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.