Kappa

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Reading “Sanpei no Kappa”, a manga from Shigeru Mizuki I discovered a new Japanese legendary creature. The main character in this manga has a very good friend that is not human, he is a kappa that lives in a lake. I asked some Japanese friends and it happens to be a full mythology around kappas is not only in Shigeru Mizuki’s manga. Kappas are very popular in Japanese anime, tales and traditional literature. In the old times they were monstrous creatures but lately there is a tendency to make them more friendly.

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This is a Kappa drawn in s.XIX . Image from Wikipedia.

Kappas (河童) are mythological creatures, and as Japanese folklore says they live in lakes, rivers and humid areas. It seems that there are some “evidences” that similar creatures could have been seen sometime and scientifically registered,

Kappas are represented as little humanoids with a frog-turtle-like extremities and face. Many times its drawn with a turtle caparison in its back. They use their extremities as fins so they can swim very fast.

But, the most interesting thing about kappas is that they have a cavity at the top of their heads that is full of water. The legend stated that kappas are very powerful, and all their energy comes from the water they have in their heads. If they stay outside the water for a long time it could happen that the water evaporates or whatever and then loose their power or even die.

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Look at the water that is in the top of their heads.

Kappas are usually bad characters in traditional Japanese tales. There are also funny things about them, it seems they can expel big farts, they like to hide and look women while they are changing clothes or bathing (Kappa-voyeurism), they like to steal vegetables from Japanese farmers and the worst is that they kidnap children and women. One of their favorite food is children, a tasty dish that they can’t resist. Some other interpretations say that kappas absorb energy from their victims sucking their blood, and then eating their liver and organs. If you want to scare kappas, so they don’t come near your home or vegetable garden, you need to use fire; in many little Japanese villages they still use fireworks in some festivals in order to frighten bad spirits/creatures, kappas included among them.


Sanpei using his farting powers to beat the 100m swimming world record (Took the photo from Sanpei no Kappa) a manga that I really recommend but I ignore if it’s translated to English)

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Ukiyo-e where you can see Kappas fighting.

But they also have a good side. Kappas are very curious, and they like to spy on humans. They understand and can talk Japanese, they can even have some relations with humans if they get benefits in exchange. For example, they usually do favors for humans receiving cucumbers as payment. For kappas, cucumbers is the only food that is more delicious than children. In the old times, Japanese families threw cucumber to the lakes near their homes so kappas won’t come to their homes and take their kids. Nowadays, their is a type of sushi called kappamaki (kappa roll), that is just rice with a piece of cucumber in the middle.

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Kappa-maki are rolls of rice with cucumber. The name come from the belief that the favorite kappa’s food is cucumber.

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A friendly kappa enjoying cucumbers.

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Kappa with a cucumber

Kappas were sometimes good and some of them became even friends with humans. They helped them with their rice fields work or teach them medicine tricks. The legend says that they new lots of techniques that allowed them to relief backache. Their are even some temples that are dedicated to kappas, so they would help the villagers with their health.

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Kappa statue.

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This a “real” kappa in a pseudoscience Japanese magazine.

There are many theories about the origins of kappas. One possibility is that the myth appeared because of the old Japanese tradition that consisted in introducing fetus that were born dead in miniature boats and throw them to rivers. About the name, it seems that it comes from the Spanish/Portuguese word “capa” that means “cape, cloak or caparison”. As we said before Kappas usually wear a caparison to cover their backs.

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Sanpei no kappa, the anime.

The monster at the film Ring is inspired by the Kappa legend. In many games there are kappas. For example in Final Fantasy VI, Guild Wars or even at Super Marios where “Koopas” are very similar to kappas, even the name is similar! If you remember Super Mario World, in the first island of the game there is a mountain called “kappa” that has a lake on the top that remembers a lot a kappa’s head.

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It seems a kappa’s head. It’s the kappa mountain at Super Mario World.

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Super Mario Koopas are based on Kappas.

More about Kappas in popular culture at Wikipedia.

22 Comments
  • Japanese Restaurant » Kappa

    March 4, 2007 at 8:15 am

    […] Original post by kirai and powered by Img Fly   […]

  • verdoso

    March 5, 2007 at 1:38 am

    Solo un comentario sobre algo que me ha chocado: “rapting” no existe en inglés, supongo que te refieres a “kidnapping”.

    Un saludo.

  • kirai

    March 5, 2007 at 5:01 am

    thx, changed it.

    It seems that rapt, has also a meaning but is totally different.

    adj.

    1. (enraptured) embelesado, extasiado
    2. (engrossed) ensimismado, absorto
    she was rapt in thought estaba absorta en sus pensamientos

  • Me

    March 9, 2007 at 11:03 pm

    Interesting about kappa,
    and know the relation in japanese culture.

    cya!

  • sines

    March 10, 2007 at 9:47 am

    Hi kirai!

    It’s very interesting what you say about kappa, specially the part that is related to Super Mario World…I love this game, although is not as good as Super Mario Bross 3, of course…

    Congratulations on your english version, it’s the first time I enter here (I’m a big fan of your spanish blog)

    I take the advantage of that opportunity to say you that I’m going to visit Japan in two weeks and your texts, throughhave been very usefull for preparing my trip. For all those efforts: domo arigato

    Anonimous and faithfull reader.

  • kirai

    April 8, 2007 at 11:32 pm

    yes, I really like also to discover that Kappa stuff was hidden in Super Mario World :-)

    take care.

  • R

    May 28, 2007 at 1:56 pm

    Although I have never been to japan in body I have been there in the soul . Enjoy with a full heart and a calm mind , there will be a place you have never seen
    and it will fill your heart with joy and much sadness in some places always be alert to your surroundings.

    thia world has many rare wonders

  • Jodin

    June 20, 2007 at 7:26 pm

    eeeyo, i heard that the kappa tried 2 kill some kind of deomond fox bak @ the ol jap dayz
    and kappas look like ninja trurtles but needs hair like the 1 in the cartoon in ur site,nd needs 2 hav froggy feet
    amazing huh….

  • Grant

    June 29, 2007 at 7:53 pm

    If you watch the third ninja turtles movie from the early 90’s, the turtles go back in time to feudal japan and are mistaken for and referred to as “kappas”.

  • Barton

    July 6, 2007 at 7:04 pm

    Once when I was in Japan and I was walking by the river I got seduced by Kappa…It was like magic, the best time ever…When I saw kappa eyes I could not look away and then the air got mooving out of me into Kappa’s mouth and nose and next thing I know I felt doble-jointed and feeling all flexible like a Kappa myself…
    When I returned from Japan I had an abortion immedietly, and the doctors said it was very starnge and unusual, not like any other abortion the’ve done…
    Another thing, ever since then when-ever the air comes out of my private parts I feel strong smell of a old pond or a river, the type where Kappas live!!!
    It’s true my friends, it’s true!!!!!

  • Barton

    July 6, 2007 at 7:06 pm

    Here’s proof if you don’t believe!!!

  • Barton

    July 6, 2007 at 7:07 pm
  • […] Shigeru Mizuki is one of the most famous and important mangakas ever, but it seems he is totally unknown outside Japan. I love the manga called Kappa no Sanpei from Shigeru, but his most well-known masterpiece is Ge Ge Ge no Kitaro. […]

  • Daibhaidh

    December 16, 2007 at 12:54 am

    I had heard that the stereotypical kappa haircut was influenced by some of the original foreign monks to visit Japan- they’ve that little fringe, and the bald spot on top.
    …If you can get a kappa to bow, they become non-threatening (because they’ve dumped out the water).

    My favorite mythological folk are still the tengu. -Even went looking for them once on Mt. Hiei- only found a bunch of crows, gave them my lunch.

  • […] The sign in the pictures it’s indicating the entrance to an onsen. I like the two happy kappa they used to promote the place. […]

  • qmwjjttqel

    April 26, 2008 at 2:06 pm

    Wow, cool man, big thanks! http://uurpaeadorjfm.com

  • Alexis

    May 11, 2009 at 12:12 pm

    Some one can say me where i can read the manga or the anime?

  • johnp

    October 15, 2009 at 12:32 am

    There is a little town, Tanushimaru, which is interesting in that there are lots of Kappa statues there. At either end of the bridge which leads into the town, at the temple, and a few other places. There is a public hall which has been built with one corner cut a bit short so that a Kappa statue can stand on that corner of the foundations. I went there about 18 years ago. I doubt that it’s changed very much.

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  • gijs

    June 8, 2010 at 4:15 am

    i read something about kappas. i saw a anime called summerdays with coo. a fantastic anime where a kappa lives between people

  • Detrin

    May 7, 2011 at 9:23 am

    Hey Kiranet, got anymore footage on real kappa or tengu?