The Japanese creature called kappa, often represented by the kanji 河童, stands out as one of Japan’s most recognizable figures from folklore. As a variety of yōkai, which are supernatural entities in Japanese culture that inhabit various terrestrial environments like swamps, rivers, and forests, this aquatic deity takes the form of a scaly being and is commonly associated with bodies of water. Folklore describes it as being approximately the size of a child. Keep reading about the 15 most badass facts about the Japanese mythical creature Kappa.
1Kappa Is A Sinister Humanoid Creature Who Often Kills Human
In the contemporary Japanese imagination, kappa are typically envisioned with humanoid childlike bodies, their skin a vivid shade of green, and completely hairless. Adorning their heads are sleek, round plates encircled by a peculiar fringe of hair, and they possess bird-like beaks, often adorned in shades of yellow.
A distinct turtle-like shell adorns their backs, while their hands and feet boast webbed appendages. These kappa are believed to inhabit the realm of rivers and ponds, where they engage in the ominous practice of seizing the feet of swimmers and pulling them into a watery abyss.
Paradoxically, despite their sinister reputation, modern portrayals often render kappa in animated form as endearing and playfully mischievous characters.
2Kappa Are Often Depicted As Solitary Creatures In Japanese Folklore
Mature kappa typically lead solitary lives, although it’s not uncommon for them to form bonds with other yokai and even humans. Younger kappa are often part of family units.
3This Is How Kappa Got Its Name
The term “kappa” originates from a fusion of the words “kawa” (meaning “river”) and “wappa,” which is a variant of “warawa” (also “warabe”), signifying “child.” Alternatively, the kappa can also be translated as “water sprites.” In different regions, the kappa goes by a multitude of other names, numbering at least eighty, including variations like kawappa, kawako, kawatarō, gawappa, kōgo, and suitengu.
It is also referred to as “kawauso,” meaning ‘otter,’ “dangame,” signifying ‘soft-shelled turtle,’ and “enkō,” which relates to ‘monkey.’ These associations suggest that the kappa’s outward appearance bears similarities to these animals. The name “komahiki,” or “steed-puller,” hints at its alleged habit of dragging away horses.
In specific regions, the kappa adopts different names, like “kawako” in Izumo (Shimane Prefecture), where Lafcadio Hearn was situated, and “gatarō,” which was the local term used for it in the research of folklorist Kunio Yanagita from Hyōgo Prefecture.
4Kappa Are Known For Their Strong Sense Of Honor And Their Adherence To Promises
In Japanese folklore, it is believed that if a kappa makes a promise or an agreement, it will never break it. This sense of honor is a characteristic often associated with kappa, even though they can be mischievous or troublesome in other aspects of their behavior. Kappa’s commitment to keeping their word is an important element in their folklore and is sometimes used as a way to outsmart or negotiate with them. Kappa exhibits a strong sense of pride and stubbornness. They possess remarkable intelligence and are among the few yokai capable of acquiring human languages.
5They Are Highly Versed In The Fields Of Medicine And Bone-setting
According to folklore, these skills were initially imparted to humans by benevolent kappa.In Japanese folklore, kappa are often attributed with a high level of knowledge and expertise in the fields of medicine and bone-setting. They are believed to possess a deep understanding of human anatomy and the ability to treat injuries and illnesses. According to legend, kappa have shared this medical knowledge with humans, which has contributed to their reputation as knowledgeable and sometimes helpful creatures, despite their mischievous tendencies in other aspects of their behavior. This connection to medicine and healing is one of the more positive aspects of kappa folklore.
6They Love To Consume Raw Innards & Cucumbers Mostly
The traditional diet of kappa, as depicted in Japanese folklore, is known for being quite distinctive and sometimes unusual. Kappa are often said to have a preference for various foods, including:
Cucumbers: Cucumbers are perhaps the most famous food associated with kappa. They are considered a kappa’s favorite food, and offerings of cucumbers are often made to appease them.
Raw Innards: Kappa are believed to have a taste for raw innards, especially those of humans. There is a specific focus on a mythical ball of flesh located just inside the anus, known as the “shirikodama.”
Japanese Eggplants: Some kappa folklore mentions their liking for Japanese eggplants, which are part of their diet in certain stories.
Soba (Buckwheat Noodles): In some tales, kappa are said to enjoy soba noodles, which are a staple in Japanese cuisine.
Nattō (Fermented Soybeans): Fermented soybeans like nattō are occasionally mentioned as part of the kappa’s diet.
Kabocha (Japanese Pumpkin): Kappa are also said to have a taste for kabocha, a type of Japanese pumpkin.
It’s important to note that kappa’s diet varies in different stories and regions, and the focus on raw innards and cucumbers is more commonly associated with their mischievous and malevolent behaviors. In some tales, they are depicted as malevolent creatures who may harm humans to obtain their preferred foods.
7In Order To Protect Themselves, Devout Japanese Offer Cucumbers To Kappa
The relationship between Japanese kappa and cucumbers is a notable aspect of folklore and tradition. Kappa are mythical creatures in Japanese folklore known to have a penchant for cucumbers. It is said that offering cucumbers to kappa can appease them and even establish a form of goodwill or protection. As a result, cucumbers have become a symbol of peace and safeguarding against kappa-related mischiefs, particularly in and around bodies of water.
Kappa hold a special place in Shinto belief as water deities. In Japanese folklore, it is a common tradition to offer cucumbers to kappa. Cucumbers are believed to be the favorite food of these mythical water creatures. By leaving cucumbers near bodies of water, such as rivers and ponds, people hope to appease the kappa and prevent them from causing harm or mischief. This practice reflects the belief that providing kappa with their preferred food can establish a form of goodwill and protection against their potentially malevolent actions. It’s one of the ways to maintain a peaceful relationship with these creatures in folklore.
It’s a common sight to observe devout individuals leaving offerings of cucumbers along riverbanks. Additionally, In response to these offerings, kappa are recognized for their willingness to assist people by watering fields, forming friendships with solitary children, engaging in friendly competitions with adults in various sports and games, and more.
Various customs and stories revolve around cucumbers and kappa, such as placing cucumbers with the names of family members in rivers to keep the kappa from harming them. In some regions, people consume cucumbers as a protective measure before swimming, while in others, it is believed that eating cucumbers before swimming might attract kappa’s attention.
Additionally, there is a type of sushi roll called “kappamaki,” which includes cucumber as a key ingredient, further reflecting the association between kappa and cucumbers in Japanese culture.
8Kappa Can Also Exhibit Rude, Aggressive And Lethal Behavior
Their inherent mischievousness leads them to engage in actions like peeking beneath women’s kimonos and creating public disturbances by releasing loud flatulence.
Bodies of water where kappa reside are frequently designated with cautionary signs. Their favored approach in confrontations involves either drowning their adversary or fatally biting them beneath the water’s surface.
They hold a strong aversion towards cows and horses, and may inexplicably target these animals with attacks. Instances have been documented in which they’ve abducted or assaulted swimming women and consumed humans while they are still alive.
9Human Vs Kappa : Who Will Win ?
Within the water, evading a kappa is a nearly impossible task for anyone who encounters one. However, on dry land, there exists a potential strategy for outsmarting them: an honorable kappa will feel compelled to reciprocate a bow. By employing a clever ruse and causing it to bow deeply enough to spill the water from its head dish, it becomes susceptible to defeat. Once defeated, numerous kappa have been compelled to pledge their unwavering loyalty and friendship to the one who overcame them for the rest of their lives.
10Japanese Claims About Kappa Sightings !!
The image on the right depicts a captured kappa in Mito, Japan, in 1801. This kappa had distinctive features, including a chest resembling that of a turtle, a bent back, and the unusual characteristic of having three anuses. In the central image above, you can observe a humanoid kappa without its typical shell. The kappa on the left side of the illustration, as drawn by Ito Chobei, was caught during the Meiwa period (1764 to 1772) in Edo, which is now a part of Tokyo’s Edogawa ward.
Upon presenting the creature to Ota Chogen, he promptly recognized it as a kappa. Interestingly, Ota was carrying a kappa sketch that depicted a creature sharing similar characteristics. According to the text found in the book, this particular kappa stood at a height of 60 cm (approximately 2 feet) and possessed skin that was as slick as that of a catfish.
One kappa was sighted in a moat surrounding Edo Castle during the late 18th century, while another sighting took place in the early 17th century in the present-day city of Hita in Oita prefecture. This turtle-like kappa was noted for standing on its hind legs, possessing webbed fingers, and displaying distinctive markings on its chest and abdomen.
11With A Deep Bow & Warm Gesture, You Can Save Your Life From Kappa Attack
Belief held that there were a few strategies for escaping a confrontation with a kappa. Kappa had a strong fixation on courtesy, so if a person executed a deep bow, the kappa would reciprocate the gesture. As a consequence, the kappa would inadvertently spill the water contained in the “dish” (sara) on its head, and it would remain in the bowing position until its head dish was replenished with water from the river it inhabited. If a person refilled the dish, the kappa would pledge to serve that individual for all eternity.
A comparable vulnerability of the kappa pertained to its arms, which were easily detachable from its body. If an arm was removed, the kappa would offer assistance or share knowledge in exchange for the return of its arm.
12Kappa Likes Sumo Wrestling Where It Is Possible To Win Against Him As A Human
Engaging in shogi or sumo wrestling with a kappa is a unique method employed to outsmart these mythical creatures. Kappa occasionally challenge humans to such contests, and this practice can be cunningly used to compel the kappa into spilling the water from their head dishes (sara). One noteworthy instance of this approach is depicted in a folk story where a farmer, seeking to avoid a marriage proposal between his daughter and a kappa, tasks the kappa with submerging several gourds in water. When the kappa fails to complete this challenge, it retreats, thereby sparing the farmer’s daughter from the proposed union.
13They Are Also Represented As Benevolent Creatures Sometimes
In Japanese folklore, kappa are often portrayed as mischievous and sometimes malevolent creatures. However, there are instances where kappa exhibit positive behavior or engage in good deeds, albeit less commonly. Here are a few examples:
Teaching Medical and Agricultural Knowledge: Some kappa are known for their proficiency in medicine and the art of setting bones. According to folklore, they taught humans these skills, which could be considered a beneficial contribution to society.
Irrigating Fields: In certain stories, kappa have been known to help farmers by irrigating their fields and performing tasks related to water management. This assistance aids in crop cultivation and is seen as a positive action.
Assisting Loneliness: Kappa, in some legends, befriends lonely or isolated children, providing them with companionship and solace. This act of friendship can be seen as a good deed.
Keeping Promises: Kappa are believed to have an innate sense of honor, and they never break promises that they make. This adherence to commitments is a positive quality.
It’s important to note that while these examples depict kappa in a more positive light, their reputation for mischief and occasional malevolence is still prevalent in Japanese folklore. The concept of kappa’s dual nature, combining both good and mischievous traits, is a recurring theme in their legends.
14Kappa Have Different Japanese Variations In Their Local Literatures
Like oni and tengu, the kappa is one of the most widely recognized yōkai (supernatural creatures) in Japan. The name and characteristics of the kappa vary depending on the region and local folklore. In Shintō belief, kappa are sometimes regarded as avatars (keshin) of the Water Deity or suijin. Shrines dedicated to the worship of kappa as water deities can be found in places like Aomori Prefecture and Miyagi Prefecture. These shrines are associated with rituals intended to appease the kappa and secure a good harvest. Some of these festivals continue to be celebrated today, particularly during the two equinoxes when it is believed that kappa travel between rivers and mountains.
One of the most famous locations where kappa are said to reside is in the Kappabuchi waters of Tōno, Iwate Prefecture. In the vicinity, at Jōkenji in Tōno, there is a Buddhist temple featuring komainu dog statues with depressions on their heads resembling the water-retaining dishes on kappa’s heads. These statues are said to be dedicated to the kappa, as legend has it that they once helped extinguish a fire at the temple. In his work “Tōno Monogatari,” Kunio Yanagita documents various beliefs from the Tōno area, including stories of women being approached and even impregnated by kappa. Offspring from such encounters were thought to be unsightly and were typically buried.
15There Are Several Other Creatures That Resembles With Kappa In Cross Culture Myths
Comparable folklore can be observed in both Asian and European traditions. Just as the Japanese legends describe this creature, in Chinese and Scandinavian mythology, this entity is notorious for abducting and drowning individuals, as well as horses.
In the Philippine islands, the siyokoy is also known for seizing children near the water’s edge.
In Slavic mythology, there exists a frog-faced vodyanoy, while western Slavic folklore features a green, human-like entity known as a vodník, especially prevalent in regions such as the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
In German mythology, a similar being is referred to as Wassermann, Nix, or Nickel. They have been associated with the major rivers Elbe and Saale in eastern Germany, but their strongest ties lie with Lusatia in South-East Germany. This is unsurprising, considering the area’s proximity to Poland and the Czech Republic and its status as home to the Slavic Sorb minority.