This is my first entry about one of many Japanese Yōkai. Originally I wanted to write about several of them in one post but confronting all the detailed descriptions and their manifoldness I’ve decided to dedicate each Japanese demon, spirit or monster I come across, its own entry. There are plenty of these creatures in Japanese folklore and Shintō so this is going to be a hopefully profound collection including as many as possible of them.
Kappa 河童 (river-child) is one of many Suijin (water deities) in Japanese folklore. The Suijin commonly possess magical powers, which can be used for either benevolent or malevolent purposes. Kappas live in rivers and ponds and are often described as roughly humanoid in form, about the size of a child and very strong. The skin is scaly, they have hair circling the skull, webbed feet and hands or claws instead and many of them have a tortoise shell attached to their back. It’s most defining characteristic however is a hollow cavity atop its head filled with water from the river or pond they live in. This cavity must be full whenever a kappa is away from the water as it is their power source. The kappa, though mischievous, is essentially a polite creature who defers to human ritual; it will always return a courteous bow, spilling the water, and thus losing its power. Only refilling the cavity with water of the river or pond he lives in will give him back his strength. If a human were to refill it, it was believed the kappa would serve them for all eternity.
Buttocks, Toilets & Women
There are legends that describe the kappa hiding in toilets that were often situated above rivers, waiting to fondle a female victim’s Shiri 尻 (buttock). They remove their victim’s Shirikodama 尻子玉 ( a ball located in their intestine possibly representing life force), pull out their livers or sucks out their entrails, leaving nothing behind except a hollow gourd. Mischievous Kappas however have pranks ranging from looking up women’s kimonos drowning people and animals, kidnapping, eating children, to raping women.
The kappa is notorious for attempting to lure horses and cows to a death by drowning. In most versions of this legend though, the kappa fails and the startled horse pulls the Kappa (or just its arm) all the way back to the stable. The kappa’s success rate in fondling women’s shiri in the toilet may be slightly higher, but often on its second attempt its arm is grabbed and yanked from the body. In order to be set free and receive back its arm (the arm can often be reattached within a certain number of days), the kappa will take an oath. It will pledge, for instance, to stop harassing people in the area, or to assist with work in the fields, or to teach its captor secret bonesetting techniques and formulas for making medicine and ointments.
Kappa in modern Japan
Today the Kappa is typically depicted as a cute cartoon-like character, and appears quite regularly in Japanese fiction, in cartoons for children (Urusei Yatsura, Tenchi Universe), as a cute mascot for commercial products, and in toys.
But there are also other examples referring to the Kappa.
Kappa Maki = Cucumber sushi rolls, a common Japanese food. The Kappa love cucumbers according to Japanese legend.
Okappa = Bobbed hairstyles that look like the Kappa’s hair.
Kappa no Kawa Nagare = Even Kappa can drown. Even a Kappa can get carried away by the river. Kappa are excellent swimmers, so this is a proverb meaning “even an expert can make mistakes.” There is a related proverb associated with the Monkey, which goes: Saru mo Ki Kara Ochiru. It means “Even monkies fall from trees.”
Kappa no He = Much ado about nothing (literally “water-imp fart”)
Kappa = Word for traditional straw raincoat worn by farmers
I hope you liked this entry! All the information I used is from here and here. I’m looking forward to learning more about Japanese mythology, folklore and Shintō and reporting it!