Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Mythic Animals: Reptile: Kappa of Japan

In Japan, signs can be found posted at various ponds to inform people to “Beware of the Kappa.” These turtle-like amphibians often lurk at the bottom of rivers and lakes waiting for an unwary person. Since their favorite food is the entrails of children, a Kappa would reach up inside the child’s body and pull the organs out. Besides killing people, Kappas would pass gas, look up women’s kimonos, and rape women. People had to be on guard for a sneak attack by a Kappa.


Besides entrails, Kappas also feast on cucumbers. A prepared person can prevent an attack by offering cucumbers to the beast. Another way to stave off an attack is to be very polite to the Kappa. Because Kappas prize decorum and politeness, the beast would bow when the person bowed. (In order to walk on land, a Kappa has a bowl of water on its head.) When the beast bowed, the life-giving water would flow out.


Once the Kappa is incapacitated, a person could have the beast sign a legal contract. In return for water, a Kappa would agree to help the family, such as doing farm work, setting broken bones, or teaching medicine. Because the Japanese considered Kappas to be trustworthy, they used legal documents to keep the beasts in line whenever possible. Although Kappas are dangerous, the Japanese exploited their weaknesses to their benefit.


Works Used:

Chamberlain, Basil, “Japanese Things,” Charles Tuttle, Tokyo 1905 (reprint 1971).

Schumacher, Mark, “KAPPA = River Imp, Water Sprite,” Japanese Buddhist Corner,, 2010,, .

Zell-Ravenheart, Oberon and Ash DeKirk, “A Wizard’s Bestiary,” New Page Press, Franklin Lakes, NJ, 2007.

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