Well hello there my fellow scare-seekers! I trust you’ve all had a fright-filled week!
As we head into the weekend, it’s time for me to begin my search for the creepiest creatures Japan has to offer. So, without further ado, join me as I grab my trusty lamp and shine a light on the most well-known Yokai of them all; the mighty KAPPA!
I first fell in love with Kappa when I encountered Mizuki Shigeru’s manga masterpiece, ‘Kappa no Sanpei’. In Mizuki’s manga, the main protagonist, Sanpei, befriends a Kappa after being mistakenly abducted by one whilst floating on his raft. After much surprise on both sides, the two quickly forge an inseparable friendship as Sanpei takes the Kappa under his wing, and teaches him about the human world. Not only is the story heartwarming, but the innocent antics the Kappa gets up to in its quest to assimilate itself into human society really resonates with me as an immigrant in a country that at times also feels like a totally different world.
Kappa (which literally means ‘river child’ in english) are mythical river-dwelling amphibious creatures that are usually the same size as a human child, and are characterized by their typically green skin colour, turtle shell like carapace, fishy odor, webbed hands and feet, beaked mouth, and a bowl-shaped depression on top of their head containing water that is said to be the source of their power. Pretty freaky wouldn’t you say?
Though often depicted in popular culture as being cute, amiable creatures who often lend their assistance to humans, Kappa are also known for having a vicious streak (I’ll get to that in a bit). Polite, yet mischievous by nature, Kappa have three loves which they simply cannot live without; cucumbers, sumo wrestling and a penchant for extracting shirikodama. Their fascination with the latter, being the cause of their blame for drownings up and down the country throughout the years. Shirikodama you see, is said to be a mythical ball of energy located within the anus of human beings. Yep, you read that right. Hapless river paddling folk who have their shirikodama removed by a Kappa are said to instantly lose their energy and drown as a consequence, making the cuddly Kappa, not as friendly as they’re often portrayed!
So, where you can find them? Well, if you’re super lucky, you might spot one along any of Japan’s riverbanks or marsh areas but, if you wanna get real up close and personal, I know just the place!
Situated in Kappabashi, Tokyo, the famous Sōgen-ji Kappa-dera temple not only stands in an area of the city once said to be plagued by the creatures, but it’s also home to a “real” mummified Kappa arm! I could barely contain my excitement when I saw the arm, they’re real I tell ya, REAL!! I definitely recommend visiting the temple if you’re interested in creepy Japanese folklore like myself – just be sure to take an offering of some cucumbers lest you find yourself unable to sit down again! 😉
Evidently I’m not the only one enamored by Kappa either. Over the past century, the lovable green water imps have wriggled their way into Japanese culture from manga titles such as ‘Mizu no tomodachi Kappa-man’ by Masaya Tokuhiro, and ‘How to raise a Kappa’ by Yūgo Ishikawa to multi-award winning animated movies such as 2007’s ‘Summer Days with Coo’. They’ve become the center of adoration among many festivals nationwide and even have a type of sushi called Kappamaki (cucumber rolled in vinegared rice) named after them. Kappa have become so well known in fact, even Hollywood gave them a nod of recognition when they sent a certain four Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles back in time to Japan and got mistaken for them! Whichever way you view Kappa, they are very much here to stay and I for one, couldn’t be happier.
For those of you wanting to whet your pallet (or the top of your head) with more Kappa goodness, be sure to check out the amazing SILENT MANGA AUDITION®
Grand Prix runner-up entry ‘Kappa from Kumamoto’ by Nao & Navinkin! Pretty sweet wouldn’t you say? Now, with my cucumbers offered and my shirikodama intact, I wish you all a great weekend as I head off in search of my next Yokai. Just remember, next time you take a stroll along the river, don’t get too close to the water’s edge, unless you’re wearing ironclad pants of course!