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Sunday, August 9, 2009

Whats a Kappa?

If you don't know what are Kappa's

Well first off the Japanese have many facinating tales involving ghosts, demons, and nature spirits which are known as yokai (youkai). The yokai have their origins in the ancient Shinto religion, with the veneration of nature spirits and the worship of ancestors. The practice of Shinto beleifs involves ritual offerings of food at a temple or shrine to keep the spirit world appeased. Many places are sacred to the yokai and violation of these spaces can lead to misfortune or death.

KAPPA -- River Imp or Sprite
Origin = Shinto (with Chinese & Hindu Antecedents)
Kappa also called Kawatarō 河太郎
Kawako 河伯 or Kawaranbe 河ランベ
Gatarō がたろう or Enkō 猿猴
One of Many Japanese Suijin 水神 (Water Kami)

Kappa (河童?, "river-child"), alternately called Kawatarō (川太郎?, "river-boy") or Kawako (川子?, "river-child"), are legendary creatures; a type of water sprite found in Japanese folklore. In Shintō they are considered to be one of many suijin. A hair-covered variation of a Kappa is called a Hyōsube (ひょうすべ?).

Kappa are water creatures that inhabit rivers and ponds. In Japan's animist religion, Shinto, they are considered as one of many water deities. Although they are usually depicted as child sized scaly skinned and hard shelled creatures, their features often vary. They are sometimes represented with ape-like faces; at other times, they are shown as having frog or turtle-like bodies and faces. In those cases, their mouth often look like a bird's beak. Kappa's bodies are usually green, but can also be any shade between green and yellow, as well a blue. All stories agree on two points: the kappa smell like fish and they have a small round depression that contains water on the top of their heads. This hollow space is usually surrounded by long hair. Some say they can change color like the chameleon. They abhor metal objects and loud noises (cannon fire, gunfire, etc.).

The defining characteristic of the Kappa is the hollow cavity atop its head. This saucer-like depression holds a strength-giving fluid. Should you chance upon the quarrelsome Kappa, please remember to bow deeply. If the courteous Kappa bows in return, it will spill its strength-giving water, making it feeble, and forcing it to return to its water kingdom.

What do Kappa do?

Kappa are mischievous creatures. They like to play pranks on people, like looking under women's kimono, fart loudly, steal crops, etc. This may sound cute and funny, but they can also be serious troublemakers
. They are known to attack cattle, children and people, drag them into the river, suck their blood and take away their life force. Kids are the Kappa's favorite food and so even now, you can find signs with kappa on them close to rivers. Using old legends, the Japanese people prevent kids from getting too close to dangerous water areas. The only thing Kappa like better than children is cucumbers. In order to protect themselves, people use to throw cucumbers in the rivers they suspected kappa to inhabit.

About the size of a child aged 6 to 10, the Kappa is nonetheless incredibly strong. It attacks horses, cattle, and humans, usually dragging its prey into the water, where, according to various legends, it feeds on their blood, or drains their life force, or pulls out their livers through their anuses, or sucks out their entrails, leaving nothing behind except a hollow gourd. Stories tell of Kappa pulling little children into the water and drowning them. In many localities, drowning is still referred to as GAPPADOKO (ガーッパドコ). As drowning victims were sometimes found with a distended anus (swollen rectal), the Kappa is also sometimes called the shirokodama (anus) vampire. In some tales, the Kappa is associated with theft and raping women.

Kappa are mostly evil, but not always. When benevolent, the Kappa is supposedly a skilled teacher in the art of bone setting and other medical skills. In the real world of medicine, the term "kappa" refers to a monoclonal plasma cell related to bone marrow. (Note: Not yet able to confirm Kappa's bone-setting skills; but sounds very plausible, as most Shinto "kami" have some redeeming qualities.) In addition, the Kappa is always portrayed as trustworthy despite its many evil ways. When captured and forced to promise never again to harm anyone, the kappa always keeps its promise.

Kappa often help or mentor those who outwit them or capture them.

The Kappa's origin is difficult to verify precisely. But, by the Edo Period, illustrations of Kappa appear often in anthologies of supernatural tales, in comical paintings (giga), in ukiyo-e (woodblock prints), and in paintings accompanying verse (haiga). In 1910, Kappa lore gained nationwide popularity with the publication of Tono Monogatari (遠野物語; Legends of Tono) by Yanagida Kunio (1875-1962). In Tono Monogatari, Yanagida presented numerous tales of supernatural beings in the Tono area, including stories about the evil Kappa. 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

family-oriented animated feature, called Summer Days With Coo.

  • 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

The chief delight of the quarrelsome Kappa is to challenge humans to single combat. Indeed, the Kappa delights in Japanese Sumo wrestling, and often challenges its victim to a sumo bout.

Kappa folk have a liking for cucumbers, a weakness that can be used to human advantage. According to one tale, an offering of cucumbers (on which are etched the name/age of family members) is enough to appease the Kappa, who thereafter will refrain from harming you and your family (need to find source for this). Even today, cucumber sushi in Japan is called "Kappa-maki".


The Kappa is sometimes called Kawako (literally "river child"). The name can be
traced to Kawako-no-miya (Shrine of the Kawako), located on the bank of the Kawachi river near Matsue/Izumo. Legend relates that a nasty Kappa was captured near here and forced to sign a note swearing never again to harm any of the people or animals in the area. Unable to write, the Kappa dipped its hand in the ink and pressed it on the document. The document remained among the shrine's relics, and the Kappa never broke the promise (the Kappa is always portrayed as trustworthy and courteous despite its many evil ways)

Sample Kappa Story
Once upon a time in the village of Kawachino there lived a man named Genta. He was from a distinguished family in the village and was so wise and brave that he was greatly respected by the villagers. His house was large and stood near a river which flowed through the village. The river was at its deepest at the bend near his house, and the water looked dark and unfathomable, being over six meters deep.

One summer evening, Genta came back from his outing and told his servants as usual to hitch his horse to a shady tree near the river. After taking a short rest, Genta stepped out into the garden and looked at the tree. To his surprise, a kappa, the size of a 6-7 year old boy was dragging the horse by its hind legs into the river. The silent horse was resisting the pull with its forelegs while strangely enough, the servant as if in a trance, was helping the small kappa by pouring water into the cavity on the kappa's head. The more the servant poured, the more powerful the kappa became.

Although Genta became very angry watching this scene, he had the presence of mind to think of a plan. From the shed he fetched a strong rope made of hemp palm and snuck up to the kappa from behind. Neither the servant nor the kappa noticed Genta's actions. He quickly caught hold of the kappa and dragged him away from the river, tying him up with the rope.

All of a sudden, the servant came out of his trance and followed his master's direction to hang the kappa upside down from the pine tree in the garden. Genta glared at the wicked water imp and reprimanded him. "What an insolent fellow you are! You take so much pride in your bit of supernatural powers and even try to steal horses from humans. You are very sinful indeed. I shall kill you as a warning to all of your fellow kappa."

With the precious water drained from his cavity, the kappa lost all his magic powers. The more he struggled, the tighter the rope cut into his flesh, making the pain even harder to bear. At last the kappa began to cry in a strange, harsh voice "please forgive me for mercy's sake my lord," he implored. "I'll not fail to make up for this crime, so please let me go." In tears, the the kappa begged Genta over and over again.

A kind hearted man by nature, Genta felt pity for the ugly creature who was crying. "If you swear with all your heart, I'll forgive you," he said to the kappa "but first, you must confess your sins and make restitution."

"I confess to you that I've done many wrongs," the kappa said. "I regret my past actions very much. Your authority is astonishing, so I promise you that even if the Kawachino River should flow upstream, I won't pull the people from this village into the water. Never will I do anything wrong again. Please spare my life today. I also promise to make all my fellow kappa keep this oath forever."

After the kappa swore his oath, Genta forgave him, took him down from the pine tree and untied the ropes. Placing both hands to the ground, the teary blue-eyed kappa bowed to him again and again. Then he asked Genta if he could go home to the bottom of the river.

"All right," Genta said, "but before you go, turn yourself around three times and recite your oath each time." The kappa obediently turned around 3 times, each time reciting his oath loudly. Kneeling down, he praised Genta, then went away.

After that incident, no more was to be heard of kappa in the village. Years later, Genta passed away, leaving behind the legend of subduing the kappa. The pine tree from which Genta hung the kappa, remained long after his death. Eventually however, the old pine tree too withered and died.

Whether the mystical kappa does in fact exist is still unknown. There is a sake manufacturing place in Imari called "Matsuura Ichishuzo" where, it is said that during restoration about 40 years ago, a small coffin was found between old boards containing a mummified kappa inside. The skeleton remains on display today for all who are interested in finding the truth.

- end


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