Our creature today goes by many names, and has equally as many aspects describing it. A creature of strange design and often terrifying behaviors, a Kappa (河童 , river-child), also known as kawatarō (川太郎 , “river-boy”), komahiki (駒引 , horse-puller), kawatora (川虎 , river-tiger) or suiko (水虎 , water-tiger) are strange humanoid demons that reside in or near water.
Most commonly found at ponds or rivers, the Kappa is a humanoid being, being greenish, blue, and sometimes yellow, mimicking the appearance and qualities of a turtle. They have shells on their backs, and hard beaked mouths, just like a turtle, and stand no taller than a child. One of the strangest features of the Kappa is also it’s greatest weakness. Their head is hollow, like a bowl, and they carry water in this bowl shaped recess in their skull. If this water is ever spilled, dried, or removed, they will slowly lose their power and strength and die.
They are known to be good, evil, or generally just mischievous, ranging from harmless pranks like splashing children and rich nobles, to looking up women’s kimono, to the outright deadly and nasty acts, such as drowning people, eating them or raping women. Not every Kappa is entirely evil though. Stories exist of Kappa that help humans and understand human politics. One such story commits to a Kappa even signing a law in a village that it would not kill and eat their livestock. Just like people, not every Kappa is a genuinely evil figure.
Kappa are often allegories for drowning in lakes, rivers and ponds, are often used to warn children from playing in the water without supervision. They are said to drag livestock, like cows and horses, along with their riders into the depths to devour their blood, livers, and other organs. More strangely, they also all are after a mythical organ that supposedly resides in a humans anus, the shirikodama, which is a crystal like orb containing the human soul.
As monstrous as Kappa sound, they are demons of intelligence, and have many weaknesses. They are always polite, and will bow back to a human. This is one of the many methods used to spill the water in their head. It is said that their arms are fragile and can be pulled off. If you take a Kappa’s arms, they will try to bargain for them back. Every Kappa loves wrestling, but are superhumanly strong. This can be used to a humans advantage however. People who outsmart a Kappa and make them empty the water in their head can easily kill them, but a person who refills the water will gain the Kappa as a friendly servant until they die.
The abilities of a friendly Kappa are numerous. They have medical knowledge that humans do not contain, bordering on the belief of magic, can deliver hundreds of fish to a village, and even irrigate and water crops for farmers.
It is often believed in Shinto religion that Kappa are living avatars of the water deity Suijin. Many shrines all over Japan are dedicated to Kappa in such places as Aomori Prefecture or Miyagi Prefecture. There were also festivals meant to make the Kappa happy in order to obtain a bountiful harvest, some of which still take place in modern times.
As the most well known yōkai in Japan, Kappa can be seen all over media, and has even found it’s way into Western materials, such as OK K.O.! Let’s Be Heroes, Star Vs. The Forces Evil, Hellboy, the Pokémon games, in the forms of Golduck and Lotad, Mario and the Koopa Troopas, and even Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. They are deeply engraved in history and modern times and can literally be found everywhere!