Posted by: Loren Coleman on March 28th, 2009

Kusshi: The Mystery of Lake Kussharo
By Brent Swancer

What is lurking in the waters of Japan’s Lake Kussharo?

An unknown creature, known affectionately as “Kusshi” in an attempt to emulate Loch Ness’ “Nessie,” has long been sighted in Lake Kussharo, in the nothern island of Hokkaido, Japan.

Lake Kussharo is located within Akan National Park in eastern Hokkaido and derives its name from the Ainu word “Kuccharo,” which means “The place where a lake becomes a river and the river flows out.”

It is a caldera lake, formed in the crater of a volcano long ago, and is notable for being the largest lake of this kind in Japan as well as the 6th largest lake in the country overall.

It also boasts the largest island in a freshwater lake in Japan, the islet Nakanoshima, which is in fact a composite volcano. Lake Kussharo is massive for a caldera lake, being approximately 57 km in circumference and reaching depths of 117.5 meters.

Kusshi is reported as being between 10 and 20 meters in length (30 to 60 ft), and the most commonly cited coloration is a dark brown. The neck is of a moderate length, and humps are sometimes mentioned. The head of the creature is said to look somewhat like that of a horse, only larger, with silver eyes, and is sometimes described as having two protrusions like giraffe horns on top. A few reports mention the creature making strange grunting or clicking noises. Interestingly, many witnesses report having felt distinctly uneasy, disturbed, or “icky,” upon seeing the creature.

One very interesting characteristic of Kusshi is the high speeds at which it reportedly can move. In 1974 footage was taken of a mysterious creature moving across the lake at breakneck speed. In Sept, 1974, a group of 15 witnesses reported being surprised by a large, somewhat triangular shaped animal with shiny skin like glistening scales, moving under the surface of the water with the speed of a motorboat. In 1988, a Mr. Takashi Murata was riding in a motorboat and reported being paced by a large animal at a distance of 15 meters away, which he described as having a dark back that looked like that of a dolphin. The animal followed him for a time, keeping up with the fast boat, before disappearing beneath the water.

Lake Kussharo’s alleged lake monster first came to widespread publicity during the 1970s due to a number of high profile sightings. In 1972, a man reported seeing an object that looked like a “boat turned upside down,” swimming quickly through the water. In August of 1973, a group of 40 middle school students on a field trip, as well as their teachers, spotted the creature not far from shore. In July, 1974, another famous case was reported by a Mr. Wada, a farmer who sighted a large, dark animal with several humps at intervals of 4 meters apart. The farmer watched the creature for some time before it submerged with a huge swell of water and a splash.

These sightings and many others like them brought attention to the lake, which culminated in an active search for the animal. For one month in Sept 1974, TV crews, boats equipped with fish finder sonar, and teams of divers explored the lake. These efforts produced some interesting results. Some of the sonar equipped boats reported finding large images at depths of 15 to 20 meters and a TV crew from the Hokkaido Broadcasting Company actually managed to catch footage of the alleged creature. Over the years, Kusshi has been photographed and filmed on several occasions, including as recently as 1990.

Kusshi continued to be sighted throughout the 70s and beyond, sometimes by large groups of people. In May, 1976, Kusshi was sighted by a group of 22 tour bus passengers and their driver. As recently as 1997, a group of firefighters spotted a strange animal swimming 100 meters offshore, which they estimated as being 20 meters long, with a dorsal fin and banded markings. Another sightings was made by tourists in 2002, and reports occasionally pop up to this day.

Although media attention made Kusshi famous in the 1970s, it would be a mistake to think that this was the first indication of something strange or unknown in the lake. The Ainu people who inhabit the area have long told of giant snakes that inhabit the lake. Pioneers coming to the area during the Meiji era also told of seeing these creatures, which were said to attack and eat deer whole. These stories have a long tradition among locals in the area. During the 40s and 50s, there were quite a few sightings of Kusshi as well, although these never did gain the attention that the 1970s sightings did.

So what could Kusshi be?

Lake Kussharo is itself not particularly a good habitat for aquatic life. The area is well known for its hot springs and volcanic activity, and volcanic gases bubbling up beneath the surface render the water of the lake highly acidic. In addition, a 1938 eruption in the area created a large amount of sulphur which found its way into the water. The conditions are not ideal for fish. Those that do thrive in the lake are species that are resistant to acidic water conditions, such as the introduced rainbow trout, and most fish in the lake congregate near inflowing streams which dilute the water. This limits the potential food supply and makes conditions difficult for a large animal.

One hypothesis is that swimming deer or other animals are behind the sightings. A swimming deer could perhaps fit in with some aspects of Kusshi reports, especially the general shape and presence of horns sometimes mentioned.

Another idea is that swimming horses could be the culprit. Kusshi’s head is often described as being horse like, and the creature has even been mistaken for a horse on at least one occasion. In July, 1975, a forestry worker saw what he at first thought was a horse swimming in the lake until he noticed that it was much larger than a horse as it came closer. The creature then dove below the surface not to be seen again. Could a horse or deer be behind these reports? It is an interesting idea, but the sizes reported for Kusshi are much larger than these animals and we are still faced with the reports that describe these creatures moving at high speeds.

Some point to the culprit as possibly being misidentified schools of fish such as rainbow trout, sockeye salmon, or Sakhalin taimen (Hutcho perryi), which is found in Hokkaido and is one of the oldest and largest species of salmon. It is something to consider, but would do nothing to explain the head and neck seen in many reports. Still another, more unconventional explanation, is that Kusshi could be some sort of giant slug. Kusshi has been attributed to misidentifications of motorboats as well.

There are those that have even used the surviving plesiosaur theory, and there is even a model of Kusshi found at the lake that most certainly resembles the mainstream “Nessie” image of one. However most reports do not really describe the animal in that way, and this speculation seems to be an attempt to liken Kusshi to the popular image of Nessie more than anything else. This sort of thing has led some people to make the accusation that the lake monster has been played up in order to promote tourism to the area.

Whatever it is, Kusshi’s identity remains an interesting mystery.

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.

17 Responses to “Kusshi”

  1. Fhqwhgads responds:

    A swimming giraffe would fit the description even better. Well, a melanistic giraffe, anyway.

  2. graybear responds:

    The upturned boat shape and the resemblance to a horse, even being mistaken for a horse are all classic lake monster attributes. Nessie has been compared to all these things many, many times. The giant slug theory has also been forwarded as the explanation for the Loch Ness phenomenon. So it all looks like Nessie and all the other worldwide lake monsters have a Japanese cousin. Cool.

    Now, if only we could find out just what they are!

    Some of those photos were really great, by the way.

  3. Richard888 responds:

    The creature in the first frame (the grainy one) looks serpentine with a thick neck and an undulating body.

    The creature in the next five frames (by the Hokkaido Broadcasting Company?) looks like a plesiosaurus with a thin, swan-like neck and a turtle-like back. So the cryptids of 1 and 2-6 look like different animals.

    Frames 2-6 show more information than anything I’ve seen from Loch Ness. Based on what they show it is unlikely that the mystery animal is one of the animals mentioned. To liken the creature of 2-6 to a deer, a horse or a giraffe is like witnessing an improbable crime and then saying to the police that it didn’t happen.

  4. norman-uk responds:

    Looks tentacle like to me, haven’t we seen the same thing from Lake Champlain? I wonder how far the lake is from the sea could it be an adapted type of octopus or squid. Stranger things have happened.
    See Oklahoma Octopus.

    Another theory but possible, is that some of the sightings, is not of one creature but of many, like a shoal of fish or flock of birds but which from a distance can appear to be one organism. This could explain the subsequent elusiveness of a seeming large creature now dispersed.

    There are animals which combine temporarily as one organism then when not suited in that condition go their separate ways. This combining could be for reasons to due with safety or sex or feeding etc. In its combined state the animal is virtually indistinguishable from being a single entity. this is degrees different to things like flocks of birds etc.

  5. DWA responds:

    Well, I don’t think that any of those (alleged) photos could be explained by a horse or deer.

  6. Remus responds:

    Thank-you. I had not heard about this one.

    The giraffe-like “horns” have been reported on sea-serpants/lake monsters many times. The slug theory would make those out to be eyestalks. I have a hard time imagining a high-speed slug in cold waters though.

  7. D2K4 responds:

    If you look at the first picture, the black and white grainy one, really closely, there appears to be something that appears very much like the reigns of a horse. In fact, the more you focus on the head the more horselike it seems. So that one I think could definately be a horse. It’s the others that impress me. They’re clearer than perhaps any lake monster photograph ever taken. They could always be frauds, but they definately deserve to be checked into.

    One thing though. The general consensus now is that plesiousaurs had too stiff vertebrae in their necks to lift their heads in a swan like motion as generally reported around the globe and demonstrated in the pictures. So if not a plesiousaur, what could these things be? If reports are to be believed, then there’s a whole family of similar creatures spread around the globe unidentified by science, and if they’re completely unfamiliar than that’s even more fantastic than a surviving prehistoric reptile.

  8. mystery_man responds:

    Yes, those alleged photos in the series are strange, and look very much like Nessie. The thing is, they don’t really add up to the typical description for Kusshi. Most eyewitnesses do not describe a serpentine neck but rather a shorter, stockier one. The first photo above is more in keeping with descriptions. For this reason, I’m a little suspicious of the series of photos that I added here. It seems almost as if someone is trying to emulate Nessie, and I get the feeling it could be a hoax, however, since they are evidence, I felt that to give a fair overview I had no choice but to post them for your consideration.

    The subjects of the two sets of photos here certainly look like different creatures, as Richard888 pointed out, and the series looks like a creature not well represented by witness descriptions. So the series of photos points very well towards a creature with a serpentine neck, but the first one (although very grainy) is more representative of what Kusshi is supposed to look like according to eyewitnesses. In addition, I can’t help but point out that the first photo looks reminiscent of a swimming horse.

    norman-uk- Yes, a shoal of fish has been proposed as a culprit, as I mentioned in the article. I completely agree that a large group of fish (or birds as you added), could look like a single organism and give that hypothesis some consideration. The only problem is the mention of distinct features such as a horse like head or dorsal fin. I wouldn’t expect to see that on a school of fish.

    As far as the lake being the home of creatures from the sea, there are only a few small inflowing streams into this lake, and it is a caldera lake in a volcano, so the chances of something traveling that route from the sea are slim.

  9. mystery_man responds:

    norman-uk- That being said, I wouldn’t say your idea is impossible. Like you say, stranger things have happened. Also, much of Hokkaido was once thought to be submerged into the sea, and fossils of ancient sea creatures have been found well inland. Also, the streams that now connect to the lake could have once been more substantial in ancient days, so I suppose any prehistoric creature that got caught inland as Hokkaido became more exposed from the sea might have been able to find their way to the lake at some point in the past. It’s an interesting idea.

  10. springheeledjack responds:

    I have heard of Kusshi, but never had any detailed info on it, so thanks much!

    The first picture, while grainy, does seem to fit the Nessie/Champ motif. And thanks also for the horse swimming picture, becauseeeeeeeeeeeeeee, it gives a good reference for what a horse swimming actually would look like. And if you notice, basically only the head is visible above the water, which is important to remember, because of the weight of the animal it is mostly underwater, which doesn’t fit the first picture.

    In the string of pictures following, I am not sure if they are all separate pictures of different sightings or a string of pictures in a single sighting. If they are separate takes, then the first one definitely could be a swan, given the unknown distance and lack of reference on size. But the others are interesting.

    The environment also leads me to believe that perhaps something made its way into the lake after forming, perhaps a long necked pinniped. I gave up on the plesiosaur idea long ago, they seem too much of a niche predator in coastal or surface feeding grounds. HOWEVER, I am not above thinking that our mysterious water cryptids may be something that has evolved from that or down that line. Something like a long necked pinniped that was a more efficient hunter than plesiosaurs and eventually overtook them on the evolutionary line.

    There seems to be a commonality to me between all of these lake critters. Brent, your description of the “iffy-ness” of the food source almost made me laugh, because it sounded like others describing the food scarcity within Loch Ness. And that leads me to this thought: with a commonality of Ness, Kussharo, Champlain, and countless others, I wonder if there isn’t something in those waters that, while not indigenous, may have served as a perfect smaller eco system away from predators of the oceans.

    There are too many similarities in size, layout, depth, apparent low food sources, between these lakes and to me it is a piece of the larger puzzle. Something about that particular kind of environment that makes it perfect for a population of larger predators to make its home.

    Anyway, thanks for the update from Japan. I’m very happy we have you as a link to cryptids there!

  11. mystery_man responds:

    Springheeledjack- I’m glad you enjoyed this piece. A lot of the information available on Kusshi in English is surprisingly basic, and much of the information here I have gotten from Japanese sources. I’m happy to hopefully be expanding the amount of English literature available on some of these Japanese cryptids. I really enjoy sharing these things with the readers here.

    That is a very good point about the way horses swim. For the most part it seems as if their body is practically submerged, however, there has been at least one sighting where someone was at first convinced that what they were seeing was a swimming horse. That being said, what you said is well worth considering.

    I still think the top photo looks very horse-like, but it is too grainy to tell much, and it looks as if it has slight humps. Concerning the string of pictures, as far as I know, they are all part of a series, of the same creature, which makes them very interesting. I am fairly sure they are from the Hokkaido Broadcasting company Footage. The very bottom one looks as if it could be different, but the source listed them all together.

  12. mystery_man responds:

    Springheeledjack- I was mistaken, the bottom photo of that series is separate from the rest. Apparently it is a still from video footage taken more recently, in 1990. The others are a string from the same sighting.

  13. joe levit responds:

    I find that middle string of pictures interesting too. As Remus says above, the giraffe-like horns ARE mentioned on many sea serpent reports, such as ones of cadborosaurus in the Vancouver, BC area. I find it interesting that nearly ALL reports of serpentine lake monsters and fast-moving sea serpents discuss a horse, camel, or giraffe-like shape to the head. This diagnostic description lends an air of reliability about the sightings in the same way that similar descriptions lend credibility to bigfoot encounters.

  14. dogu4 responds:

    Just curious, how is the lake connected to the rest of the area’s hydrology? Is the lake’s outlet a river which could conceivably serve as a conduit for some species of anadromous sealife, like an eel or lamprey. Just as with the previously mentioned sightings of giant crayfish-like crustaceans, perhaps the underwater environment’s including mineral rich vents and springs might have some bearing on the growth pattern of animals that have migrated up small rivers and streams to mate or perhaps to enter into another stage in their developement in which growth is indeterminate.

  15. norman-uk responds:

    I am not a sceptic but may appear so by my just writing about the pics without regard to their provenance.
    The first picture, if it is not of something new and yet old, could be of two horses in a field nearly side by side. If you have tried counting horses you’ll know what I mean.

    All the other pictures, look to me, similar to pictures of an excited displaying male whale, in the mating season. All except one of the pictures show a line across the water which could suggest the mystery animal picture may have been planted. On the other hand, ” MAYBE THERE BE WHALES ” (or something) I doubt any are swans as they swim on the surface not half submerged.

    Not being a breeding population at this time, would not rule out say there being something like a whale . It is reported they can live for 200 years and the lake monster could be the last of its kind, its family long gone. Perhaps a whale with legs, moving in the past from lake to lake or sea.

  16. mystery_man responds:

    Dogu4- There are actually a few inflowing waterways into the lake, so I think it’s at least feasible that an anadromous fish of some sort could possibly make it into the lake. This particular caldera lake is really quite ancient, so there has been adequate time for rivers to develop and for animals to have perhaps made use of these to go to the lake. The inflows are not particularly large, but it’s possible. Unlike some of the other caldera lakes in Japan, which have sparse if any connecting streams or rivers, with Lake Kussharo anadromous fish life could be something to consider I suppose.

    I was thinking the same thing about the volcanic activity leading to some sort of growth pattern in animals there. It’s interesting you mention the giant crayfish, because if you look at the map I’ve provided here, you will see that Lake Mashu (the home of those giant crayfish), it just a stone’s throw away from Lake Kussharo. They are located in the same national park.

  17. dogu4 responds:

    I can believe that either anadromous or catadromous marine life could be traveling to and from bodies of water on land. And in the case of some like eels, even a damp lawn during a soaking rain will be enough to travel across, and particularly at night they could go unnoticed. Crustaceans too are subject to complex and barely understood migratory patterns, if I recall.

    As to size; I’ve run across an article on growth and genetics which seem to suggest that the genes that control growth are more complex and subject to epigenetic factors to a larger degree than previously thought, which leads one to speculate about a whole raft of possibilities when it comes to the kinds of factors those could be, like dissolved chemical signatures from mineral springs that feed the lakes and streams or some other environmental factor like parasites which might effect the switching on and off of growth controlling genes.

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