This Hibagon statue welcomes visitors to Shobara. (Photo by Courtney Coppernoll)
By Courtney Coppernoll
Looking at Saijo on a sunny afternoon, you’d never guess that such a sleepy little town was once the scene of a mass panic that spread throughout Hiroshima prefecture. Yet, in the early 1970s, local residents were terrified to step outside their doors and every news station in the area was covering the shocking events taking place in Saijo and the surrounding villages. So, what exactly was it that caused a typically quiet, laidback community to be so completely overwhelmed by fear?
The answer is Japanese Bigfoot. Or, as they like to call it here in Japan, the Hibagon.
The Hibagon gets its name from the Hibayama Mountain Range, the area it’s said to inhabit in northern Hiroshima prefecture. Like many other countries’ versions of Bigfoot, the Hibagon’s appearance is open to some speculation.
Most eyewitnesses claim that the creature walks upright on two legs, but some describe it as running on all fours like an ape. Some sightings report angry, glaring eyes, while others insist the eyes were more human-like and intelligent. At least one account even makes note of the creature’s smell – a rather unflattering scent of rotting flesh! Generally speaking, however, eyewitnesses agree that the Hibagon is around 5 feet tall (152 cm), weighs around 180 pounds (81 kg), and is covered in black or brown fur. It’s also said to have a triangular-shaped face and, of course, rather large feet.
Little Hibagon at a park in Saijo. (Photo by Courtney Coppernoll)
The first recorded sighting of the Hibagon occurred in Saijo on July 9, 1970, when a creature covered in brown fur was seen crossing a field in a single, large step. Less than two weeks later, a large creature with gorilla-like legs was spotted near a dam, but swiftly crossed the river and disappeared. Another Saijo resident described seeing a large, ape-like creature with brown fur running through a field (and reportedly knocking down 30 ears of corn). For the rest of the year, sightings of this mysterious creature continued to surface and, in December, the discovery of a set of footprints 21 cm long (8 inches) and 22 cm wide (8.5 inches) in the snow secured the Hibagon’s place in the history of Hiroshima prefecture and Japan.
A special department was established to handle Hibagon-related matters and, according to one Saijo resident I talked to, a Japanese national university even came to the area to do research on the Hibagon (their results were apparently inconclusive). Though sightings of the Hibagon continued to be reported for the next four years, they stopped almost completely after 1974, with only a few sporadic reports being made after that time.
However, the Hibagon is far from being a thing of the past in Saijo. There’s a sweets shop in the town called Daikokudo, which is famous for their trademark sweet, “Hibagon Eggs.” Hibagon Eggs are chocolate sweet bean cakes, with the inside of the cakes designed to look like the yolk of an egg. Written on the outside of each Hibagon Eggs box is a warning: “DANGER: The HIBAGON is an unconfirmed Japanese animal. He was witnessed at the foot of the Mt. Hiba mountain range in Saijo-cho, Hiba-gun (incumbent Shobara City), Hiroshima prefecture in 1970. The egg of the HIBAGON is in this box. Be careful! It’s dangerous!!”
Hibagon Eggs (Photo by Courtney Coppernoll)
Each box of sweets also includes a newspaper insert called Hibagon Tsuushin (“The Hibagon Correspondence”), which is full of information on the Hibagon, including a timeline of sightings, speculations about what the Hibagon actually is – possibilities include human, ape, large monkey, bear, or even alien! – and some details about Hibagon Eggs. Though, perhaps the most interesting section is titled “Wait a minute! Big monkeys, apes, bear, humans – they lay eggs…?” It’s a short passage where the Daikokudo shop owner defends their making of Hibagon Eggs by essentially saying that since no one really knows what the Hibagon is – it could even be “an alien creature not from this world” – it’s entirely possible that it does actually lay eggs. So there.
While I was in Saijo I also had a chance to ask some of the locals if they truly believed in the existence of the Hibagon. The owner of Daikokudo, an older man who remembers the Hibagon-induced panic from the 1970s, told me without hesitation that he’s a firm believer. His son, on the other hand, said he doesn’t think the Hibagon really exists, but he’s open to the possibility that it might. Most of the other Saijo residents I talked to couldn’t decide one way or the other and instead settled for telling me that it’s a big “mystery.” Everyone did seem to agree, though, that if the Hibagon exists, it’s probably a pretty scary creature and they hope they never meet it.
Still, whether it exists or not, the Hibagon remains an important and unique part of Saijo and the surrounding area. In addition to selling Hibagon Eggs, a movie about the Hibagon called Dear Hinagon (an alternate name for the Hibagon) was filmed in Saijo in 2005, and a local company features the Hibagon in its logo. Along the highway heading into Shobara (the city Saijo was merged into in 2005) there’s even a Hibagon statue to welcome visitors to the area.
Dear Hinagon DVD cover.
So, the next time you have a chance to travel up north, keep your eyes open and maybe you’ll have a chance to meet one of Hiroshima prefecture’s most unique and unusual residents!