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|Other name(s)||Gatarō, Kawako|
A kappa (河童, "river-child") — also known as kawatarō (川太郎, "river-boy"), komahiki (駒引, "horse-puller"), kawatora (川虎, "river-tiger") or suiko (水虎, "water-tiger") – is an amphibious yōkai found in traditional Japanese folklore. They are typically depicted as green, human-like beings with webbed hands and feet and a turtle-like carapace on their back.
The kappa are known to favor cucumbers and love to engage in sumo wrestling. They are often accused of assaulting humans in water and removing a mythical organ called the shirikodama from their victim's anus.
The name kappa is a contraction of the words kawa (river) and wappa, a variant form of 童 warawa (also warabe) "child". Another translation of kappa is "water sprites". The kappa are also known regionally by at least eighty other names such as kawappa, kawako, kawatarō, gawappa, kōgo, suitengu.
Its names kawaso meaning "otter", dangame "soft-shelled turtle", and enkō "monkey" suggest its outward resemblance to these animals. The name komahiki or "steed-puller" alludes to its reputed penchant to drag away horses.
Kappa are said to be roughly humanoid in form and about the size of a child, inhabiting the ponds and rivers of Japan. Clumsy on land, they are at home in the water, and thrive during the warm months. They are typically greenish in color (or yellow-blue), and either scaly or slimy skinned, with webbed hands and feet, and a turtle-like carapace on their back. Inhuman traits include three anuses that allow them to pass three times as much gas as humans. Despite their small stature they are physically stronger than a grown man.
According to some accounts, kappa's arms are connected to each other through the torso and can slide from one side to the other. While they are primarily water creatures, they do on occasion venture onto land. When they do, the "dish" on their head can be covered with a metal cap for protection.
A kappa by Katsushika Hokusai
Kappa are usually seen as mischievous troublemakers or trickster figures. Their actions range from the comparatively minor, such as looking up women's kimono if they venture too near to water, to the outright malevolent, such as drowning people and animals, kidnapping children, raping women and at times eating human flesh. Though sometimes menacing, it may also behave amicably towards humans. While younger kappa are frequently found in family groups, adult kappa live solitary lives. However, it is common for kappa to befriend other yōkai and sometimes even people.
Folk beliefs claim the cucumber as their traditional favorite meal. At festivals, offerings of cucumber are frequently made to the kappa. Sometimes the kappa is said to have other favorite foods, such as the Japanese eggplant, soba (buckwheat noodles), nattō (fermented soybeans), or kabocha.
In Edo (old Tokyo), there used to be a tradition where people would write the names of their family members on cucumbers and send them afloat into the streams to mollify the kappa, to prevent the family from coming to harm in the streams. In some regions, it was customary to eat cucumbers before swimming as protection, but in others it was believed that this act would guarantee an attack.
As a menace
As water monsters, kappa have been blamed for drownings, and are often said to try to lure people into water and pull them in with their great skill at wrestling. They are sometimes said to take their victims for the purpose of drinking their blood, eating their livers, or gaining power by taking their shirikodama (尻子玉), a mythical ball said to contain the soul, which is located inside the anus.
Kappa have been used to warn children of the dangers lurking in rivers and lakes, as kappa have been often said to try to lure people to water and pull them in. Even today, signs warning about kappa appear by bodies of water in some Japanese towns and villages.
Kappa are also said to victimize animals, especially horses and cows. The motif of the kappa trying to drown a horse is found all over Japan.
In many versions the kappa is dragged by the horse to the stable where it is most vulnerable, and it is there it is forced to submit a writ of promise not to misbehave.
Defeating the kappa
It was believed that there were a few means of escape if one was confronted with a kappa. Kappa are obsessed with politeness, so if a person makes a deep bow, it will return the gesture. This results in the kappa spilling the water held in the "dish" (sara) on its head, rendering it unable to leave the bowing position until the plate is refilled with water from the river in which it lives. If a person refills it, the kappa will serve that person for all eternity. A similar weakness of the kappa involves its arms, which can easily be pulled from its body. If an arm is detached, the kappa will perform favors or share knowledge in exchange for its return.
Another method of defeat involves shogi or sumo wrestling: a kappa sometimes challenges a human being to wrestle or engage in other tests of skill. This tendency is easily used to encourage the kappa to spill the water from its sara. One notable example of this method is the folktale of a farmer who promises his daughter's hand in marriage to a kappa in return for the creature irrigating his land. The farmer's daughter challenges the kappa to submerge several gourds in water. When the kappa fails in its task, it retreats, saving the farmer's daughter from the marriage. Kappa have also been driven away by their aversion to iron, sesame, or ginger.
Kappa are not entirely antagonistic to human beings.
Once befriended, kappa may perform any number of tasks for human beings, such as helping farmers irrigate their land. Sometimes, they bring fresh fish, which is regarded as a mark of good fortune for the family that receives it. They are also highly knowledgeable about medicine, and legend states that they taught the art of bone setting to human beings. There are also legends that Kappa will save a friendly human from drowning.
Shrines are dedicated to the worship of kappa as water deity in such places as Aomori Prefecture or Miyagi Prefecture. There were also festivals meant to placate the kappa in order to obtain a good harvest, some of which still take place today. These festivals generally took place during the two equinoxes of the year, when the kappa are said to travel from the rivers to the mountains and vice versa.
The best known place where it has been claimed Kappa reside is in the Kappabuchi waters of Tōno in the Iwate Prefecture. The nearby Jōkenji In Tōno, there is a Buddhist temple that has komainu dog statues with depressions on their heads reminiscent of the water-retaining dish on the kappa's heads, said to be dedicated to the kappa which according to legend helped extinguish a fire at the temple. The Kappa is also venerated at the Sogenji Buddhist temple in the Asakusa district of Tokyo where according to tradition, a mummified arm of a Kappa is enshrined within the chapel hall since 1818.
In his Tōno Monogatari, Kunio Yanagita records a number of beliefs from the Tōno area about women being accosted and even impregnated by kappa. Their offspring were said to be repulsive to behold, and were generally buried.
Cross culture lore
Similar folklore can be found in Asia and Europe. The Japanese folklore creature Kappa is known in Chinese folklore as 水鬼 shuǐguǐ "water-ghost", or water monkey and may also be related to the kelpie of Scotland and the nixie of Scandinavia. Like the Japanese description of the beast, in Chinese and in Scandinavian lore this beast is infamous for kidnapping and drowning people as well as horses.
A frog-face vodyanoy is known in Slavic mythology. A green human-like being named a vodnik is widely known in western Slavic folklore and tales, especially in the Czech Republic or Slovakia.
In German mythology, a similar creature is known as Wassermann, Nix, or Nickel. They have been mentioned in connection with the larger rivers Elbe and Saale in the eastern part of Germany, but they are most widely connected to Lusatia in South-Est Germany. This is not entirely surprising, as the area is not only close to Poland and Czech Republic, but also home to the Slavic minority of the Sorbs.
In popular culture
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The kappa is a popular creature of the Japanese folk imagination; its manifestations cut across genre lines, appearing in folk religion, beliefs, legends, folktales and folk metaphors.
Ryūnosuke Akutagawa's 1927 novella Kappa centers on a man who got lost and ended up in the land of the kappa near Mount Hotakadake. The story heavily focuses on the subject of suicide and Akutagawa took his own life the year the work was published. Kappas are a recurring image in David Peace's novel Patient X, itself about the life and work of Akutagawa.
Kappa, and creatures based on them, are recurring characters in Japanese tokusatsu films and television shows. Examples include the kappas in the Daiei/Kadokawa series Yokai Monsters, the 2010 kaiju film Death Kappa, and "King Kappa", a kaiju from the 1972 Tsuburaya Productions series Ultraman Ace.
In the long running anime One Piece, a self-proclaimed kappa appears in "The Land of Wano" story arc. In reality he is a fishman who hides his identity as a kappa to avoid discrimination. Just like ancient mythological lore though he is a sumo wrestler; the highest ranked at that holding the yokozuna title. He is a friendly samurai who serves under the previous Shōgun of Wano.
These yōkai also represent Japan as a nation, featuring in advertisements for a range of products from a major brand of sake to Tokyo-Mitsubishi Bank's DC Card (a credit card). In their explicitly commercial conceptions, yōkai are no longer frightening or mysterious — the DC Card Kappa, for example, is not a slimy water creature threatening to kill unsuspecting children but a cute and (almost) cuddly cartoon character.
In the anime series Sarazanmai, the main characters are turned into kappa by the Prince of the Kappas and collect shirikodama.
It is said that the company president of Calbee liked kappa, so he wanted the name "Kappa" to be included in one of his products. That brought about Kappa Ebisen, a popular shrimp-flavored snack in Japan.
In the live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III movie, the ninja turtles: Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo, and Raphael were often mistakenly called "Kappa" when they travelled back in time to Feudal Japan in order to rescue April O'Neil.
In the 2006 animated film Hellboy: Sword of Storms, a kappa is one of the many dangers the eponymous protagonist must face on his journey through an alternate universe. After the kappa is defeated, the creature reveals the significance of the sword Hellboy is carrying.
Jeremy Wade of River Monsters in the episode "Cold-Blooded Horror" investigates two river creatures that inspire some of the myths in Japanese folklore, among those is the kappa. Through his discovery the inspiration leads to the Japanese Giant Salamander is what inspired the kappa legend.
In Infinity Train: Book Three - Cult of the Conductor, Hazel is a optimistic young girl revealed to an artificial human/turtle hybrid, one of Amelia's failed attempts to recreate her deceased fiancé Alrick Timmens who is also based on a kappa.
The video game series Animal Crossing features a kappa by the name of "Kapp'n" (カッペイ Kappei), who serves roles of transport across the series. In Animal Crossing for the Nintendo Gamecube, Kapp'n transports the player to Animal Island if a Game Boy Advance is connected to the system. In Wild World, Kapp'n is a taxi driver who transports the player to the town they move to at the start of the game, asking the player's name and the name of the town. This role is seen again in City Folk but with Kapp'n as a bus driver. In New Leaf, Kapp'n transports players on his boat to Tortimer's Island, and also introduces the rest of his family, wife Leilani (クーコ Kūko), daughter Leila (クク Kuku), and mother Grams (ゲコ Geko). In New Horizons, Kapp'n again transports players in his boat, but takes them to special "mystery islands". Kapp'n is also known to sing sea shanties while transporting the player, usually about life or his love of cucumbers.
The Kappa is also found as a yokai in Yo-kai Watch.
In Final Fantasy VI, the "imp" status transforms a character into a kappa, as noted by its distinctive sara-crown and duck's bill. Note also that the tutorial demonstrating how to use "Gau's Rage" skill is given by an imp named "Kappa". It's likely this is not the character's name, but instead, a descriptor of what it is (an anonymous kappa), and the translator either left it as is or did not catch the reference.
The Monster Hunter franchise introduced the monster Tetranadon in the game Monster Hunter: Rise. It has a crest on its head similar to that of the sara and has a move-set designed to fight the player similar to sumo.
In the video game Yakuza: Like a Dragon, one of the Part-Time Hero quests, "Kappture the Kappa", involves photographing various statues of kappa around Isezaki Ijincho. In the following game Lost Judgment, the protagonist is tasked with locating several missing kappa statues around the same city.
In the Google Doodle browser game, Doodle Champion Island Games, one of the team mascots is a version of kappa. The kappa also appear all throughout the island.
In the video game NioH, the kappa is a yokai that drops several items when slain, but will often flee at first sight and lure the player towards larger yokai.
In the video game Open Sorcery: Sea++, one can encounter a kappa guarding a shrine, who will only let the player enter if they pay proper respects to the shrine.
In the video game Monster Prom, the character Leonard Kovacs is described to be a kappa.
In the video game Ghost of Tsushima, the protagonist Jin Sakai encounters a distraught woman named Shino who claims her father was abducted by a kappa. In its Director's Cut expansion Iki Island, an abandoned camp with a severed leg can be found. What appears to be clawed footprints can be seen walking into the water close by, suggesting it was a kappa attack.
In the Game Boy Advance game, Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town there is a kappa residing in the lake that can only be summoned using cucumbers. Harvest Moon: More Friends of Mineral Town also features the kappa whom the player can marry.
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