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A cryptid native to Japan, the kappa is a small but strong water-dwelling creature belonging to a sub-catagory of yokai known as “suijin”. It is around the size of a child, rarely any larger than four feet tall, but is a lot stronger than it looks. It is reportedly able to drag adult men and even cattle and horses into the river it calls home.

The creature is greenish-blue in colour and has scaled skin, webbed extremities, a beak-like mouth, a turtleshell, and a crown of hair around what appears to be a dish atop its head. This dish is the key to the kappa’s power. The dish holds water, which the kappa needs to live. While a kappa is able to leave the water, it must keep its dish filled with water. Should it lose the water, it will not only lose its paranormal strength, it will eventually die.

In terms of diet, kappa have an affinity for cucumbers. Cucumbers are often listed as the creature’s favourite food, with pumpkin and eggplant also being acceptable. However, the kappa’s diet is by no means that of an herbivore. While offerings of cucumbers greatly please kappa-folk, the creature has a particular taste for the human liver, which it will extract from the anus of its victims after dragging them kicking and screaming into the murky depths of the water.

Kappa are widely feared as predacious creatures that will lure horses, cattle, and people into the water and drown them before feasting on their innards. Children are particularly susceptible, as they have neither the strength nor the experience to combat these voracious river imps.

Kappa are known to be quite mischievous, or even outright villainous. They are well-known worldwide for disembowelling humans, which some believe they do in order to extract the “Shirikodama”, a mysterious orb within the human bowel that contains life energy, so that they may offer it to the river god. They are also known to suck out the entrails of their victims, leaving a hollow corpse and distended rectum.

Legends also tell of kappa hiding in toilets in order to grope and fondle the buttocks of women, and one legend even tells of a kappa transforming itself into a “red lacquered arrow” and penetrating the “shy place” of a woman. Indeed, tales of rape are all too common, with some kappa even impregnating women. The resulting child is often so grotesque that it is hacked to pieces and buried.

Tales of the kappa’s mischief usually end badly for the kappa itself, however.  One legend tells of a kappa attempting to steal the horse of a powerful landowner. The kappa bewitched one of the master’s servants to continually pour water into its dish. As the servant poured, the kappa got ever stronger, slowly but surely becoming able to drag away the horse. The landowner, enraged, grabbed the kappa from behind and hung it upside-down from a tree. As the water poured from the kappa’s dish, its strength diminished and it became powerless. The kappa begged for its life and promised to never do harm to anyone in the area again if the landowner were to release it. Being a goodhearted man, he released the kappa, and it kept its word. This tale reveals something very important about the kappa – it is a surprisingly polite, honour-bound creature.

One of the most well-known ways to survive a kappa encounter is to bow to the creature. The kappa will feel socially obligated to bow back, which will cause the water to pour out of the dish on its head. Powerless, the kappa will usually retreat. There is a story of a kappa approaching a group of children pretending to be one of them. The children cleverly tricked the kappa into shaking its head, flinging the water out of its dish and forcing it to leave them alone. Another, less well-known way to defeat a kappa is by disarming it. Quite literally, many tales of kappa mischief end with the kappa having its arm ripped off by the startled cattle it was trying to steal or by the women it was attempting to grope. It is possible for the kappa to reattach the lost limb within a certain timeframe, giving it plenty of reason to bargain for the return of the limb. As reported, kappa will honour any promises they make, so this is often a great opportunity to make the kappa promise to cease any malicious behaviour.

Another example of kappa keeping their word is the story of Kawako, a kappa who harassed people around the Kawachi river near Izumo. Kawako was captured and made to sign a note promising never to harm anyone in the area ever again. Unable to write, the kappa provided a handprint in ink, and never once caused harm in the area again. The “signed” document from the kappa is amongst the treasured relics in the local shrine. Generally, captured kappa are known to takes oaths to never do harm again, to teach bone-setting techniques, share medicine-making knowledge, or to otherwise help and educate.

Like humans, not all kappa are evil, as each has its own personality. There are more honourable tales of kappa on record. For example, the Kappa Bridge in Tokyo is named for its intriguing origins. Long ago, a merchant noticed a kappa was in trouble and rescued it. The land where the merchant worked was very prone to flooding, and he one day decided to invest all of his money in solving the problem by creating a new drainage system for the area. The project turned out to be more expensive than he had expected, and took a lot longer even despite the help of the local villagers. Bad weather also hindered his progress, until one day the kappa the merchant once rescued returned with some other kappa friends and helped finish the project. Thanks to its heroic act of kindness, the kappa was since enshrined as a deity at what is now Kappa Temple.

While the kappa is mostly considered a myth invented to stop children playing around open water, Kappa remains have reportedly been found multiple times. One of the most complete bodies is enshrined in Tokyo and is only available for private viewing via invitation, as the shrine is not open to the public. In rural Japan, sightings continue to this day.