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Love and death are a strange combination.

Hananuma Masakichi was a Japanese artist who learned he was dying from tuberculosis. He wanted to leave a parting gift to the woman he loved. He made a statue of himself that is so life-like and realistic, people couldn't tell which was the fake even while the real Masakichi stood next to it.

Working with adjustable mirrors, Masakichi made each body part separately using strips of dark wood. Records differ on the number of strips used but it is between 2,000 and 5,000. The statue is mostly hollow inside. No nails were used; the strips were assembled using dovetail joints, glue and wooden pegs. They are joined so perfectly that no seams can be seen, even with a magnifying glass. The wood was painted and lacquered to match his skin tone and reflects every tendon, muscle, bone, vein and wrinkle and pore.

Masakichi also handcrafted glass eyes that are so technically and visually perfect that they still baffle members of the optical profession.

What came next was stranger still. The artist bored a tiny, individual hole for every pore on his body and plucked the corresponding hair from that pore and inserted it at the exact position on the statue. In this manner he covered the entire sculpture with all of his own hair - head, beard, backs of his hands, legs, eyebrows and eyelashes (yep, and "that" part, too). Then Masakichi pulled out all of his own fingernails, toe nails and teeth and carefully put them in their exact place on the statue. As a finishing touch he gave the statue his glasses, his clothes, a sculpting tool and a tiny mask he had made. The figure appears somewhat emaciated because the TB was already taking it's toll. He was 53 when the amazing statue was finished in 1885. Masakichi held a private exhibition of his work. He stood beside the artwork to the utter confusion and awe of the audience who could not tell which was him and which was not, nor comprehend how such a magnificent work had been created.

He managed to hang on for ten more years, and in spite of his incredible talent, died in poverty.

Sadly, the statue was badly damaged during the 1996 Northridge, California Earthquake while it was in Ripley's "Believe It or Not" Los Angeles "Odditorium", on display. It was one of Robert Ripley's more prized possessions and while he personally owned it, kept it in his bedroom on a curtained podium. .After it was damaged, it was housed in the Ripley warehouse, awaiting an artist who can match the skill of Hananuma Masakichi and restore it to it's original perfection. Someone recently wrote to me to say they had seen the statue in a museum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, but I haven't been able to confirm this or find out if it's the original statue or some kind of copy.

By the way - the real Hananuma Masakichi is on the right.

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