Japanese village festival offers $10,000 prize for capture of legendary 'tsuchinoko'
GIFU -- A 1.31 million yen (approx. $10,000) reward will be offered for the capture of a "tsuchinoko," a legendary snakelike creature that has remained elusive in spite of numerous reported sightings, at a village festival in central Japan.
Tsuchinoko Fest 2023 will be held at Nakagawara Mizube Koen (Nakagawara waterside park) in the Gifu Prefecture village of Higashishirakawa on May 3 this year for the first time in four years after a hiatus due to the spread of COVID-19. In addition to a search for the animal, a variety of events will be held. The festival's executive committee, formed by the municipal government and local tourism association, among other bodies, is hoping that the animal will finally be found this year.
According to the village's official website, the tsuchinoko is approximately 30 to 80 centimeters in length, with a body about as thick as a beer bottle and a triangular head. While there have been sightings all over Japan, there have apparently been some 20 sightings in Higashishirakawa since the Showa era (1926-1989), and the village is proud of being a "tsuchinoko hotspot."
The Tsuchinoko Fest was launched in 1989, the 100th anniversary of the village's establishment, with a prize pool of 1 million yen (roughly $7,600). With no one having ever captured the creature yet, a "carry-over," in which 10,000 yen is added to the following year's pool in principle, has continued through to the 31st edition of the event to reach 1.31 million yen this year.
The festival had grown into a major event in the village by 2019 before the pandemic, when some 4,000 people -- far more than the village's population of approximately 2,240 at the time -- attended.
However, despite the popularity of the event, issues such as a lack of parking space emerged, and due in part to measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the village government has decided to limit the number of participants to 2,000 people (1,200 adults and 800 children of elementary school age or younger) who register in advance starting this year.
In the main event for "serious tsuchinoko search teams," 270 participants will be divided into three groups, who will be escorted by local guides in their quest to capture the animal.
Other planned events include a treasure hunt in which participants will win local specialties and other prizes for finding a chip bearing a tsuchinoko mark among the wood chips filling a pool, and a rally in which visitors search for QR codes related to tsuchinoko between the parking space and the venue using smartphones to win prizes by lottery. In addition, there will be stage events, food and drink stands, and a raffle.
An official at the municipal government said, "We have changed the way we run the event due to the limited number of participants, but we hope people will come and search for dreams and ambition."
Applications will be accepted from 9 a.m. on March 1 on the festival's dedicated website. A paid pass is required for both adults and children, and costs 1,500 yen (about $11). To join the "serious search teams," a separate ticket is also needed, which is 1,000 yen for adults and 500 yen for elementary school children and younger. For more information, check the village's official website at https://www.vill.higashishirakawa.gifu.jp/syoukai/gaiyo/tsuchinoko/tsuchinokofesta/ (in Japanese) or call the executive committee's secretariat at 0574-78-3111 (in Japanese).
(Japanese original by Kazumasa Adachi, Gifu Bureau)