” – which lasted for seven generations and was responsible for the creation of the world, and essentially the islands we know as Japan, which the deities who came from the initial three gods were tasked with.

According to the mythology of the country, the first Japanese emperor, Emperor Jimmu, was the first human to rule the land and represented the transition between the age of the gods, and the age of the empiric dynasties. Emperor Jimmu is widely accepted to have become leader around 660 BC, which is just under 2,000 years after the Divine Man incident.

Is such a story mere legend? It is perhaps interesting that many ancient cultures, including the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Sumerians, all speak of a time when The Gods walked the Earth and ruled directly. They all also speak of a “transferring” of power to their chosen human successors – those who are given the “divine right to rule”.

Indeed, even as far as the Middle Ages, although more because of the strong connections between ruling royal families and the Church, Kings would often claim direct connections to a saint in order that they could state, in turn, a connection to God.

Although we will go slightly off course for a moment, might this suggest that these “gods” from different countries were of the same civilization, perhaps sent out from a central point in order to create civilizations and then nurture human rulers? And if so, was Japan a part of that process. We could also note similar legends exist in neighboring China, as we have examined before.

A Long History Of Myths, Folklore, And Legends

The legends and myths of Japan, like most other countries, could certainly fill an article in itself, and quite easily, an entire volume of books. And, like most others, they contain a mixture of demonic entities, monstrous beings, Bigfoot-like humanoids, and strange, grotesque-looking creatures.

While the vast majority of these myths will be exactly that, might it be possible that some, as we find in the myths and folklore of other nations around the world, are, in fact, retellings of encounters with extraterrestrial entities or strange creatures from elsewhere? Might they be remnants of the time when these strange creatures did very much exist? And might, somewhere they still be lurking, perhaps halfway between their world and ours?

With that last thought in mind, we will turn our attention to another possibility to explain some of the strange historic sightings and incidents in Japan’s history, perhaps most importantly, the strange Ustruo bune case. And while it is not one that we are aware of having been considered seriously before (nor do we expect so now) it is something that should possibly be kept on the collective mental backburner.

If these creatures are not visitors from another world somewhere in the universe then perhaps we should consider, however remote the possibility, that they, including the young woman in the Utsuro bune, came from somewhere else entirely.

(Speculative) Links To Time Travel Or Other Dimensions?

Perhaps one notion to consider is that the incident might not be of a lost or forbidden princess at all – the Russian theories, for example, appear unlikely, as do the connections to Britain and America (who don’t have royal figures) – nor might it be an extraterrestrial encounter.

Might it be that the woman was very much human, but from a different time, or even dimension? This is pure speculation, but might it be that the hair and dress of the woman are not shown anywhere in historical records because it is in the records of the future still to come?

Or might it be a case of interdimensional travel?

A depiction of the floating vessel and the lady carrying the box

A depiction of the floating vessel and the lady carrying the box

We might recall the incident of the plane passenger’s country that didn’t exist that occurred in 1954 – at least according to legends and the few written accounts of it. In that case, the air traveler approached the customs desk of the airport, only to innocently declare that he came from a country that none of the airline staff had heard of. Consequently, he couldn’t pass through customs and was detained for further investigation. In a further twist in the tale, the mystery air traveler would vanish from a locked and guarded room on the top floor of a multi-story building.

Given the (relative) close proximity of the two incidents, might there be something strange and unknown to us that occurs over the waters or even the mountains leading to the shores of Japan that somehow distort space and time, possibly allowing dimensions to merge, albeit briefly?

Might this be what happened in the case of Utsuro bune? That the vehicle and the occupant inside were from a point somewhere in the future or from a dimension that exists alongside ours but, for the most part, completely separate from it?

One Of Many Intriguing, Unsolved, And Mysterious Accounts Of History!

Whatever the truth of the Utsuro bune incident and whether the woman was an extraterrestrial entity from another world, that strange UFO-type incidents have occurred over this part of the world for centuries is surely without a doubt. Perhaps that makes the claims of the fishermen and the written accounts that followed all the more credible.

Is this really a case of an alien encounter in the early nineteenth century? If so, what did become of the presumed extraterrestrial woman? Or might the explanation be more in line with a bizarre interdimensional incident, or even time travel?

Perhaps one more thing to consider here is that the young woman and the vessel she traveled in may have been part of a strange disappearance, from which she reappeared where she did in the seas off the shores of Japan. We have written on several occasions of such strange disappearances that result in sudden reappearances, sometimes years later and thousands of miles away. Once more, it is wild speculation on our part, but such mysterious encounters leave space for this speculation.

Of course, it could be that the encounter is nothing more than legend. An account that might have a part truth to it but happened many hundreds of years previously and then retold across generations. What that part-truth might be is perhaps what keeps researchers and investigators into such strange incidents coming back to the Utsuro bune incident. And likely will do for some time.

Check out the video below. It looks at the truly strange Utsuro bune case a little further.


1 The Utsuro-Bune Encounter: An Ancient UFO in Japan, CHQ Magazine
2 “Utsurobune”: A UFO Legend from Nineteenth-Century Japan, Nippon
3 Records of Seen and Heard Things From Russia, Kanamori Kinken
4 Space Visitors To Ancient Japan, Mikhail Rosenshpitz

Marcus Lowth

Marcus Lowth is a writer with a love for UFOs, aliens, and the Ancient Astronaut Theory, to the paranormal, general conspiracies, and unsolved mysteries. He has been writing and researching with over 20 years of experience.

Marcus has been Editor-in-Chief for several years due to his excellent knowledge in these fields. Marcus also regularly appears as an expert on radio talk shows including Troubled Minds and Unexplained Radio discussing these topics.

Read Marcus' full bio.

You can contact Marcus via email.

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