The kappa is a Japanese demon or Yōkai living in the waters in traditional Japanese folklore. The name Kappa (河童) literally translates to "river-child".
It is also known as Kawatarō (川太郎) meaning "river-boy", Komahiki (駒引) meaning "horse-puller", Kawatora (川虎) meaning "river-tiger" and Suiko (水虎) meaning "water-tiger".  They also have multiple more regional names such as "Kawappa", "Kawako", "Gawappa", "Kōgo", "Mizushi", "Mizuchi", and "Suitengu" among others. [1]
The kappa is usually depicted as green humanoids [2,3] (sometimes yellow-blue [4]) with webbed hands and feet, scaly or slimy skin. They often carry a turtle shell on their backs [3,5,6]. It has a bowl-like depression on the top of the head called a "sara" or dish. This holds a water which if lost from any means the kappa is either severely weakened or killed. [7]
Otherwise strange physical traits of the kappa is that they possess three anuses and can therefore pass three times as much gas as a human. [8]
They are also sometimes said to have arms that are connected to each other within the shell, meaning that they can slide from one side to the other. [9] Sometimes they are also said to smell like fish. [4] 
The kappas traditionally love to eat cucumbers and engage in sumo wrestling. [2]
The kappa is generally the size of a human child but is usually stronger than adult males. They live in rivers and ponds and like the warmer months of the year. Usually they live either alone or in families. [8]
In culture they are seen as mischievous trouble makers and tricksters. They are described doing a large variety of misdeeds minor ones being looking up women's kimonos. Although this is not very harmful they are also described as malevolent and doing things like drowning people and animals, kidnapping children, raping women and sometimes eating human flesh. [7]
Another activity they are described as doing is pulling out a mythical organ called the shirikodama (尻子玉) from the victims anus. The shirikodama is said to be a mystical ball containing the soul. [7,10,11]
Sometimes they befriend humans and other Yōkai. Sometimes they even perform good deeds for friendly humans such as irrigating their land. And as they are highly knowledgeable about medicine they may save humans. According to legend they taught humans the art of bone setting. [7, 12-14] There are also legends that kappa will save friendly humans from drowning.
Offerings are frequently made to the kappa at festivals. These offerings often consist of cucumbers as they are the kappas favorite meal but they may also eat Japanese eggplants, soba noodles, nattō  and Japanese pumpkin. [7,15]
Sometimes the kappa may bring fish to humans which is considered to be a good omen. [12]
The kappa is very obsessed with politeness which is one of the main ways to defeat them. If you make a deep bow the kappa is obliged to return the bow spilling the water in its head. [7]
[1]: Foster (1998), p. 3, citing Ōno (1994), p. 14
[2]:  Foster (2015), p. 157.
[3]: Foster (2015), p. 88.
[4]: Foster (1998), p. 4.
[5]: Frédéric, Louis (2002). "kappa". Japan Encyclopedia. President and Fellows of Harvard College. p. 480. ISBN 978-0-674-00770-3.
[7]: Ashkenazi, Michael (2003). Handbook of Japanese Mythology. ABC-CLIO. pp. 195–196. ISBN 978-1-57607-467-1
[8]: "Kappa |"Archived from the original on 1 May 2020.
[9]: According to the Wakan Sansai ZueFoster (1998), p. 6
[10]: "Shirikodama". Archived from the original on 2009-12-03. 
[11]: Nara, Hiroshi (2007). Inexorable Modernity: Japan's Grappling with Modernity in the Arts. Lexington Books. p. 33. ISBN 978-0-7391-1841-2.
[12]: Foster (1998), p. 8.
[13]: 怪異・妖怪伝承データベース: 河童の教えた中風の薬 [Folktale Data of Strange Phenomena and Yōkai] (in Japanese). International Research Center for Japanese StudiesArchived from the original on 2009-03-04. 
[14]: 怪異・妖怪伝承データベース: 河童の秘伝接骨薬 [Folktale Data of Strange Phenomena and Yōkai] (in Japanese). International Research Center for Japanese StudiesArchived from the original on 2011-09-27. 
[15]: Foster (1998), p. 5, citing Takeda, Akira [ja] (1988), "Suijinshinkō to kappa 水神信仰と河童 [Water deity belief and the kappa]"; Ōshima, Takehiko ed. Kappa 河童, p. 12.

You may also like

Back to Top