Issie: A Japanese Lake Monster

Posted by: John Kirk on August 3rd, 2006

Yutaka Kawaji and Hideo Kawaji may share the same surname, but they also share the same phenomenal experience. You see, they are both witnesses to the Japanese lake cryptid know as Issie, said to inhabit the depths of Lake Ikeda in Japan.

What is remarkable is that they both saw the creature when they were elementary school students and also later in life. In fact, Yutaka Kawaji actually witnessed the creature on three occasions and two of the sightings occurred in the same year. In the spring of 1978 Yutaka saw the creature from a garden. Details of this sighting are very sketchy and we know little else than that he saw an unknown creature in the lake.

It is the sighting on September 3, 1978 that is the best known sighting in the history of the Lake Ikeda enigma. This sighting was not witnessed by just a handful of people but by 20 people, virtually all related to Yutaka Kawaji.

Kawaji’s children Hiroto, Mutsumi and Tomoko were playing by the lakeshore when they noticed two humps belonging to a large black creature gilding through the waters of the lake which is set in the caldera of an extinct volcano. These were big humps measuring five metres (16.26 feet long) and standing some 60 centimetres (two feet) out of the water. The children alerted the adults in the party to the presence of the creature and before anyone had time to breathe, Yukata Kawaji leapt aboard a motorboat and pursued the creature as it crossed the lake at a fair clip.

Kawaji was unable to catch up with the creature but during a sighting that lasted three to four minutes, he was able to see the humps twice for about 20 seconds. Conditions on the lake were mirror smooth with no wind or waves to speak of. The witnesses agreed that the only activity on the lake came from the immediate area where the cryptid had made it appearance.

Yutaka Kawaji was so enthralled by his sighting that he purchased a camera with a 135 millimetre lens in the hope that some day he would be able to photograph the creature. Kawaji has never seen the creature again, but as chance would have it, the mystery denizen of Lake Ikeda was photographed on December 16, that year and that honour would fall to Toshiaki Matsuhara. Matsuhara was interested in the folklore and legends of the lake, and this included the legend of Issie.

It was one thirty in the afternoon that day when Matsuhara saw a whirlpool suddenly appear in the middle of the lake. For five minutes he watched it through a 50X telescope as it moved northward for five minutes before it disappeared.

While scanning the lake in the aftermath of his initial sighting Matsuhara’s attention was drawn to an object moving in the lake which was somewhat veiled by waves surrounding it. He quickly took a series of photographs and in one of them what appear to be two humps with spinal ridges can be seen.

By this time the tourism department of the nearby city of Ibusuki had offered a reward of 100,000 Yen ($670) to anyone who could produce a photo of  Issie. Matsuhara submitted his photo for their consideration and the tourism department officials were impressed enough to award Matsuhara the prize money. When the photos were published, they struck a chord in the recollection of Yutaka Kawaji who promptly contacted the tourism department to say the Matsuhara had photographed the creature he had seen three months earlier and that it was also in the exact same location off a local landmark known as the Couple’s Rock.

Incredibly Matsuhara is alleged to have photographed the creature on four more occasions, but few have seen these photos and they have not been submitted for serious scrutiny.

Lake Ikeda is a remarkable place as it receives its water from rain and subsurface water sources. There no rivers or streams that flow into the lake. This is quite problematic in that it begs the question: How did a creature the size of Issie get into the lake? The only possible way it did so is to have entered through a subsurface opening, but the question is: from where?

The Lake is situated on the Satsuma Peninsula that is bordered on one side by the Sea of Japan and on the other by the Gulf of Kagoshima. It is quite a distance from the sea and because the lake is also above sea level, it is highly unlikely that it came from the ocean. At some stage in its history large Malaysian eels were introduced to the lake and these fish are farmed commercially on the lakeshore. I thought they might make a good candidate for Issie sightings , but I discovered that the largest eel ever seen in the lake – incidentally in the same area where Matsuhara and Kawaji had their sightings – was just 1.7 metres at most.

This is far too small to be even one of the five meter humps. Even the large snapping turtle that has been photographed in the lake is far too small to account for the large creature that many insists is Issie.

In 1991 a videotape of Issie was made and shown on the Nippon TV special World’s Mysterious Phenomena (Arlene Gaal and I were on the same show discussing Ogopogo).

It is clear that this is a living creature, but it is very difficult to calculate its length and whether it might not be eels swimming in a line. Then again it could be Issie, but as far as I am concerned, the jury is still out on whether it is the denizen of Lake Ikeda.

If you ever go to Lkae Ikeda you can see the statue of Issie and utilize the Issie observation platform. I hope that some one, someday, gets photographic proof of Issie that is somewhat clearer than Matsuhara’s series of anomalous humps and splashes in the water.

John Kirk About John Kirk
One of the founders of the BCSCC, John Kirk has enjoyed a varied and exciting career path. Both a print and broadcast journalist, John Kirk has in recent years been at the forefront of much of the BCSCC’s expeditions, investigations and publishing. John has been particularly interested in the phenomenon of unknown aquatic cryptids around the world and is the author of In the Domain of the Lake Monsters (Key Porter Books, 1998). In addition to his interest in freshwater cryptids, John has been keenly interested in investigating the possible existence of sasquatch and other bipedal hominids of the world, and in particular, the Yeren of China. John is also chairman of the Crypto Safari organization, which specializes in sending teams of investigators to remote parts of the world to search for animals as yet unidentified by science. John travelled with a Crypto Safari team to Cameroon and northern Republic of Congo to interview witnesses among the Baka pygmies and Bantu bushmen who have sighted a large unknown animal that bears more than a superficial resemblance to a dinosaur. Since 1996, John Kirk has been editor and publisher of the BCSCC Quarterly which is the flagship publication of the BCSCC. In demand at conferences, seminars, lectures and on television and radio programs, John has spoken all over North America and has appeared in programs on NBC, ABC, CBS, PBS, TLC, Discovery, CBC, CTV and the BBC. In his personal life John spends much time studying the histories of Scottish Clans and is himself the president of the Clan Kirk Society. John is also an avid soccer enthusiast and player.

15 Responses to “Issie: A Japanese Lake Monster”

  1. twblack responds:

    Where can we see the photo and video??

  2. Bennymac responds:

    Although it is not that close to the sea in 1965 three rivers were diverted into the lake for agricultural projects.

    It is sad to read that pollution to the lake has increased over the years. Fresh water red tide is pretty common there as well.

    Other than an eel, which I agree is doubtful, any other guesses on what Issie may be?

    Good post, thanks Mr. Kirk!

  3. John Kirk responds:


    I will try and find a decent copy of the Matsuhara photos. The ones I have are very grainy. Will post them when I can.

    The videos were show on NTV in Japan and maybe if you do a web search they might appear on Japanese language websites like some other stuff from the NTV shows have. I’ll see what I can do about locating the video.

  4. oldbutnotstupid responds:

    How about a bunch of eels? There is a lake near here on Cape Breton Island, where a monster was suppose to reside. It was found that it was actually eels that would gather in great balls for some unknown reason and appear at the lake surface. Looking just as described. For years it wa s thought to be a monsterous creature till some fishermen actually got close enough to see what it was. The reason they do this is still unknown. I’d love to see the photos.

  5. shumway10973 responds:

    The how will complete depend on what it is. Is it a finned dino? If so, I don’t know how far, if at all, any of these might be able to hobble like seals. Is it more the elephant footed type? Again, if it is, but something that needs water for survival (gills?), how far could it travel on land? Almost makes a person wonder if there is/are (a) massive cavern(s) throughout the world where such creatures live most their lives, except when they do a little travelling and surface. The same question could be asked of champ and ogopogo. Looking at maps of all sorts, there is really no way creatures of that size could just walk there. At least Japan has the possibility of the creature’s ancestors being in that region of the ocean when Japan rose up out of the water. Although that would be a rather hot way to find a new home.

  6. Loren Coleman responds:

    In Japan, the surname comes first. It is the Japanese style, like in Chinese and Korean, for the “first name” to follow the “family name.” As the oft-repeated example goes, the person with the first name “Ichiro” and the family name “Suzuki” is, therefore, called “Suzuki Ichiro” rather than “Ichiro Suzuki.”

    Therefore, the statement given above – “Yutaka Kawaji and Hideo Kawaji may share the same surname” – is incorrect. In fact, “Kawaji” is only the same “first name” of these Japanese individuals.

    This would be like us saying (if our names were written Japanese style) that “Kirk John” and “Green John” share the same surname, when, indeed, they do not.

  7. Sky King responds:

    oldbutnotstupid Says:

    It was found that it was actually eels that would gather in great balls for some unknown reason and appear at the lake surface… The reason they do this is still unknown.

    It’s a CRAZY EEL PARTY!!

  8. oldbutnotstupid responds:

    And we weren’t invited shame on them 🙂

  9. oldbutnotstupid responds:

    Thanks Loren for the name explanation. A piece of nice to know information that I hadn’t heard before.

  10. crypto_randz responds:

    John great job in getting this story. I do believe that you saw something in lake okanagan. I believe there is a strong possibility that some dinoaurs may still live amongst us. Especially in the lakes because they are so dark and gloomy. I feel a perfect fit for prehistoric animals to roam. Issie could be a sea dragon if possible i think shumway had good ideas. He asked about hidden caves underneath the water. It’s very true most of the lakes have hidden caves. The only suggestion I have to someone to get a super submarine to investigate what exactly is roaming underneath our lakes.

  11. CryptoInformant responds:

    This just doesn’t seem very reptile like to me, I’m thinking of a large fish or mammal.

  12. crypto_randz responds:

    The ridges along the back give it has reptilian. Obviously what they are dealing with could be a MOSAURUS OR BASILOSAURUS. Remember in many lakes there are caves where at the sides of the lakes these things could be hiding. These things like deep water and will hunt near the top. This is just my opinion im just giving my idea. But i do like the debate.

  13. cor2879 responds:

    Hey I’d like nothing better than for someone to discover that some of these lake monsters are living dinos. And I certainly think some of them could be (Champ I find to be a good candidate to be an actual living dino)… most of them though I would guess are some sort of whale. I believe Ogopogo is probably a whale. Without having seen any photos of Issie I, of course, can’t say one way or the other.

  14. Bob Michaels responds:

    If they can’t find a Nessie how will they ever be able to find an Issie.

  15. CryptoInformant responds:

    Basilosaurus is the proper name for “Zeuglodon”, which is a WHALE!

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