Kappa and Japanese Folklore 河童
The River Child
Do you know the yokai (妖怪), supernatural creatures from Japanese folklore? Often mischievous and sometimes malicious, they take the appearance of animals and sometimes human beings or inanimate objects. It lends them special powers.
If you were to have heard of but one yokai, it would undoubtedly be the kappa (河 童)! Indeed, it is by far the most popular with the Japanese.
This amphibious creature has the following physical characteristics: a beak, webbed feet, a turtle shell and frog skin.
Kappa tend to generate a very strong smell of fish. Furthermore, on the top of its head, you will find cavity filled with water. A kappa is a quadruped, but some claim to have seen him move like you and me.
Kappa love water, so it's not surprising to find them in rivers, lakes, marshes and other wetlands.
A threatening yokai?
In truth - and contrary to what the Japanese cartoon "Summer Days with Coo" reveals - kappa are not as nice as you may think, when they feel attacked, at least. Considered the Japanese bogeyman, parents wishing to frighten their children use him shamelessly.
What does the kappa do? A very good swimmer, one of its favorite attacks is to catch its victim and drown them in the watery depths. However, don't feel too safe on land either; the kappa has proved to be a very good fighter here too. Pay careful attention to its extendable arms and extraordinary strength!
Fortunately for us, the kappa has some weaknesses.
First, dehydration. This takes away any power. Remember the water on the top of his head; if it dries out, weakness is assured for our poor yokai. To do so, when meeting with our imp, greet the Japanese way, by bowing. The kappa is always polite, and will bow back, causing it to lose its precious water. Easy.
Next, know that the creature has an aversion to iron, deer antlers, and monkeys. Think about getting a hold of one of these before a stroll along the river, it's safer.
Finally, it is useful to know that a kappa must leave the water, and literally remove its skin (called amagawa) to sleep. It becomes completely harmless and cannot return to the water without its skin.
With all this information, you are now well armed against a possible encounter with a kappa during your stay in Japan!