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Yamapikarya – Part 1

Posted by: Loren Coleman on February 6th, 2009

“The Yamapikarya – Japan’s Mystery Cat” Part 1
Guest Blog by Brent Swancer

Is there a large mystery cat roaming the jungles of Japan’s Iriomote Island?

Iriomote island lies about 200 kilometers east of Taiwan, 1,240 miles Southwest of Tokyo, and is part of Japan’s Okinawa archipelago of islands.

At approximately 289 square kilometers (113 square miles) in area, Iriomote is the largest island in the Yeayama Shoto island chain, and is the second largest island in all of Okinawa. Iriomote is one of the great wild areas left in Japan, with 90% of its mountainous land made up of lush, pristine subtropical jungle and mangrove swamps.

Much of this land falls within the Iriomote National Park or is protected state land, with its plants and animals protected by a district forestry service.

This beautiful, untouched wilderness is home to many rare and unique animals and plants, some found nowhere else on Earth, and due to this biological diversity, Iriomote island has sometimes been called “The Galapagos of East Asia.”

Iriomote is already home to one known species of wildcat, known as the Iriomote wildcat or Iriomote cat (Prionailurus iriomotensis), and often called the “Yamaneko,” or “mountain cat” in Japanese. The Iriomote wildcat is endemic to the island, meaning it is found no where else in the world. This cat is so elusive that it was not discovered until 1967, and there are many people who have lived on the island their entire lives who have never seen one or indeed even know it exists.

The Iriomote wildcat is approximately the size of a domestic housecat, around 50 cm long and weighing from 3 to 8 kg (6-18 lbs). It is dark or grayish brown in color, with lines on the neck that end at the shoulders and longitudinal rows of black spots that merge into lines on its flanks. The Iriomote cat is thought to be related to Asian leopard cats (Prionailurus bengalensis) native to Southeast Asia, although its exact taxonomy within this group is often disputed. It is one of the most primitive forms of extant cat in the world, and with only around 100 or fewer individuals remaining, it is also one of the rarest.

While the Iriomote wildcat is no longer a cryptid, there have long been stories and rumors of another type of larger cat living deep in the remote, mist shrouded jungles of the island.

Iriomote was originally not considered fit for human habitation due to the rampant malaria once found there. The island had primarily an agricultural role, being used for rice farming due to its abundant water, and human settlement on Iriomote island didn’t begin in earnest until after World War II, with the eradication of malaria.

At the time of this population growth, sightings began to surface of large mystery cats in the wilderness. This mystery cat, now known as the “Yamapikarya,” was first known through reports by wild boar hunters, who are known to venture far off the beaten trails. These hunters told of a large cat in the mountains and swamps of the island’s interior, often described as being similar to a leopard or jaguar.

The Yamapikariya is described as being between 1 and 1.3 meters in length, or twice the size of the Iriomote wildcat, and stoutly built. Its coat is said to be yellow, dark yellow, or orangish in color, with large, black spots. The tail of the cat is remarkably long, an interesting detail that is often mentioned in reports of the animal.

Since the first reports by these hunters, there have been at least 47 eyewitness reports on record, possibly even more. Sightings of the cats reached their pinnacle in the 50s and 60s, after which reported encounters with the cats diminished considerably, most probably due to the cats moving deeper into the uninhabited areas of the island to avoid humans and increasing development in the coastal areas. In recent years, sightings have dropped off almost completely, yet some intriguing and often fairly credible recent sightings still pop up from time to time.

One such sighting occurred in the summer of 1978, when a hunter reported seeing a large cat lounging up in a tree. The eyewitness described the cat as having spots that were “oddly shaped,” although exactly how they were odd is not mentioned, and a long tail that hung down “like a vine.” After observing the cat for several minutes, the hunter reports that the cat seemed to suddenly realize it was not alone, after which it bounded down the tree and into the forest with what he says was extraordinary speed and agility. The cat did not make any sounds.

In 2003, a Mr. Shimabukuro, who runs a fishing boat on the island, spotted a Yamapikariya while he was in the mountains setting wild boar traps. According to his report, he was setting the traps and found himself walking along a gravelly open clearing. After walking along this clearing for around 100 meters, he was surprised when a large, spotted cat, estimated at slightly over a meter long, suddenly leapt down from the top of a large boulder, landing right in front of him before disappearing into the underbrush. As the cat retreated, the man noticed that it was spotted, and had a remarkably long tail. He recalled being startled, and claims to have never seen anything like it on the island.

In September of 2007, the cat was seen by a Mr. Aiyoshi, who is a professor at Shimane University in Japan. According to his report, the professor was sitting on a beach fishing for a research project when a dark shape appeared from the thick forest just 2.5 meters from where he sat. His first bewildered reaction upon realizing an animal was there was that a wild boar had crept out of the trees, but it became quickly apparent this was a large cat which he describes as being a meter in length, with a very long tail and black spots, and looking similar to a leopard. The professor reported how the cat stared right at him before calmly slinking into the shadowy forest once more.

What do reports like this mean? The only two types of cat known to exist on the island are the endemic Iriomote wildcat, and introduced house cats, yet it seems fairly obvious from physical descriptions of the mystery animal that what is being seen is neither of these. The Yamapikariya is described as being much larger than either of these cats, twice their size or more, and the animal’s coloring does not match up either. The Iriomote wildcat also does not have a particularly long tail, which may seem like a minor point, but is a feature that is often mentioned in Yamapikarya reports. The long tail is therefore apparently a striking enough attribute of the animal to catch people’s attention and make it noteworthy. There are dogs on the island, but again the reports do not seem to be describing a typical domestic dog either. It also seems that there were likely few, if any, domestic cats or dogs on the island during the time when the first sightings of the Yamapikarya were being reported. In addition, many eyewitnesses of the mystery cat have been hunters, who would probably be quite familiar with the animals of the area.

Whatever is being seen, it seems questionable that the reports can be attributed to misidentifications of dogs or known cats on the island. It seems apparent that the mystery cat is likely something else. But what?

Please stay tuned for Part II on the Yamapikarya, where we will look at the plausibility of the island harboring a cryptid as well as some possibilities on what the animal might be.

More to come!

End of Part 1.

About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013.


24 Responses to “Yamapikarya – Part 1”

  1. gkingdano responds:

    GREAT REPORT!

  2. DWA responds:

    mystery_man: another great blog.

    Given everything else I’ve said on this site, I’m not going to suggest, promise, that these folks are seeing Iriomote cats. Or Hibagon. :-D

    Here in the States, the long tail is how we know people who are seeing cougars in the East aren’t seeing bobcats. A tail has to be quite long – or very short to nonexistent – to be prominent in a description.

  3. cliffhanger042002 responds:

    Great article MM, I thoroughly enjoyed the read and will be looking forward to the posting of Part II.

  4. mystery_man responds:

    DWA- Thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed this. :)

    Yes, I think the long tail is an important detail. It is obviously something that is catching people’s eyes. With an Iriomote cat or a house cat, I don’t think that would be something that most people would come out and make special mention of. It would be just, you know, a regular cat’s tail and so not really an added detail they would be likely to volunteer. But the reports I have read make specific mention of the tail being very long and that is telling to me, certainly something to consider when weighing the possibilities.

    The color most often described is also, as I mentioned in my article here, nothing like that of the Iriomote cat.

  5. Richard888 responds:

    An intriguing article!

    Since the tail length is an attention-capturing feature, perhaps it is disproportionally long. A longer-than-usual tail might point to a tree-dweller and this might account for the rarity of sightings – people often forget to look up.

    Not to mention that the animal might have become nocturnal with its habitat becoming encroached. Island animals are probably more sensitive to environment changes than their counterparts that inhabit continental land masses because migration is not an option.

    I look forward to Part 2 and more.

  6. crypto42 responds:

    Can’t wait for Part 2! This is a great article mystery_man.

  7. Cropper responds:

    Hi Brent. I’ve read your occasional pieces about Japanese cryptids and they are fascinating.

    I googled the Yamapikarya and can see no other references apart from your blog here. Is there any documentation relating to this animal – Japanese newspaper reports, books, articles etc, or is this purely from your own fieldwork? Sorry to sound so skeptical, but we cryptozoologists are often accused of being way too gullible, so its good practice to supply supporting documentation whenever there is talk of a new cryptid – and to be honest there almost always is something!

  8. dogu4 responds:

    Great info…and eager for more. Thanx.

  9. kittenz responds:

    “Oddly shaped spots” … maybe it’s a previously undescribed Neofelis species. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

  10. mystery_man responds:

    Cropper- Not everything that is available out there can be Googled and found on the first pages that come up. I think it is interesting that if someone cannot find it on a quick Google or Wikipedia search, then that must mean it is some sort of hoax as you seem to be implying, or that it must not exist. There are other reference sources beyond the web.

    I don’t know if you are aware or not, Cropper, but I have lived in Japan for a long time. I speak Japanese fluently, and a lot of what I research on these cryptids is from web sources in addition to others such as books, newspaper articles, old sightings reports, and such all in their original Japanese. I don’t always check whether someone can do a 2 second Google search and find the same thing in English. Some of this information may been only sparsely translated in English if at all, especially in the case of such an obscure cryptid.

    This is besides the point anyway, as if you look around, it CAN be found on Google in English. You can find it mentioned on certain English websites related to Iriomote Island or cryptids in Japan, and elsewhere. You might not find a lot of the detailed information in English that I have gone through a lot of trouble to provide here, but it can be found. You will turn up more if you use Google Japan in the Japanese language, and even then you will have to look around for deeper information than just a general overview. Try Googling things like “日本のUMA” (which means Japanese Unidentified Mystery Animal), or things like that and I am sure you will find mention of the Yamapikarya. It will not be my fault if you cannot read it, and not my responsibility to translate it for you either, especially with the vaguely hostile tone you’ve taken with me here.

    I have tried to dig up as much information as I can on this animal in order to share information on it in English in this forum and hopefully expand on what little information in English is already out there.

  11. mystery_man responds:

    I just want to explain to people here that what I try to do with some of these pieces I write for the site.

    Sometimes what I try to do is find Japanese cryptids that may be obscure even over here, ones that may not be well known even by cryptozoologists, and present them for your enjoyment and speculation. I try to include basic information and sightings, as well as any historical elements I can dig up. Hopefully, at the same time, I will expand the English literature on these creatures as well. Things like the Kappa and Tsuchinoko have a lot on them in English, and others like the Yamapikarya here are lacking on such information (although you can find mention of them if you look). A good deal of the things available on a few of these cryptids is available mostly in Japanese and I try to condense these things into English overviews such as the one above. Much of this is quite readily available online if you search for it in Japanese. Just remember that this particular one is a cryptid widely unknown even in Japan.

    To be clear I am NOT trying to advocate or argue for the existence of these creatures with these blogs. Many of them indeed have sketchy evidence at best. I’m not asking you to believe in them, merely telling you what’s out there on them so that you can form your own opinions. Likewise, this is not some kind of research paper presented for scientific scrutiny and review, and it is not meant as an official publication on this animal.

    This is a piece in the blog format for your consideration and enjoyment, an overview on a cryptid many may not have heard about, no more no less. That is the spirit in which I expect these pieces to be read.

  12. Loren Coleman responds:

    Brent Swancer’s contributions here are appreciated and fully vetted by me.

  13. Cropper responds:

    Brent – all your points are fair and reasonable, but you missed my point. I appreciate your work as well, this very interesting material is largely unknown to me and I was simply stating that if you put together an article on a new cryptid it’s reasonable and fair for any reader to ask whether there is any other material supporting your article or whether it is simply based material you have sourced and collected yourself. That’s not hostility – that’s a reasonable request of any author in this field. That’s why most authors add references and notes to their work – it allows anyone else to test what they claim.

    In your response you don’t really answer my question; you point me back to Google, which is not what I was after at all. If you are the first researcher to identify this cryptid through fieldwork thats fine; if not, as the author of the piece I think it’s reasonable to ask you to prove the basis of your claim. Are you saying there is material online in Japanese relating directly to the Yamapikarya? Can you provide the links, as I have some friends that can translate. Thanks.

  14. MaartenSFS responds:

    Hello Brent,

    I’ve been a lurker on here for several years, but my interest was piqued enough to warant a posting. Your situation in Japan is similar to mine in China. I wonder, have you ever tried traveling to these places to hunt for more information?

    I have done a lot of traveling here by motorcycle, although China is too massive to go everywhere. I often travel to nature reserves whose inhabitants are very understudied. I definitely agree that finding information about any obscure things in a country require intimate knowledge of the local language, culture, and infrastructure.

    Anyway, happy hunting and I look forward to your future endeavres.

  15. sschaper responds:

    My initial thoughts are that both cats have to be protected, and encouraged to increase, and that means getting rid of the wild dogs and feral house cats, which in particular might interbreed with the wildcats. Another thought is that the wildcats need to be preserved in captivity, 100 is a very small number, generally thought too small for a population to survive. Obtaining the most diverse genetic samples possible from them should be a high priority.

    As to the large cat. Sounds very believable, in addition to cat it could be in the mongoose family or what was the name of that catlike cryptid that was posted here a while back that was caught on trail cam? A type of civit?

  16. mystery_man responds:

    Cropper- Because I feel somewhat compelled to defend myself in response to your questions and somewhat accusatory tone, I felt it would be a good idea to show you and others a typical Japanese online source that I would use (besides the non-online sources I use). This might be useful towards showing you what sort of sources I tend to use when researching these cryptids. Below is a link to a Japanese page of the online “Ryuku Shimpo,” an Okinawan newspaper. You will see an article in Japanese describing one of the sightings I mentioned in this piece, specifically the one with the professor fishing for research on the beach.

    http://ryukyushimpo.jp/news/storyid-30074-storytopic-5.html

    This article, plus other similar (some offline) sources on the same sighting is where I got information on that particular sighting for instance. When possible, I will compare information from several sources on the same sighting, and use this information to put together my English version. You may not be able to read this article, but there is an illustration to give you an idea of what it is about. If you decide you want to doubt my translation skills as well as my reporting integrity on this blog, I’m sure any Japanese person will tell you that my translation of that sighting is accurate.

    This stuff on the Yamapikarya, which you would have to type in Japanese as ヤマピカリャー , or on some sites ヤマピカリヤ, in order to get a good result for any online search, IS available online. As you can see, since this article, and others like it, are in Japanese newspapers or other sources, in Japanese, you may not get few if any good hits with an English Google search. This is not to mention that not all such sources are online to begin with. Like I said, Google is not the answer to everyone’s research needs.

    This is an example I have provided in order to show you and others here that I am not fabricating these things, and I do not appreciate the insinuations that I am.

    Thank you.

  17. Cropper responds:

    Brent – thanks for the reference, and your comments. That’s exactly what I was asking for.

    Any author in this field shouldn’t expect others to accept what they claim without verification. As I said that’s not an attack, its just that if you make a claim its expected that you are able to back it up with documentation. If I published an article on a previously unknown cryptid from my part of the world, I would expect someone to ask me the same questions. This happens in science all the time.

    There have been instances in this field where people have claimed that a cryptid exists in order to later cry “hoax” and show the gullibility of people interested in cryptozoology. Some of these tales got relatively wide circulation.

    Everyone should wear their skepticals at all times!

  18. mystery_man responds:

    Cropper- The thing I took issue with is that you came right out of the gate doubting me and whether this cryptid even existed at all outside of my mind based on the position that you could not find it on Google. You did not just ask me kindly on what sources I got my information from, but rather implied you found the Yamapikarya doubtful because you could not find it on Google (even though it is there). So lack of finding it on Google led you to post your comment, yet I’ve shown here that it is clearly searchable online and therefore you just did not look thoroughly enough before coming on here and throwing doubt on my credibility. I am well aware of what happens in science all of the time, but you came out with a position (I couldn’t find it on Google), which was erroneous (you CAN find it on Google). Usually I would expect a claim or accusation like that to be made after a more thorough investigation into whether what you were saying is in fact true, which it wasn’t. That is what I saw as hostility.

    I hope things are good with us on this front.

    MaartenSFS- I’ve actually been to Iriomote island once. I went there in order to see the terrain of the known Iriomote wildcat and hopefully get a glimpse of one. Alas, I didn’t see one, but it is a breathtakingly beautiful place, so I didn’t go home disappointed. I actually do occasional research on the effects of invasive species on endemic wildlife and ecosystems, so I get out into Japan’s wild areas a fair bit. However, this research mostly involves known animals.

  19. DWA responds:

    mystery_man: skepticals, yes. Scofticals, beware. :-D

    Something could be said about Cropper’s comment that bears saying, however; and not as to the animal’s unlikelihood but rather its plausibility.

    If you aren’t finding quite a bit in a rapid Google search one conclusion that could fairly be drawn is: science ain’t interested. What interests me about this cat is a significant way in which it compares to That Cryptid. :-)

    Which is: the range seems implausible – in this case, a small island in a small archipelago. But the eyewitnesses seem like reliable ones, who spend a lot of time in the backcountry, and would know if they were seeing something out of the ordinary. And they are describing something that varies quite significantly from acknowledged fauna on the island. You note all the people who live on Iriomote and don’t know anything about the cat that does live there. Many of them might have seen one and thought: house cat? Now I don’t know how many, if any, of those are on Iriomote (and would be concerned for the I-cat if there were any).

    One thing I’d be interested in is: are indigenous fauna known to be there sufficient to provide good hunting for a cat this size? (I’m presuming the boar are indigenous; and given what we’re finding out all the time about predators, I’d hesitate to say a Y-cat couldn’t take one.)

    But if science isn’t interested, well, the cetacean equivalent of the flying squirrel could be gliding around through those mangroves, and nobody who hadn’t seen one would know.

    Just like That Cryptid. :-)

  20. DWA responds:

    And kittenz might be on to something. In fact, I might put a few yen down on it.

  21. DWA responds:

    Cropper: I would want to add this about your comments.

    One problem I see epidemic in cryptozooloical circles is: you all don’t take YOURSELVES seriously enough!

    Much of the proponent excusifying for why cryptids haven’t been confirmed yet seems to include, at its very core, either the proponents’ own incredulity or their lack of understanding of perfectly plausible reasons why we don’t have confirmation yet. Including the most obvious: science hasn’t confirmed because it simply has ignored the evidence.

    Iriomote sounds to me like a place that almost certainly has a species or two, of some size, that science hasn’t confirmed yet. And a cat of the sort we’re talking about here, in a place like this, is just the kind of animal scientists could miss, easily.

    We presume, way too easily, that scientists of all kinds have been everywhere. If Iriomote hasn’t been seriously examined by a scientist specializing in big cats, well, it hasn’t been seriously examined for big cats.

    That simple.

  22. Cropper responds:

    Brent. That’s a fair comment, you are right – I apologise for the accusatory tone. I should have done my research before taking issues with yours.

  23. dogu4 responds:

    I just “google earth’d” the island. Very impressive. Also some nice pics on it.

  24. mystery_man responds:

    Apology accepted, Cropper. No hard feelings at all from me. :)

    Dogu4- Yes, the island is indeed impressive. I have been there once before, not for any real research but to just snoop around and see the habitat for myself since I am very interested in the known Iriomote cat and other wildlife on the island. I have a fascination in all island ecosystems (as you may have surmised by now), and this is my main scientific interest.

    When I went to Iriomote, I was surprised at just how remote some of the inland areas are. I knew it was remote, but had no idea of just how pristine these virgin subtropical forests were. There are places where you literally cannot pass, the forest is so thick. There is animal life everywhere, the jungles are absolutely thrumming with it. I also saw some of the mangrove swamps there, which support a very interesting ecosystem of their own. When you venture out in the wilds of Iriomote, it is very easy to imagine that you have stumbled into some sort of prehistoric lost world, and the experience was amazing.

    Alas, I did not see an Iriomote cat, however I can certainly see why I wouldn’t.

    DWA- Indeed the known Iriomote cat is very rarely glimpsed. As I mentioned in the article I wrote, some have lived their whole lives on the island without seeing one. There are actually islanders who are skeptical of its very existence, saying it must just be some feral house cats if anything (even though the species is documented by science).

    Current scientific interest in the island lies mainly in preserving the species that are already known there. For instance, there have been attempts to bypass the problems that the main road is causing with regards to cars hitting the native cats. This is actually one of the big killers of this species, yet so far there has been no foolproof method to stop these needless deaths. There is also a huge national park on the island with one of its aims being to preserve the cat, yet the problem is that the national park lies mostly in the mountainous interior of the island, yet the Iriomote cats prefer lower coastal areas. So what happens is that the cats are mostly lurking outside of the park’s boundaries, and coming in contact with the coastal road.

    As far as I’m aware, there is not much of a push by biologists at this time to study the existence of new species on the island. I suppose it could have to do with the fact that the island is considered small enough that there are perhaps no big discoveries left to be made there, even though the Iriomote cat wasn’t documented until 1967. I personally would love to give it a shot, but the island really is remote and it is not feasible for many biologists to conduct a long term study without living there, and without some fairly good funding.

    I’m pretty sure that any new species such as the possible Yamapikarya that is found on the island will be a byproduct of studies on known species. For example, you may get a conservation biologist or forestry worker that comes across one of these animals or stumbles accidentally onto some physical evidence. There are actually a surprisingly large amount of new species that are discovered in just this sort of way.



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