Monster of the Week: Kappa (河童)

To start off our first real ‘Monster of the Week’, we decided to tell you more about the kappa (河童), one of the most famous monsters in Japan. This creature lives in rivers and many Japanese people still claim to see them often today. They are also portrayed in popular media and in some cities there are still warning signs concerning the kappa. There even is a type of sushi that is called a kappamaki (河童巻) which is just a roll filled with cucumber. Why the cucumber? Find out in this article.

Kappa surprise

Kappa surprise

What is a kappa exactly? The kappa can best be described as a humanoid form with childlike measurements. They seem to have reptilian skin and different colours, some are green and some are blue. Even though their description varies from region to region, the kappa has certain features that never change. First of all, the kappa has a beak as a mouth. Secondly, it has a sturdy shell like a turtle, and finally, every kappa has a flat, hairless surface, or a sara (皿), on the top of his head that is filled with water of the river he lives in. This water is the source of the kappa’s power. If the sara ever gets dry, it is said that the kappa will lose its power. Beside those features, the kappa has a body that is adjusted to living underwater; he has webbed hands and feet and can swim like a fish.

Different kinds of kappa

Different kinds of kappa

The kappa is of course considered a monster for a reason. It is known for its mischievous nature and it perform a lot of pranks. Some of these pranks can be harmless like looking up women’s clothing or loudly farting next to people, but sometimes they’re just plain evil. The kappa is for instance known for kidnapping children, drowning people or animals and raping women. It is said that they take humans for multiple reasons; drinking their blood, eating their livers and many more. The most interesting reason is that they want to eat the human’s shirikodama (尻子玉), a spiritual ball that has the human’s soul in it and that is located in the anus.

Some shirikodama action

Some shirikodama action

How can you defeat a kappa? Luckily there are a lot of ways to defeat a kappa. First of all, you could try to defeat it in a sumo match or by playing shogi (将棋), which is Japanese chess; kappa love challenges and will always go out of their way to accept one. If they win, you’re kappa food but if they lose, they will honour the challenge and leave you alone.

Challenge

Challenge

Another way to defeat a kappa is to make a deep bow towards it,; kappa have a strong sense of politeness and will bow back to you making the water spill from its head. The kappa gets its power from the water in the sara so it will be powerless. If you then fill it with water from the river, it will be in your service for as long as it lives.

Or you could just give it a cucumber. It is said that kappa love the taste of cucumbers even more than children’s flesh. If you give it a cucumber, it will leave you alone and just enjoy its cucumber in the water. Japanese people still write the names of their children on cucumbers and then toss these cucumbers in a river to protect their children from kappa. And that is why they call that sushi a kappamaki.

Kappamaki sushi

Kappamaki sushi

That being said, the kappa isn’t always that bad. It is said that kappa taught us how to set bones and how to irrigate fields. They also know a lot about medicine and will sometimes watch over an entire family. They often befriend humans in return for gifts and offerings. For these reasons, shrines were built to worship the kappa and kappa are still a very famous aspect of Japanese folklore.

The animation film "Kappa no Kū to no Natsuyasumi" (河童のクゥと夏休み) or "Summer Days with Coo"

The animation film “Kappa no Kū to no Natsuyasumi” (河童のクゥと夏休み) or “Summer Days with Coo”

So moral of the story? Always take a cucumber with you while walking next to a Japanese river.

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