Tracking the Mythical Kappa Creature in Japan (Part I)

Fushimi-ku is the largest section of Kyoto, famous for its artesian water and excellent sake breweries. One of the largest brewers, Kizakura Co., Ltd, adopted the fantasy kappa icon as their logo decades ago. In 1995 they opened Kizakura Kappa Country at the site of their historic brewery. Kizakura Kappa Country combines a restaurant and pub with two museums: one dedicated to brewing, the other to kappa. It was here that I first discovered kappa and began my research into these mythical creatures…

Kizakura Kappa Country

Kappa are mythical creatures that inhabit slow moving waters – mostly ponds and lakes. They are found from China to Japan. Similar to a mermaid, they are part human, but kappa have a turtle shell on their backs. Also, kappa have a saucer on their heads that must be kept full of water. Whereas kappa are normally very strong, a kappa without water in his or her saucer is a pushover. Some kappa have a duck-like mouth and webbed feet. Additionally, kappa have an unusual complement of three anuses. [I have yet to find any significance to this aspect of their anatomy.]

Kappa share another attribute with mermaids. Both creatures frighten children away from water, and so prevent drowning. To emphasize the danger of kappa, they are said to enjoy human ‘butt balls’. This ‘fact’ is meant to explain the state of a human corpse found in water – the anus becomes relaxed and therefore appears open – as if a kappa had been reaching inside to get at the ‘butt balls’. Kappa like to eat cucumbers as well. Kappa-maki is a common type of rolled sushi made of rice, cucumber and nori (the algae wrapper).  Whereas historical pictures of both kappa and mermaids depict frightening creatures, modern images of kappa are often humorous and romanticized.

Kappa AnatomyKappa anatomy chart, KKC museum

Kappa Matsuri (festivals) are held in several locations in Japan. The closest festival to Kyoto is in Kōchi, on the island of Shikoku, the first Saturday of June. We will attend this year’s festival, June 4th (at last!). Next week, I promise to deliver Kappa, Part II.

Climate Note
Two newspaper articles last week referred to the coming heat of summer and the use of plants around buildings to cool them off, particularly important this year because air conditioners in Tokyo offices will be set at 28OC (82OF) this summer. While America has suffered from a wave of severe tornadoes this year, the rainy season in Japan arrived last week, the 2nd earliest start on modern record.

Kappa MuseumKappa in the museum at Kizakura Kappa Country (KKC)

Kappa StatueKappa Statue, KKC museum

My daughters, Marina (age 4) and Ami (age 3) in the courtyard of KKC, 2007

Map of Kappa MatsuriKappa Matsuri (festivals) and map, KKC museum; location 6 on the map (in box) idetifies the kappa matsuri in the city of Kochi, Shikoku Island


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