The Tsuchinoko (ツチノコ), literally translating to “hammer’s spawn,” is a legendary snake-like cryptid from Japan. The name tsuchinoko is prevalent in Western Japan, including Kansai and Shikoku; the creature is known as bachi hebi in Northeastern Japan.
The cryptid Tsuchinoko is said to inhabit the deep, remote mountains of Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu islands as well as the Korean peninsula. The Tsuchinoko is reported to be around 2 to 3 feet in length, most commonly reported as being a mottled black, grey or rust color, with scaly skin, a distinct neck and with a bright orange belly in many cases. The scales are said to be large and prominent, the mouth resembles a grin, and horns or ears above the eyes are often mentioned.
Perhaps the most unique characteristic of the Tsuchinoko is its appearance, specifically the shape of the body, which is somewhat flat, bulging and rounded in the middle, and tapering off to a short tail. It is similar in appearance to a snake, but with a central girth that is much wider than its head or tail. In some reports it is deadly, said to have fangs and venom similar to that of a viper.
Some reports describe the body as being triangular in the middle rather than round. It is highly poisonous, with the ability to spit venom a considerable distance, yet is peaceful and more likely to flee than attack. Another odd trait worth mentioning is that they are reported to have a particular odor like that of chestnut tree flowers.
The earliest known written record of the Tsuchinoko dates back to the 7th century, where it appears in the Kojiki (Records of Ancient Matters), the oldest surviving book in Japan. In some legends, the Tsuchinoko can speak, has a tendency to tell lies, and enjoys the taste of alcohol.
The Tsuchinoko has some peculiar ways of getting around. It is reported to move ahead in a straight line, spine undulating up and down as it goes rather than the side to side undulations seen in most other snakes.
The snake is also famous for making spectacular leaps of up to a few meters, often leaping along in one hop after another. Even more bizarre than this are some of the stories that describe the tsuchinoko putting its tail in it mouth and rolling along like a wheel, or even tumbling along end over end (see illustrations). They are also supposed to be good swimmers and very fond of water.
This snake supposedly has an incredibly wide range of vocalizations. It has been said to make chirps, snores, grunts, groans, moans, squeaks, and to even mimic human voices. Old legends claim it could actually converse with people. In fact, the tsuchinoko was mostly portrayed in folklore as being harmless to humans (despite its poisonous nature) except for its great propensity for telling lies and trying to befuddle travelers. The only true way to keep them quiet was to ply them with alcohol, which legends say they have a great fondness for.
The Tsuchinoko has been present in Japanese folklore throughout reported history on the islands. Their likenesses have been found on pottery dating back to the very earliest civilization on the islands, and they are mentioned in the Kojiki (or Hurukotohumi), which dates from 712 and is the oldest known book in existence on ancient Japanese history. In modern days, the Tsuchinoko is a major fixture in pop culture, appearing in commercials, video games, and on a large range of merchandise ranging from Tsuchinoko-shaped candies to hot water bottles. Interestingly they are not presented as evil or scary as Westerners might portray a type of snake. On the contrary, they are almost always made out to be cute, cuddly, and friendly creatures.
So do they really exist or are they just folklore? Some seem to think so.
The Tsuchinoko has been sighted by a wide range of people right up to the present day, usually deep in the mountains far from civilization. In response to the persistent sightings, many areas in Japan have offered huge rewards for the capture of one. The town of Yoshii in Okayama famously offered 20 million yen for one.