Kappa: The Frenemy Creature of Japan

Photo: Photo by kimubert on Flickr

Kappa: The Frenemy Creature of Japan

Sanny Soedjatmiko Hartanto

The Kappa is a mythological creature from Japan created to terrify the kids but nowadays is a well-known and loved character in all kinds of Japanese media, literature, and pop culture. Kappa were legendary creatures from Japan. They were always known as water creatures in folklore. Amphibious creatures similar to frogs or turtles; sometimes they are called Gataro (川太郎) or Kawako (川子) which means river child. Some people study them in cryptozoology since throughout Japanese history thousands of people have claimed to have seen one themselves. Sometimes seen as dangerous and friendly, friend and foe, holy or unholy; Shintoism believed that they were suijin or water gods. These days, Kappa are one of the most well-known Japanese folklore creatures with a popular following and many icons across the country dedicated to it.

Fæ on Wikimedia Commons

A Kappa's appearance is usually the same throughout the country. The torso of a small child, a head shaped like a lily pad, skinny arms and legs, webbed hands and feet, scaly skin, a beak, and a carapace on it's back and stomach. They can swim and while they spend most of their time in the water, when they come out, they often play tricks on people or even drown them.

Tobosha on Wikimedia Commons

Their favorite food is cucumbers. In fact, in the Edo period, people believed that, to protect their family from Kappa coming from bodies of water, people would write their names on cucumbers and send them into the lakes or ponds.

Photo by Andrew Malone on Flickr.

A Kappa's most distinctive property was it's concave part on it's head like a bowl which could reserve or store water. This was believed to be their power source. When this concave was filled, they could venture far from the watery area. However when any spilled out from their head, it could paralyze them. Thus, if a human were to battle with them, greet them first by bowing your body down. They will do the same making the water spill from the top of their heads. Kappa are actually not that difficult to defeat, eh?

Despite most legends telling of the Kappa being a demon creature by sucking or eating human organs, there are some stories about them being the good guys too. It was said they taught people how to cure broken bones. They also helped farmers irrigate their land. When they were caught and asked to promise that they would never disturb the people, they would keep their promise. They even do sports and are said to love sumo wrestling. Good or bad, the Japanese certainly loved telling about these creatures which is why there exists so much art and stories about them today.

Photo by Ozizo on Wikimedia Commons.

If you come to Japan and find one of these strange-looking turtle/duck creatures as a statue, in children's books, or on TV, remember you are looking at an updated version of the Kappa creature. It holds a place in Japanese hearts and minds as one of it's oldest and favorite creatures.

Warning: we do not recommend searching for Kappa in water nearby your dwelling.