TOKYO (The Straits Times/Asia News Network): Residents living in a rural community in north-eastern Japan are convinced that they live in an unidentified flying object (UFO) hot spot.
They speak of repeated appearances of unknown luminous flying objects over the past 40 years near the 462m-high Senganmori mountain in Fukushima prefecture, reported the Mainichi Shimbun on Thursday (March 30).
And they have been leveraging the presence of these alleged UFOs to market the area as “home to aliens” to revitalise the local economy and put itself on the intergalactic map.
In 1955, the town’s population peaked, with about 9,500 residents. But today, the town is home to about 5,000 residents.
Around 30,000 people from in and out of the prefecture visit the town annually, according to the Mainichi Shimbun.
Visitors to Iinomachi are greeted with UFO-shaped street lights, flags, bus stops, and even an alien statue. Residents speculate that the Senganmori mountain, which dominates the scenery, is possibly an ancient pyramid because of its shape and large rock formations in the surroundings.
The town has long been associated with UFOs.
In 1992, the “UFO Fureaikan” museum opened and now displays around 3,000 books, photos and other items relating to aliens and UFOs.
In June 2021, the International UFO Lab, which collects and issues UFO sighting reports to its members around the world, was established in Iinomachi.
In 2022, the museum held the inaugural UFO festival, which saw participants dressed in alien costumes to take part in a parade and contest, to mark its 30th anniversary.
Global interest in UFOs made a resurgence in 2020 after the United States Department of Defence released video footage of unidentified aerial phenomena captured in 2004 and 2015, said the International UFO Lab in the Mainichi Shimbun.
In 2021, the US government reportedly released a preliminary assessment on UFOs based on more than 140 reports collected since 2004 from military pilots and other sources.
However, the US government failed to offer concrete explanations for most sightings, said Mainichi Shimbun.
Tetsu Konno, a now-retired employee of a major chemicals manufacturer, joined the International UFO Lab as a researcher.
“When I heard from residents that they had seen bright lights while climbing Senganmori mountain, it made me want to believe in UFOs,” said the 62-year-old.