Utsuro-buneOn February 22, 1803 a mysterious round object washed up on the shores of the Hitachi province of Japan. Confused, the Japanese fishermen examined the boat, finding it to be made of iron and glass – but it was what was inside the boat that had the fishermen baffled. There was a small woman, with hair as red as fire and artificial white extensions probably made of fur. Her clothes were made of a fabric not known to the Japanese fishermen and the mysterious writings inside the hollow boat were illegible. The men brought her to the town but could not understand her because she was unable to communicate in Japanese. She appeared courteous but was very protective of a quadratic box, not letting anyone touch it. The Japanese returned her to her vessel on the shore and sent her on her way back into the water.

No one knows if this story was true but the story of a round, hollow boat and a red-haired woman appear in three different texts in Japanese history: Toen shōsetsu (1825), Hyōryū kishū (1835) and Ume-no-chiri (1844). Was this “Utsuro-bune,” or “hollowed ship,” a close encounter of the third kind or a folklore myth? You decide.