Apparently, Miyuki Hatoyama, the wife of the incoming Prime Minister of Japan, has been to Venus.

“While my body was asleep, I think my soul rode on a triangular-shaped UFO and went to Venus,” Miyuki Hatoyama, the wife of premier-in-waiting Yukio Hatoyama, wrote in a book published last year.

“It was a very beautiful place and it was really green.”

Yukio Hatoyama is due to be voted in as premier on September 16 following his party’s crushing election victory over the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party on Sunday.

Miyuki, 66, described the extraterrestrial experience, which she said took place some 20 years ago, in a book entitled “Very Strange Things I’ve Encountered.”

When she awoke, Japan’s next first lady wrote, she told her now ex-husband that she had just been to Venus. He advised her that it was probably just a dream.

Now, this intrigues me. Most bloggers I’ve seen cover this, Mark Shea included, unfortunately, have taken the angle “Oh, this is funny. That crazy Miyuki Hatoyama!” It is thus dismissed and forgotten, maybe brought up now and again for a laugh, but certainly not something to be considered and engaged. I intend to do that, however. This is not to say I take seriously her claims of taking a soul-flight to the second planet in the Sol system — I tend to agree she was probably dreaming — but to point to a bigger piece of modern culture of which this is a facet.

I’ve been studying ufology in one form or another since I was in elementary school, where I lived in the “paranormal and occult” section of the library (don’t ask why there was a “paranormal and occult” section of my elementary school’s library, but there it was). In addition to books on witchcraft, magic, and ghosts, there was extensive literature on alien encounters, and its an interest that has stayed with me. What’s been interesting has been watching the nature of alien encounters change through history, springing essentially out of nowhere in the early twentieth century in the form of great cigar-shaped craft, then taking off, so to speak, in the guise of the “flying saucer.” The saucer first appeared in 1947, and quickly came to dominate UFO sightings to the point that the two became synonymous.

As the extraterrestial hypothesis, or ETH, gained prevalence, we began looking back on historical phenomena and reading ETH into them. I’ve read theories that the great vision of Ezekiel of the Throne of God is in fact the landing of an alien spaceship, that the Revelation of John describes an abduction experience, that Springheel Jack was an alien serial killer. I’ve seen the charge that the Mayan culture had developmental help from space aliens, that countless ancient gods were, in reality, little more than the Goa’uld from Stargate. The Nazca lines in Peru, the statues on Easter Island, the Pyramids — all have found themselves the targets of various exponents of ETH.

There can be no doubt that aliens have wormed their way into the basic cultural fabric of the modern world, and the sorts of things we would have previously ascribed to divinity, we now ascribe to strange visitors from another planet. And this was abundant in the earliest days, in the 1950’s, when several “contactees,” in the days before aliens abducted people, claimed that the alien visitors brought messages of spiritual renewal. Take George Adamski, for example; he said he’d been contacted by Nordic-looking “space brothers” from Venus. They spent time warning him of the dangers of nuclear war.

In time, things got even weirder. Aliens started making use of the standard paths we used to contact the dead. Suddenly aliens were showing up in Ouija boards, talking via trances, always providing spiritual messages and warning of the future. We found ourselves with UFO cults like Heaven’s Gate, the Raelians, Scientology, and the followers of the Urantia Book. Aliens, quite simply, occupy for many the same place ┬áthat God occupies for me and most of my readers. That strikes me as utterly perverse, but I suppose everybody wants meaning in their lives. And sometimes that meaning is “we were placed here by space aliens who are now coming to retrieve our souls.”

Now, for Mrs. Hatoyama, she has taken what would normally be regarded as a dream or spiritual experience and morphed it into some sort of modern-day contactee experience, replete with the references to local planets and soul travel. She’s certainly a throwback as far as this sort of thing is concerned, which is perhaps why she’s being met with such ridicule. I find people can deal with hostile aliens better than benevolent ones; we look at alien abductions as maybe a possibility, that curious, unscrupulous alien scientists have visited Earth to perform violating, penetrative experiments upon us. But the benevolent aliens, the ones with messages of peace, we shrug those off even easier. I wonder if that’s because we’re pessimistic about ourselves.

But the first aliens we constructed for ourselves were precisely that. Adamski’s contact, Orthon, was beautiful, not frightening, and he came to offer us help. Let’s not forget Klaatu, either, from The Day the Earth Stood Still, who was smart, kind, and ultimately benign, or at least benevolent. In the earliest days, we put gods in space. Now all we have up there mad scientists and monsters. Either something to worship, or something to fear.