The Mysterious SOS Sign in Japan

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1 year ago (Last updated: 7 months ago)

This is the SOS sign, spotted by a rescue helicopter while looking for two lost hikers that went missing on Mt. Asahi ( a.k.a. Mount Asahi-Dake, 旭岳), on the island of Hokkaido, Northern Japan in 1989. This sign was the reason two missing men were saved.

On the afternoon of July 24th, 1989, a police helicopter set out looking for two missing hikers. The day was about to end when the rescue crew spotted this SOS sign a few kilometers away from the mountain trail.

The helicopter landed, and the police officers found the missing hikers coming out of the woods a little north of the SOS sign and they all embarked on the helicopter for the return trip.

Mt. Asahidake

Source: (Licence for Non-Commercial Use)

The rescue operation was successful and everybody was glad it ended so fast with no one’s life in danger. A huge SOS sign made of huge tree logs (up to 5 meters tall, 3m wide), in an open area inside the woods, helped the rescue helicopter locate the two missing hikers.

The Plot Thickens

Daisetsuzan Park -Mount Asahidake

Image from: Wikipedia (Creative Commons licence)

But it was at this point where the story takes an unexpected turn.

The events and details that unfolded have formed one of the most confusing mysteries the world has ever witnessed, one that had severe implications to the Japanese society and the emotional stability of Japan’s youth of that era.

A mystery that shook the world.

Back in the helicopter, the two rescued hikers were given food and water and discussing with their rescuers. A police officer pointed out how clever it was to create that SOS sign, as otherwise, the helicopter would have not been able to spot their location.

The two hikers looked at each other in confusion. They replied they didn’t understand what he was talking about.

This reaction was unexpected for the officers and just to be sure, they turned the helicopter, flew again over the area and shown the huge SOS sign to the hikers. This maneuver would require only a minute to head back to the location and fly again over the sign.

The hikers were shocked to see the huge SOS sign when they flew over it and explained to the officers this wasn’t them that created it.

A chilling moment of realization for everyone involved, since it became obvious someone else was also down there, asking for help.

Source: Youtube

It was now clear the huge SOS sign had been created by another person, who was also lost in the woods. The two hikers were just fortunate to venture close to a huge sign they never noticed, and at the same time, lucky enough, the rescue helicopter was scouting the exact same location and noticed the SOS.

These two missing hikers had been rescued by an amazing stroke of luck.

A Second Rescue Operation Begins

Mt. Asahi

Source of Image: (Licence for Non-Commercial Use)

The helicopter flew back to its base and a second search and rescue operation was scheduled for the next morning since it was already getting late for the day.

The following morning, on July 25th, 1989, the second search operation started, this time on the ground. The SOS sign was located four kilometers away from the peak of mount Asahidake and police started searching the area extensively.

The discovery, though, was gruesome, and what everyone was afraid to expect.

Scattered bones lying around the SOS sign area were recovered and,when combined, they completed a human skeleton. The bones also had bite marks on them from wild animals that were possibly inhabiting the woods (presumably foxes).

Items in the backpack

Source: Youtube

The bones suggested the victim suffered a tragic fate a long time ago since there was no skin left at all.

These bones were transferred to the Asahikawa Medical University for identification for examination. Initially, the University replied that these bones belonged to a woman with blood type 0. (However, a few days later this information was revised as we will read below).

Magical Princess Minky Momo


Just 100 meters away from the SOS sign, the officers also recovered a discarded backpack.

This backpack contained various personal items (toothpaste, soap, towel), but the most important one of all was a tape recorder and four tapes that contained theme songs of popular Japanese anime of that era.

Possibly another weird moment is the fact that this man was going mountain climbing and brought together cassettes containing anime theme songs, covered with anime girl images and stickers.

The strange discoveries didn’t stop there, though.

This is another part where the story gets even more bizarre than already is, as the police investigators were stunned when they re-winded one of these cassettes and listened to its content.

One of the tapes contains the most shocking discovery of this case.


This is a chilling message that shocked the entire world in 1989, as news reported the story. It doesn’t matter it was in Japanese; it is still the gruesome tone of voice that makes it terrifying.

The translation is below the video, but please heed a warning before you listen to it. This is an extremely unsettling recording because of the harrowing shouts of the unfortunate man while recording.

There is tension and fear in the voice in this recording. Adding the fact that the person didn’t survive is making it worse when listening to it. A desperate cry for help that wasn’t heard until it was too late.

The recording lasts 2:17, however, I’ve only found 16 seconds of it in a single video. The full message translates:

I'm on a cliff and can't move. S O S. Help me.

I'm on a cliff and can't move. S O S. Help me.

I'm at the spot where I first saw the helicopter.

The bamboo grass is too deep and I can't go anywhere.

Please lift me up from here.

The harrowing voice of this man has made children lose their sleep and the world in the 80s was shocked by the coincidences and the difficulty to connect the details of this mystery.

The message on the tape alone created even more confusion and perplexed the investigation further.

The bones and the tape were found next to the SOS sign, but the person in the recording seems he was trying to explain he was stranded on a cliff and unable to move. Although the bones and the tape recorder were found nowhere near a cliff.

New Questions Arise With the Discovery of the Cassette:


  • The bones found had been identified to be woman’s bones, yet the voice in the recording was clearly a man’s.

  • The bones were also found to be fractured in two places (leg and upper body). The man explains he can’t get down the cliff, but the bones were found far from any cliff.

  • How did he cut all these logs on his own, especially when he was hurt (should require extreme physical strength and a tremendous effort to make)?

  • It will also require a tool like an axe or a hatchet to cut the trees, but such an item was never retrieved by the search team.

The bones belonged to a man, not to a woman

For the police, the problem now was that they had identified the bones as belonging to a woman, yet the voice in the tape was a man’s voice. Another request was sent to Asahikawa Medical University to re-examine the case, and new results came out explaining that the bones belonged to a man with blood type-A.

I’ve searched if this was possible for a Medical University to mess so badly with both the bones structure sex results and blood type, and it seems that this can happen often.

We take this as a fact that the bones belong to a man and moving on, but the mystery now comes to the matter that building this SOS sign would require physical strength that a single person with this body structure may not be able to create on his own. Also, there were no tools found that could have been used to cut down the trees.

Random Cliffs

Image from Unsplash (by Simon Berger)

The man probably wasn’t hurt when he recorded the tape.

He didn’t mention in the recording that he was hurt and couldn’t walk, but instead he revealed he couldn’t move from the cliff because the bamboo grass was deep.

Apparently, he thought it would be extremely dangerous to climb down the cliff, something that he possibly risked later, and reached the open area where he created the SOS sign.

Although there are reports that the bones found were fractured, we don’t know if this happened before the SOS sign was created, but certainly, on the tape, there is no mention of any injury.

I think, though, that it is more reasonable to consider that the SOS sign was made after the tape was recorded.

He could have been saved if the helicopter searched the area again.

From the tape, we learn the timeline of events.

First, this hiker was stranded in an area difficult to leave and had already spotted a rescue helicopter. Possibly he recorded this message on tape to play it when he would feel exhausted after perhaps enough time passed.

However, he also probably felt the helicopter would not notice him. So he took the risk of descending to lower ground, found a clearing in the forest, and somehow cut these birch trees with an ax he must have been carrying with him.

Although such a tool was never found in the search, that was organized.

After he had finished making the SOS sign, no new search by a helicopter was ever conducted in the region. It could have been a very poor reaction by the rescue operations that didn’t scout the area extensively and didn’t pass from the same spot again.

Maybe the weather conditions didn’t help, and the hiker was unlucky for his SOS message not to be seen by following rescue operations.

New Findings on The Scene - Days Later

On 30th July 1989, Associated Press reports how a journalist for the Japanese TV station HBC found more items hidden in a hole inside a tree, that could also serve as a hiding place for the disappeared man.

Kenji Iwamura


Inside the hole, the reporter found two cameras, a notebook, and a driving license on the name: "Kenji Iwamura of Konan City, Aichi Prefecture."

Kenji Iwamura was another hiker that was reported missing in the area in 1984 while hiking Mt. Asahi.

That was 5 years earlier.

Authorities contacted Kenji’s parents, and confirmed the objects found were his. Although, as officers reported during questioning about the recording, Kenji’s parents were not sure if the voice belonged to their son.

For how long can such a structure sustain its composition?

Can this SOS sign be sustained for five years without vegetation covering it?

Can this sign still be in a perfectly visible shape after years of rain, heavy snow, and all weather conditions that would apply in the mountainside and remain visible from above for so long?

Or perhaps it was created later by another person. Vegetation, like the bushes that the logs are sitting on, should have covered it during this time.

Unraveling the Mystery

It was reported, that the logs were looking too old, and the investigators also explained how they were partially sunk in the mud.

The police next examined aerial photos of the region and discovered that the SOS sign was observable in aerial photos of 1987, but not in earlier photos taken in 1982. (Source 6:10).

So, we can presume that the missing hiker in 1985 (Kenji Iwamura) created the SOS sign indeed. Although it is a mystery why a tool like an ax wasn’t found together with the rest personal items.

Thoughts and Notes

Asahidake Onsen Trail

Source of Image: (Licence for Non-Commercial Use)

I’ve written about the SOS mystery sign previously, but I didn’t explain the full story. I gave links to two YouTube videos that I now think failed to explain what happened, and instead create even more questions. Sadly, neither Barely Sociable nor KyotoRobato assumptions are plausible. They jumped to early conclusions and didn’t analyze all the facts.

The YouTube video links are these in case you want to watch them:

It also seems the research in these videos was limited and the narrators tried to increase the mystery by claiming it wasn’t possible for the man to climb down the cliffs.

Although, the fact mentioned that Kenji Iwamura’s parents were uncertain about the voice of their son on the cassette recording is worth noticing.

The voice was clear and should have been recognized, but cassette players, as I remember, used to distort the voice in recordings and made it sound heavier. It was barely recognizable who was the person talking in these tapes when we were recording, as the quality was always terrible, especially when someone would be shouting like Kenji did.

Case Closed

Image from Unsplash (by Daniel)

I had to listen to the SOS recording way too many times. It was painful to listen to the disturbing cry for help of this man, especially when I already knew these were some of his last moments.

A few content creators on the internet replicate this mystery trying to make it look unsolvable and increase the tension by hiding details, but the most reasonable explanation is that Kenji Iwamura was the one responsible for the SOS message recorded, and the huge SOS log sign (with great certainty).

Besides the fact that Kenji’s parents weren’t sure about the voice on the recording, the only unclear mystery was how he managed to cut down the birch trees and create the SOS sign. There were no tools found lying around that could have helped him. However, the trees were cut and the SOS sign was still there, so this question already answers itself. Aerial photographs of the area were later found the SOS sign was there at least since 1987, so there is no further question.

Chances suggest that this is the solution to the Japan mystery, and police got the case closed rightfully... this time...



Sources (Japanese):


Lead Image:Source: Facebook


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1 year ago (Last updated: 7 months ago)


I'm glad you recommended this reading to me. Without a doubt, it is one of the best articles I have read here. Difficult to read, but very interesting after all. You have given me a new line of ideas to develop in my articles. Thanks!

$ 0.05
1 year ago

Thanks for the feedback. May I ask which part did you find difficult to read? I'd love to improve and some pointers could help.

$ 0.00
1 year ago

It can be a matter of translation. The reading is excellent. The article is perfect friend. I mean difficult as a story, and its content so chilling as you read. I love horror, science fiction, suspense movies. But nobody gets used to it completely. Merry Christmas!

$ 0.00
1 year ago

Merry Christmas!

$ 0.00
1 year ago

I have read this already, and I don't know what got into me that I read this again, while alone at this time of the night. I am scaring myself. That audio was really something. Sad and scary. I am not sure if I left a comment back then, but I really can't put my head to understand this mystery. How that logs stayed there, that it was still seen after all those years. The tools that weren't found but the logs somehow formed like that. How it coincidentally saved lives of two other people who had no idea of.that SOS sign. There is like a missing link to all of this that I just can never explain.

$ 0.05
1 year ago

Yes, it is very strange story. The odds are that it was a total fluke and the suffering of one person led to the rescue of two others, five years later. The whole situation is messed up. If the first person was rescued, then five years later, the two other hitchhickers would have had slim odds. Then, there was no tools found, but they found every other item of that person. I often think about this story again, to think about what exactly is missing.

$ 0.00
1 year ago

Either it was a big show by someone messed up, or there are just some clues they missed to find. I feel that if they dug a little more, some questions will have some answers.

$ 0.00
1 year ago

Imagine being alone in a middle of nowhere. That's one of the worst thing could happen to a person. I think the SOS sign was made not a long time before 1989. Because vegatation will cover it for sure.

I'll Pray for those soul who didn't make it. And for the bodies still haven't recovered if there's more.

$ 0.05
1 year ago

My question from the first time about the sign is how it survived in such good shape after 5 years. I was thinking that in just a year it would be covered by mud from the mountain after the rainy periods, or when the snow melts, and possibly from vegetation since this ground looks to be very fertile. I know how high bushes can grow and certainly they could cover it.

But it was there in 1987, as geographic aerial pictures were taken for the whole mountain, and the investigators found the SOS sign. If it could last for 2-3 years, then another two years don't mean a lot. I wouldn't expect this to be visible after one year, but it seems this clearing didn't have this much vegetation to cover the logs.

Another lucky incident for the first two hikers that were saved.

$ 0.00
1 year ago

Yuppp, at least even though the SOS sign didn't help the one who made it. It still done it's job and save two guy even accidentally.

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1 year ago

This give me the chills, it most probably fit for a mystery movie but the horrying fact is that, this did not came from a movie, happened in real life! Mysterious.scenes and the cry for help made me think of how cruel this person went through.

$ 0.05
1 year ago

It's a story with a lot of questions. Not all the answers are clear. There remains reasonable doubt as lawyers would say in a trial. The truth is not entirely clear. Other things can happen that are far from our imagination. Anyway, thank God that sign was used to save two lives today.

$ 0.10
1 year ago

Yes, there are doubts, but I've tried to find every explanation possible. It seems that the only logical one was that Kenji tried everything he could think of but sadly it wasn't enough. What bothers me most, is the animals in the area that could have attacked him. He also had a fractured bone which could have been after or during the creation of the sign. Sadly there is no cause of death given, since there was just the bones left. Felt really bad when thinking about this guy and after everything he had done to survive he couldn't.

Luckily his actions helped save two other hikers, 5 years after his death, so whatever he did, had some effect and at least helped others live.

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1 year ago

Maybe that was the end of that sign. To save other lives and not his own. It's like you say it's sad that someone tried so hard to live and couldn't do it. Their long hours of anguish waiting for a rescue that never came. The wild animals that far from attacking out of malice do so as the carnivores they are and defending their territory. It is unfortunate that the same forensic experts are wrong in determining the sex of the bones. It is a good publication but leaves much to the imagination. The case should not yet be closed. Perhaps there will be other studies later. Perhaps we will come back to read another story of these findings told by yourself.

$ 0.10
1 year ago

I was hoping the question how the logs were cut would be answered but that is one mystery yet to be solved.

$ 0.10
1 year ago

Yes, this is a part that is difficult to find. After considering it a lot, there is not other way but for Kenji to had with him an axe, that probably has been dropped somewhere in the location. Perhaps hidden by the vegetation of the area. Without a tool, this wouldn't be possible.

$ 0.01
1 year ago

That is most likely so. Have they tried looking for a tool? I must have missed it. I have to read again.

I'm thinking of possibilities but more like just to humor myself :D

$ 0.00
1 year ago

They didn't find any tool, but I don't think they tried too much. From what I've read the police was pretty much incompetent. They probably just scouted part of the area without even looking behind bushes or in difficult spots. Some objects, including the drivers licence that pointed to whom the bones belonged, were found by a reporter that went there to investigate.

$ 0.01
1 year ago