For kids who love animals by a kid who loves animals
One of the creatures that fascinated me the most as a cryptid and mythology obsessed child was the Japanese Kappa. In Japan, the entire class of folkloric and supernatural creatures, including ghosts, passed down through ghoulish and often peculiar tales, are referred to as yokai— composed of the related kanji for demon, fairy, monster and apparition. The terms Ayakashi, Mononoke, and Mamono were also used interchangeably with the term yokai.
Alongside a pantheon of unique mythical creatures such as the Oni (the Red Demon), the Yurei (a kimono donning specter of a beautiful, long-haired ghostly woman), and the Akaname (a demon on all fours which feeds on dirty bathrooms), this balding and grass-skirt wearing amphibian seems more likely to be a chill friend in comparison. But don’t be fooled by their gnarly appearance, this is no Crush or Squirt from Finding Nemo!
Today the Kappa are typically described as green, scaly and tiny humanoid beings who dwell near lakes, ponds, rivers, and other aquatic areas who drag swimmers, often small children, into the water to drown them and eat them! Not cool, bro….The mythology of the Kappa seems to be particularly directed at children, warning them to stay away from the water, especially when unsupervised. This spooky being seems like a clever way to warn your young kids about the very real dangers of playing near deep and dark waters to avoid them drowning, although I don’t quite think I’ll be using it when I have kids one day.
Interestingly enough, earlier records of the Kappa from the 15th to 18th centuries describe them as mammalian–described as monkey-like in a Japanese-Portugese dictionary written by Jesuit missionaries in 1603. But, as we near our present-day, the Kappa is solidified in the image of half turtle or frog and half human child. So what is this creepy little dude all about? Let’s see!
The small and shy Japanese Pond Turtle, the silly-faced Chinese Softshell Turtle, and the saltwater Green Sea Turtle all seem likely to be models for the Kappa. The Kappa is also known to be appeased by a tribute of a cucumbers–a known tantalizing snack of the turtle.
But the most likely candidate of inspiration for the Kappa in my opinion is the Common Snapping Turtle or the Alligator Snapping Turtle, a foreign species introduced to Japan from the United States in the 1960s. These surprisingly fierce turtles have an average recorded bite force of 209 newtons of force and 158 newtons of force respectively. To compare, the average bite force of a dog is 256 newtons, and the beaks of these turtles have enough power to snap a wooden broomstick in half, let alone human finger! Combine that with a pretty mean little face and long claws to pierce flesh, I’ll probably have nightmares about these little “Kappa” tonight.
According to the Kappa legend, these sinister little amphibians can only be defeated by the Golden Samurai! Just kidding, although that would be pretty cool. To defeat (or atleast avoid being gobbled up by) the Kappa, you must BOW to it. Turns out, that despite, y’know, eating little children, the Kappa still follows Japanese traditional customs and must bow back to you. How courteous! When it bows, the water in the bowl-shaped head of the Kappa will pour out, rendering it weak and powerless. Weirdly enough, the Kappa is also known for loving…..butts. You heard me right. These creeps are very interested in touching people’s butts, to the point that they’re rumored to hide in toilets for the express purpose of butt-stroking. Huh. The more you know, I guess.
Despite their incredibly gloomy origins, the Kappa appear to have been warmly welcomed as cute and cartoony buddies. Sanrio, an incredibly popular Japanese entertainment company, has even produced several Kappa-related pieces of paraphernalia. What a turnaround! Goes to show you that anyone can change….I think?