|Other names||Kawatarō, Komahiki,|
|Book(s)||Gazu Hyakki Yagyō|
Kappa (河童, Kappa), known also as Kawatarô (川太郎), Komahiki or Kawako (川子) is a yôkai from the Japanese mythology.
The name is a combination of the word "kawa" (river) and "wappa:, an inflection of "warabe" (child). There are more than eighty other names associated with the kappa in different regions, including kawappa, gawappa, kōgo, mizushi, mizuchi, enkō, kawaso, suitengu, and dangame. Along with the oni and the tengu, the kappa is among the best-known yōkai in Japan.
It has been suggested that the kappa legends are based on the Japanese giant salamander or hanzaki, an aggressive salamander that grabs its prey with its powerful jaws.
Kappa are aquatic reptilian humanoids who inhabit the rivers and streams found all over Japan. Clumsy on land, they are at home in the water, where they thrive during the warm months. Kappa are generally the size and shape of a human child, with scaly skin ranging in earthy hues from deep green to bright red, even blue. Their bodies are built for swimming, with webbed, thumbless hands and feet, and a turtle-like beak and shell. Their elastic, waterproof skin reeks of fish, and is said to be removable. They possess three anuses, allowing them to pass three times as much gas as a human. Kappa forearms are attached to one another inside of their shells, and pulling on one arm will cause it to lengthen while the other one contracts. They are excellent swimmers, and despite their small size they are physically stronger than a grown man. A dish-like depression lies on top of their skulls. This dish is the source of a kappa’s power and must be kept wet at all times; should the water be spilled and the dish dry up, the kappa will be unable to move and may even die. They are sometimes said to smell like fish and they can swim like them. The expression kappa no kawa nagare ("a kappa drowning in a river") conveys the idea that even experts make mistakes. In fact, in some versions of the legends, kappa spend spring and summer in the water, and the rest of the year in the mountains as Yama-no-Kami (山の神, “mountain deities”). Although they are reported to live throughout Japan, they are often said to be particular to Saga Prefecture.
Adult kappa often live solitary lives, although it is common for them to befriend other yokai and even humans. Younger kappa are frequently found in family groups. They will eat almost anything, but they are particularly fond of raw innards –particularly human anuses – and cucumbers. They love mischief, martial arts like sumo wrestling, and games of skill like shogi. Kappa are proud and stubborn, but also fiercely honorable; they never break any promises that they make.
Kappa are usually seen as mischievous troublemakers or trickster figures. Their pranks range from the relatively innocent, such as loudly passing gas or looking up women's kimonos, to the malevolent, such as drowning people and animals, kidnapping children, and raping women.
Kappa are revered in Shinto as a kind of suijin (water god). It is not uncommon to see offerings of cucumbers made at riverbanks by devout humans; in return, kappa are known to help people by irrigating fields, befriending lonely children, competing with adults in sports and games, and so on.
As water monsters, kappa have been frequently blamed for drowning, and are often said to try to lure people to the 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, a mythical ball said to contain their soul which is located inside the anus. 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 horses is found all over Japan. In these stories, if a kappa is caught in the act, it can be made to apologize, sometimes in writing. This usually takes place in the stable where the kappa attempted to attack the horse, which is considered the place where the kappa is most vulnerable.
Kappa are also known for raping women. An 18th-century ukiyo-e image by Utamaro depicts a kappa raping an ama diver underwater. 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.
It was believed that if confronted with a kappa there were a few means of escape: Kappa, for one reason or another, obsess over being polite, so if a person were to gesture a deep bow to a kappa it would more than likely return it. In doing so, the water kept in the lilypad-like bowl on their head would spill out and the kappa would be rendered unable to leave the bowed position until the bowl was refilled with water from the river in which it lived. If a human were to refill it, it was believed the kappa would serve them for all eternity. A similar weakness of the kappa in some tales are their arms, which can be easily pulled from their body. If their arm is detached, they will perform favors or share knowledge in exchange for its return. Once the kappa is in possession of its arm it can then be reattached. Another method of defeat involves the kappa and their known love of shogi or sumo wrestling. They will sometimes challenge those they encounter to wrestle or other various tests of skill. This tendency is easily used to encourage the kappa to spill the water from its sara. Kappa also accept challenges put to them, as in the tale of the farmer's daughter who was promised to a kappa in marriage by her father in return for the creature irrigating his land. She challenged it to submerge several gourds in water and, when it failed in its task, it retreated and she was saved from the promised marriage. Kappa have also been driven away using their aversion to variously, iron, sesame, or ginger.
Kappa are not entirely antagonistic to human beings. They are curious about human civilization, and they can understand and speak Japanese. They may even befriend human beings in exchange for gifts or offerings of nasu (茄子, Japanese eggplant), soba (そば or 蕎麦, buckwheat noodles), nattō (なっとう or 納豆, fermented soybeans), or kabocha (カボチャ, 南瓜, winter squash), but especially cucumbers, the only food kappa are known to enjoy more than human children. Japanese parents sometimes write the names of their children, or their own names, on cucumbers and toss them into waters believed to be infested with kappa in order to mollify the creatures and allow the family to bathe. 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. There is a cucumber-filled sushi roll known as kappamaki.
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. Kappa possess keen intelligence and they are one of the few yokai able to learn human languages. They are also highly knowledgeable about medicine, and legend states that they taught the art of bone setting to human beings. Due to these benevolent aspects, some shrines are dedicated to the worship of particularly helpful kappa. 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 traveled from the rivers to the mountains and vice versa.
Kappa may also be tricked into helping people. Their deep sense of decorum prevents them from breaking an oath, for example.
Kappa come out in many manga, anime, movies and even in books, since it is one of the most known Japanese yôkai.
- A kappa is the main character in the animated movie Kappa no kû to natsuyasumi directed by Keiichi Hara
- Oji Karasuma from the manga School Rumble dresses up as a kappa when it rains.
- There is a book called Kappa written by Ryunosuke Akutagawa.
- Other movies that feature kappa (as a character or in the title): Onna no kappa, Death Kappa, Kappa Mikey.
The expression kappa no kawa nagare ("a kappa drowning in water") means that even experts make mistakes.
- Nitori Kawashiro from Touhou is a kappa