Kappa (河童 / かっぱ)

Kappa (河童 / かっぱ)

Translation: river child

Habitat: rivers, lakes, ponds, waterways, cisterns, wells; found throughout Japan

Diet: omnivorous; prefers cucumbers and human entrails

Distinctive Features: Beak-like mouth; Tortoise-like shell on back; Frog-like, removable skin; Water-filled depression on top of head; Three anuses and strong “fishy” odor”

Details: Kappa are aquatic, reptilian humanoids who inhabit the rivers and streams flowing over Japan. They are at home in the water, thriving during the warm months. Kappa are the size and shape of a human child. Kappa bodies are built for swimming; they have webbed, thumbless hands and feet, a turtle-like beak and shell, and an elastic, waterproof skin that reeks of fish and is said to be removable.

Other inhuman traits include three anuses that allow them to pass three times as much gas as humans, and forearms attached to one another inside of their shells—pulling on one arm lengthens it while the other arm contracts. Their most distinguishing characteristic is a dish-like depression that lies on top of their skulls. This dish is the source of a kappa’s power and must be kept filled with water at all times. Should the water be spilled and the dish dry up, the kappa will be unable to move. It may even die.

While younger kappa are frequently found in family groups, adult kappa live solitary lives. It is common for kappa to befriend other yōkai and sometimes even people. Possessed of a keen intelligence, kappa are one of the few yōkai able to learn human languages. They are highly knowledgeable about medicine and the art of setting bones. According to legend, friendly kappa taught these skills to humans. For fun, they love causing mischief, practicing martial arts like sumo wrestling, and playing games of skill. Kappa are proud and stubborn, but also fiercely honorable; they never break a promise. Kappa will eat almost anything, but they are particularly fond of two foods: cucumbers and raw innards—particularly human anuses.

Kappa are revered in Shinto as a kind of water god. It is not uncommon to see offerings of cucumbers made at riverbanks by humans. In return, kappa help people by irrigating fields, befriending lonely children, or competing with adults in sports and games.

Kappa can also be crass and dangerous. Lakes and rivers where they live are often marked with warning signs. Kappa particularly despise cows and horses, and will attack the animals for no reason. A kappa’s preferred method of attack is to drown its victims, or bite them to death under water. Kappa also devour humans alive. Usually they go for the rear end to get at the shirikodama, a mythical ball of flesh located just inside the anus.

Kappa Cuisine: The popular sushi dish kappa maki (cucumber roll) takes its name from this yōkai.

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