Folklore ‘Kesaran Pasaran’ fluffs spark joy for residents in northern Japan city

TSURUOKA, Yamagata — “Kesaran Pasaran,” a white fluff ball that is said to float down from the sky and bring good luck to whoever finds it, has found a prominent place in this city on the Sea of Japan coast.
The mascot character “Kesaran-chan,” representing a local agricultural cooperative, and a processing facility and a gas station named “Kesaran” are all based on the mysterious object, which many households in Tsuruoka, Yamagata Prefecture, apparently keep as an heirloom.
In “Nihon Yokai Daijiden,” a reference work introducing folklore creatures across Japan, “Kesaran Paseran” is described as a rabbit tail-like fur ball, ranging from the size of a red bean to a chicken egg, which a person should not look at more than once a year.
After obtaining information about a shrine that treasures the object as a guardian deity, a Mainichi Shimbun reporter visited the low uplands in the city’s Atsumi area. According to a farmer nearby, Kesaran Pasaran falls from the sky when thunder rumbles before a storm, among other conditions. “My family doesn’t have any, but there certainly are other households that keep them as heirlooms. … No one here will show one to you, so you should go to the Kamo Aquarium,” he said.
At the city’s aquarium, known for exhibiting the world’s greatest number of jellyfish, two fluffy balls were on display in front of a fish tank near the entrance. Director Tatsuo Murakami, 80, said he found them under a large beech tree on Mount Gassan about 30 years ago.
According to Murakami, the number of visitors at the time didn’t even reach 150,000 people per year. He heard that Kesaran Pasaran brought happiness to people, and in desperation, he found a person keeping one as an heirloom and asked if he could borrow it. The person, however, explained, “It’s a rule that the head of the family alone can look at it, only on New Year’s Eve, so we can’t,” and turned Murakami away.
A few years passed as Murakami continued to search for a Kesaran Pasaran. One spring day when he was fishing in a mountain stream, he suddenly found two white fluffy balls at the root of a large beech tree. The aquarium put the mysterious objects on display, but continued to face financial difficulties. However, in 1997, when there were less than 100,000 visitors a year, an exhibit of a baby upside-down jellyfish found on a coral went viral.
The aquarium eventually became a popular facility known for its specialty in jellyfish, and experienced a sharp recovery, welcoming nearly 300,000 people a year.
Murakami takes the view that happiness is something that can go unnoticed even when it’s very near. “Both Kesaran Pasaran and the baby jellyfish were things which could have been overlooked without due attention,” he recalled. “I think that maybe the Kesaran Pasaran enabled us to find the jellyfish.”
Masaaki Honma, a special curator at Yamagata Prefectural Museum, says people from Yamagata Prefecture constantly ask for their Kesaran Pasaran to be judged. Some of these are apparently balls of animallike fur, similar to that of a rabbit, and plantlike fluff like that of dandelions.
“It’s based on a folk belief among mountain villages that arose from hopes for a little happiness in life,” Honma said. “Let’s keep its identity a secret.”
(Japanese original by Rika Chonan, Tsuruoka Local Bureau)
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