Japan’s Yeti: Hibagon

Posted by: Loren Coleman on November 20th, 2008

Brent Swancer delivers a smashingly good posting as today’s guest blogger:

Hairy bipeds are reported from all over the world. North America has its Sasquatch and Skunk Apes, the Himalayas its Yeti, Southeast Asia its Orang Pendek. Could there be a similar such creature inhabiting the remote mountains of Japan?

The “Japanese Bigfoot” is commonly referred to as the Hibagon, said to lurk in the forests of Mt. Hiba in Northern Hiroshima, from which it gains its namesake, as well as its surrounding areas.

Various popular illustrations of the appearance of Hibagon:

The Hibagon is a reddish brown or black in color, sometimes reported as having a patch of white fur on its chest or arms.It is said to be a foul smelling creature, with a face covered in bristles, a snub nose, and glaring, intelligent eyes. The face is sometimes said to be long and somewhat protruding rather than flat like a human’s, and the head is often reported as proportionately large, and shaped somewhat like an inverted triangle.

The Hibagon is much smaller than its North American counterpart, being most commonly reported as around 5 feet in height and estimated as weighing about 180 pounds. In many respects, the Hibagon is more ape-like than the Sasquatch as well. It is often described as looking like a gorilla or giant monkey, and although it is most often seen moving bipedally, many reports tell of the creature moving about on all fours quite easily. Some eyewitnesses even claim the animal was hopping along “like a monkey.” Other notable features are the Hibagon’s apparent lack of fear of people and the absence of any sort of vocalizations in the reports.

The Hibagon is mostly known from a series of sightings lasting from 1970 to 1982. Probably the first Hibagon sighting account occurred in early 1970, when a group of elementary school students out picking wild mushrooms in the forests of Mt. Hiba were terrified to come across an ape-like creature crashing through brush nearby.

A gallery of the various pieces of evidence presented for Hibagon:

That same year, in July 1970, the creature was spotted again by a utilities truck driver. The driver reported seeing a gorilla-like creature on two legs stride across a field near a dam, run across the road, and disappear into the forest. Several days later, on July 23rd 1970, the creature appeared again, this time out of brush and long grass in front of a surprised farmer, who described the Hibagon as being as tall as an average man, covered in black fur, and having a grotesque face with piercing, intelligent eyes. The Hibagon was also sighted walking through a rice paddy in the town of Saijo around the same time. In December of that same year, strange tracks of the alleged creature measuring 21 centimeters in length were found in the snow of Mt. Hiba. More tracks would be uncovered in the following years, and one of the longest trackways stretched on for 300 meters.

By this time, the reports were becoming well-known and well publicized in the media, while at the same time the rural residents of the area were growing increasingly uneasy about the strange animal being seen in their forests. Sightings continued, and area residents became so uneasy that the county now known as Saijo Shobara actually set up a department to deal with the phenomena. In addition to documenting eyewitness accounts and trying to get to the bottom of what was going on, the department also launched patrols around the area in hopes of finding whatever was causing the reports. Kobe University conducted an investigation of the area in 1972 to try and find physical evidence of the Hibagon, and police managed to make plaster casts at a construction site of some tracks allegedly made by the creature. No evidence was turned up by the University, and the tracks were found to be inconclusive.

Sightings continued through 1972 and 73, almost always during summer months, and in 1974 there was a significant spike in the amounts of reports. One such sighting occurred on August 15, 1974 when a motorist spotted a large, blackish animal walking near the road on four legs. When the creature sensed the approaching vehicle, it is reported as standing up and walking along on two legs. The shocked driver then stopped the car and snapped a photo of the creature trying to hide itself behind a persimmon tree. The photo is of poor quality, a blobsquatch in every sense, yet it received wide publicity and became probably the most famous photo of a Hibagon (see directly below).

Other sightings in 1974 include a Hibagon that was spotted crossing a road on June 20, 1974. The driver described it as moving along in a series of hopping leaps. On July 15, 1974, a woman saw one near her house and described it as very ape-like, like a gorilla walking around on two legs, and about 1.6 meters tall. There was even video footage taken of one walking along a remote mountain road, however the footage is blurry and of poor quality. Many tracks were also discovered in the year of 1974, including a series of prints found on August 21 in a mountain valley. The footprints were 30 cm long, which is not large for a sasquatch but some of the biggest prints found for an alleged Hibagon.

After the surge of eyewitness accounts in 1974, sightings of the Hibagon dropped off almost completely until 1980, when one was seen fleeing across a river with a bounding gait near the town of Yamano, where it became known as the “Yamagon.” It was spotted in the same area again in 1981 on a road near a health center, but perhaps the most remarkable sighting of the time occurred in 1982 in Mitsugi, which is located about 30km west of Yamano. In this report, the Hibagon was described as being more along the lines of sasquatch in size, estimated at 2m tall, but the most bizarre feature of the account was that it was said to be holding what looked like some sort of stone tool like an axe. This is the only account of a Hibagon being that large or wielding any sort of tool or weapon.

After 1982, sightings abruptly stopped, and the Hibagon seemed to just fall off the face of the Earth. There are practically no reliable reports of the creature after this time.

So what was it that people were seeing?

Theories abound about what the Hibagon could be. Perhaps the most common such theory is that the culprit was an elderly or infirm Japanese macaque that had lost its group and gone solo. This would fit in with the reddish brown coloration of some of the reports, as well as the oft mentioned tendency for the Hibagon to walk along on all fours and its ape-like appearance. This might even explain a limping shuffle mentioned in a few accounts, which would fit in with an injured animal. One of the problems with this idea is that Japanese macaques do not get nearly as large as the Hibagon is reported as being, and macaques would not match the black coloration reported by some eyewitnesses. Japanese macaques are also fairly common in Japan, and would likely be recognized by the locals as such.

The usual unusual suspects:

Another idea is that the creature was an escaped Asiatic black bear. This species of bear has a swath of white fur on its chest, a feature noted in some Hibagon reports, and of course bears are able of stints of bipedal locomotion. The Asiatic black bear is also a bit different in appearance than the naturally occurring black bears of Japan, and the long face described in some Hibagon reports would fit in with a bear.

There is also speculation that an escaped great ape, such as an orangutan, could be the culprit. This would fit in many ways appearance-wise, and there is one old newspaper report that I know of concerning smuggled orangutans escaping into the wild. However, orangutans are very arboreal creatures, and there are no reports of Hibagon in trees. Orangutans would also not find it easy to survive in the wild there, since the temperatures can be very cold there in this area.

Yet another theory is that what was seen was not animals at all, but rather “Yajin”, feral humans or mountain men who have shunned society to live alone in the wilderness. Perhaps the sightings were even caused by a mix of all of the above.

Or was the Hibagon something else entirely? Is it possible that a new type of hairy bipedal creature once lived, or maybe even still lives, in the remote mountains of the area? Some proponents have speculated that the rash of sightings that occurred during the 70s coincided with an increase of hunting in the area, which could have driven some of the creatures down from their habitat. The animals that were seen could also have been sick or wounded individuals that had wandered from where they usually live, perhaps in search of food. A few reports describe the animal as moving along with a shuffling gait or a limp, which has lead to speculation that at least one of the alleged creatures was injured, so?this could possibly explain these reports. Some have even suggested that the Hibagon that were sighted could have represented the last of a very rare species and that they are now extinct. Could the Hibagon been a new, undocumented creature?

Whatever the Hibagon was or is, it still lives on in the memory of the area’s residents. There are many regional, Hibagon related goods such as “Hibagon eggs” (which are actually Japanese sweet bean cakes), Hibagon “donburi” (a type of Japanese food), Hibagon company mascots, signs announcing the presence of Hibagon in the area, and even a giant Hibagon statue near one highway. The Hibagon’s image can be found everywhere and is a fixture of the local culture in some towns of the area.

“Hibagon eggs” that are actually a type of Japanese sweet bean dumpling.

A sign advertising “Hibagon-don,” a type of “donburi” which is a Japanese dish.

A truck for a company with a Hibagon as its mascot.

A road sign announcing the presence of Hibagon in the area.

What was the Hibagon? Where is it now? Perhaps we will never know.

Loren Coleman About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading living cryptozoologist. 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. He returned as an infrequent contributor beginning Halloween week of 2015. Coleman is the founder in 2003, and current director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.

18 Responses to “Japan’s Yeti: Hibagon”

  1. Dj Plasmic Nebula responds:

    Although Japan seems like a happy place, who knows what cryptids lie beneath its cities?

    I think these creatures are real. 🙂

    They don’t look like monkeys and apes known to science.

  2. dogu4 responds:

    Fascinating report. Thanks, Mystery Man.

    The mysterious and not readily interpreted Oriental natural history become simulatneously both more understandable and more mysterious with these. Thanks.

    Based on the wide divergence of descriptions and the familiarity of the Japanese with their own local macaques, I’d favor the “multiple choice” explanation, though I am curious if the native monkeys ever experience the occasional expression of gigantism much like our own species and I think the occasional example in other primates.

    Hunting is mentioned as one possible explanation for possibly having driven some rare population of animals into the areas frequented by humans. Is there much hunting going on these days in Japan at all? My impression is that there’s not much of that going on these days. What’s the status of sport hunting there? Cheers.

  3. DWA responds:

    Great blog. Thanks, mystery_man! (I insist on professional courtesy. 😀 )

    I found the following of particular interest:

    “of course bears are able of stints of bipedal locomotion.”

    I wouldn’t say so. Bears can barely move on two legs, and they sure don’t go from point A to point B that way (“dancing bears” excepted, and they have to be “trained” to do it), unless there’s data out there I’m missing. When a bear, any bear, is on its hind legs, the closest I can come to “manlike” is “vaguely reminiscent of a human,” the way a penguin reminds of a man in a tuxedo.

    “The Asiatic black bear is also a bit different in appearance than the naturally occurring black bears of Japan.”

    I’d always presumed that the two were the same species. Could you say more on this?

    I was also interested in the last road sign. It looks as if that sign has some analogues in the States (e.g., the “sas crossing” sign on Pike’s Peak; the Skamania County, WA stricture against killing a sasquatch) In what vein is that sign: tongue in cheek? Regional symbol? One-never-knows…?

    I think that one of many ways the rest of the world has Westernized is in its attitudes toward hairy hominoids. The first impulse seems to be rejection in the face of evidence. I find it interesting that the various kinds seem to be described as distinctly different animals, plausible in their differences, when our alleged “need to believe in monsters” would seem to dictate a more consistent – and more “monstrous” – public image.

  4. Ole Bub responds:

    Excellent Posting….Brent

    Samurai Sasquatch…who would have thunk it…LOL

    live and let live…

    ole bub and the dawgs

  5. Ceroill responds:

    Another excellent guest entry, Mystery Man. How much Hibagon folklore is there from before the seventies? The cultural adoption of this cryptid (signs, logos, etc) again brings to mind this trend in Japanese culture, which I find interesting. I presume that the Japanese fondness for their movie monsters (I forget the Japanese term for them), and the often humorous or tongue in cheek representations of them is related to this tendency.

  6. Andrew Minnesota responds:

    It’s great to hear some of these reports from other parts of the world. Thanks for the good article 🙂

  7. DWA responds:

    You know, another thing just hit me.

    No sighting records before 1970?

    That’s never good, even for us optimists.

  8. Loren Coleman responds:

    Just a word of caution about making a direct connection between the flap of 1972, and that being the first heard of this creature in Japan.

    As Brent points out, the name Hibagon has everything to do with this bipedal cryptid being named after the nearby Mt. Hiba. Therefore, it is reasonable to also view this name as a specific name tied, in time and space, to this one location in a narrow temporal focus. It’s like thinking about the Sister Lakes Monster (of Michigan, 1972) or the Pitt Lake Giant (of BC, 1965) entirely outside the context of Sasquatch/Bigfoot, which would be unwise.

    Indeed, a broader view of the Hibagon – a 5 ft tall, hairy, bipedal creature – might be best understood in terms of the centuries-old tales, sightings, and context of the Kappa – a 4 ft tall, hairy, bipedal creature of Japan.

    Also, I note, in some treatments, Hibagon and Kappa are also called Mu jima, separately or mutually together.

    Brent did a great job of detailing the Hibagon, just as one might discuss, in depth, the Old Yellow Top of Ontario. But then, if you think that Hibagon only popped into existence in 1972, that ignores the long tradition of a similar small hairy creature, the Mu jima, a special type of Japanese Merbeing, and avoids seeing the Hibagon for what it might be, to wit, a regionally-named creature that fits into a bigger picture.

  9. DWA responds:

    Loren: Maybe the Hibagon does fit in a larger context.

    But that is certainly not stated, nor is it implied by either the blog title or much of its text, particularly that first paragraph, which compares the Hibagon directly to other generically reported hairy hominoids. It is also rumored to come from a considerably wider area than its namesake mountain. A fair way to summarize the blog is: Japan’s counterpart to the sasquatch or yeti, the Hibagon, appears to have the following range and characteristics.

    It certainly sounds like no Kappa to me.

    Consistency is important in science. If the Hibagon is of a piece with other Japanese hairy hominoids (the Mu Jima for instance), their general absence from the blog raises eyebrows.

  10. yetispaghetti235 responds:

    the pictues are blurry and weird but the real question is how did the Hibagon get in to Japan. Remember plate tectonics plays a role along with the previous ice age we have. The possible reason is like why humans are on north america. they hunted mamoth and mamoth went to america on the search of food humans follow. mabye some speices of apes wander it to the peice of land know as japan and when the ice age ended they were stuck there forever. that explains the whole thing for all apes(cryptids) in the world and why they are there.

  11. mystery_man responds:

    Thanks for the compliments about this post. I hope everyone enjoys it. I’ll try to address a few things that have been brought up here.

    Dogu4- I suppose it is certainly possible that a Japanese macaque could display giganticism. Since it would be a rare occurrence, that could explain the reports concentrated in one area and over a somewhat short span of time. The only problem I find with that is that the descriptions of the creature vary in some reports, so that would imply there was more than one macaque with giganticism. Anyway, it would be a huge macaque.

    Hunting still goes on in some areas of Japan and is actually quite popular in rural mountain areas, which is where the Hibagon was sighted. As a matter of fact, the strict gun laws in the country only allow the purchase of hunting rifles for civilians.

    DWA- The Japanese black bears Ursus thibetanus japonicusare actually a subspecies of the Asiatic black bear Ursus thibetanus. I suppose I should make it more clear what I meant by an escaped Asiatic black bear. Japanese black bears are found on Honshu island, but they have been reduced to a few isolated sub populations and are not found all over their previous range. The black bear is not really known in area where the Hibagon was sighted, or rather they are not believed to presently be found there. So if this was a bear, it was either an escaped one or it was a sort of cryptid in its own right. Also, many Japanese do not regularly see black bears in the wild, as they are rare in many areas. Most exposure to black bears is in zoos with the American variety, so seeing the Asiatic variety might be surprising since they differ from the American black bears they are used to seeing.

    About the bipedal locomotion, please remember I said “stints” of bipedalism, not long walks. I’ve personally seen black bears shamble along for short distances, especially when they are curious about something (like a Hibagon curious about a human in its habitat?). But you are right, it is hard to imagine a bear fitting the descriptions given of Hibagon running, walking, and even hopping.

    I see what you are saying about the lack of sightings before the 70s, and that was my initial reaction as well. It still is somewhat of a point of contention. However, Loren has a point. Japanese folklore is full of creatures that could be at least passingly be compared to the Hibagon. The mountain areas in particular have their share of stories of various mountain demons, goblins, and trolls in addition to the ones Loren mentions, some of which could compare with the Hibagon. So for example one man’s Oni could be another man’s Hibagon.

    The reason I didn’t imply a larger context is because I just wanted to focus on this particular case on its own merit, and give as much information on it as possible in a post of reasonable length without delving into all of the potential folkloric elements or connections. As you say, my intent was to show the range and describe the creature in question. However, the direction you and Loren have taken the discussion is also of great interest to me.

    As far as the range, nearly all reports come from the areas in Hiroshima surrounding Mount Hiba. Sightings are scattered, but it is not so much a considerably wider area than you might suppose. There are other regional names for the creature, but the whole phenomena occurred in a relatively concentrated area in Japan. The map I provided marks the official eyewitness sightings in red, and the footprints that were found in blue. They are all clumped into Northern Hiroshima prefecture, where Mt. Hiba is located, and Mt. Hiba is ground zero for the outbreaks of sightings.

    Anyway, I agree that it is definitely interesting how all of these sightings and photos are concentrated in the 70s and early 80s.

  12. Ceroill responds:

    Mystery Man, is this bear the same one that the Ainu venerate (or did in the past, I’m not sure on the current status of that)?

  13. mystery_man responds:

    Ceroill- Forgot to address you before. Sorry.

    The whole cultural phenomena with the Hibagon specifically started in the 70s. There have always been somewhat similar folkloric mountain creatures in Japan, but these sightings of what was supposedly a very real animal, by ordinary folks in a modern context, right in their own backyards, sparked off the whole Hibagon craze in the public eye. There may have been folkloric traditions of similar creatures in this area before then, but the appearance of the Hibagon marked the first time that the area had ever had what in the view of the general populace was seen as an apparently real, flesh and blood mystery animal. It also marks the first time any creature was specifically called a “Hibagon,” so as far as the creature called Hibagon goes, there is no folklore before the 70s that I am aware of. If you are interested in the relation to this animal in how it pertains to other folkloric or possibly cryptid animals before the 70s, I think as Loren mentioned, it is a good idea to look at this regional animal within the big picture.

    Some other little things I’d like to address to the other posters so far.

    Dogu4- A few other things on hunting in Japan. In a lot of rural mountain areas, what often goes on is hunting for wild boar. This is not always sport hunting, but rather hunting for food. Wild boar is a prized food source in many mountain locales and some areas have seen an increase in such hunting in recent years. And no, it doesn’t taste bad at all. 🙂 Deer hunting is somewhat popular in some areas too, and like I said before, Japanese law specifically allows for hunting rifles so that people can pursue this.

    DWA- I forgot to mention the road sign you mentioned. I don’t think it is as tongue and cheek as the “sasquatch crossing signs” you mentioned. Some of these areas in Japan with their own local cryptids such as Hibagon, Kappa or Tsuchinoko, actually seem to take pride in the creatures as a sort of symbol of the area, and use their images to promote the locale. Although the sign features a rather cartoonish depiction of the Hibagon, this is just the way Japanese sometimes present the animals and I don’t believe it is any sign of any disrespect.

    Another thing to mention about the bears you mentioned. The Japanese black bear’s originally habitat is central Japan. It is thought that their habitat then gradually extended from sub-alpine, coniferous forests to warm temperate broad leaved forests. Sadly, the population of black bears in Japan has dropped quite significantly, and they are no longer found in many areas they used to inhabit. As I said, Japanese black bears have become confined to a few scattered isolated populations and they are on red lists of some local governments. On Honshu (the big island), Japanese black bears are found only in a few isolated pockets in Western Honshu, with their numbers being a bit healthier in Eastern Honshu (the only place where they are in any sort of abundance). The population on the Southern island of Kyushu is extinct, and the one on the island of Shikoku is critically endangered. It isn’t as if the Japanese black bear is particularly widespread or numerous in modern times. In fact, the bears could even face extinction not too far in the future at this rate.

    Anyway, the particular area in which the Hibagon was sighted does not have a known population of black bears. That is why I speculate it may have been escaped bears. That or bear populations expanding out from other areas which would actually be good news since the bear population and their habitats in Japan is actually shrinking.

  14. mystery_man responds:

    Ceroill- There is no record of Japanese black bears in Hokkaido, where the Ainu live. The Ainu venerated the brown bears Ursus Arctos yesoensis , which are found in Hokkaido and are also known as higuma in Japanese.

  15. Ceroill responds:

    Thanks, MM, just wondered about that.

  16. mystery_man responds:

    Ceroill- Since we are on the bears and Ainu, I thought I would mention that the brown bears were like you said venerated in Ainu culture. The bear was a mythic hero that is credited with teaching the Ainu how to hunt, fish, and many other aspects of life.

    Appreciation for the bear was shown in some odd ways though. One of the most prized things was a bear cub. When one was captured, the bear cub would be raised among the people, usually left in the care of a woman of the tribe, and it would be brought up almost like family, becoming fully accustomed to the people around it. When the bear reached around 3 years of age, it would be sacrificed, its flesh consumed, and its various parts such as skin and bone made into items of great symbolic power.

    The Ainu ritual of “iomante” involved the public sticking of a bear. Since it was believed that the bear was a powerful god, it was thought that the only way to return it to heaven was through torment and death. Yeah, it’s tough to be a god for a brown bear apparently.

    Anyway, I don’t want to get off topic, but I thought you might appreciate that information since you asked about the bear and the Ainu.

    Hope you enjoyed this article on the Hibagon!

  17. Ceroill responds:

    Thanks again, MM. I had read about the bear ‘cult’ before, but thanks for the refresher, it had been some time. I think you’re doing a great job as ‘our reporter in Japan’, if you’ll forgive the analogy.

  18. CryptidHuntr responds:

    i think some of the sightings could be known things.Some of the sightings could be genuine. im not sure why the sightings ceased after the early 1980’s. Do you think that the thing could’ve died and the body not be recovered?

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