Mythical Monday: Meet the Kappa, a Japanese Water Imp by Mae Clair


Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Are you fond of cucumbers? If not, you might want to reconsider should you stray into the territory of a Kappa. A Japanese water imp, the Kappa makes its home in rivers and ponds, using webbed hands and feet to move through its murky habitat. No taller than a ten-year old, the Kappa has a tortoise-type shell on its back, ape-like features, and a beak like a bird.

Hold that image and add another distinguishing characteristic: The Kappa’s head is crowned by a bowl-like depression for storing water. This is the Kappa’s source of strength. Some believe the water contained in the bowl empowers the creature to roam freely on land. Without the water, it is confined to its river home.

To escape a Kappa, bow to it. Although these creatures have a nasty streak, they possess a refined sense of etiquette, and will always bow politely in return.

Oops, there goes the water! It makes you wonder a bit about their intelligence. For that matter, bow repeatedly and the Kappa will return the courtesy, empting its bowl even though the loss of water renders it powerless and forces it from land.

Children are taught to bow from a young age, for they comprise the Kappa’s favorite meal. Despite their displays of etiquette, these guys are far from genteel. They’ve been known to kidnap, destroy crops, rape and pillage. The only meal they enjoy more than children is munching on a cucumber. Remember I said a ‘cuke would come in handy?

Apparently the cucumber is equivalent to culinary nirvana for a Kappa. For this reason, Japanese parents would carve the names of their children on cucumbers and toss them into a river where the family bathed, hoping the vile creatures would leave them alone.bigstock-Bog-And-Dry-Tree-5469338

That’s not to say the Kappa wasn’t without redeeming qualities. Some clever individuals were able to dupe them into performing various tasks — farm irrigation, household chores, even sharing their considerable medical expertise. Kappas are highly knowledgeable of medicine, and according to legend, taught men how to set bones. If tricked into swearing an oath, the Kappa’s stringent sense of correctness will hold it bound to the promise, and the human.

So the next time you go swimming in a murky pond or river, have a cucumber handy. At the very least, practice your bowing on the shore! 🙂