Kappa: It's All 日本語 To Me

by Amanda Griggs

When you see the word kappa, what comes to mind? Frat boys or sorority girls? Kappa IS the lOth letter of the Greek alphabet and a popular name option among college panhellenic groups, however in Japan the word has an entirely different meaning.
Kappa are mythological water imps, mischievous in nature and portrayed as being green or yellow, with a scaly, tortoise-like body and webbed hands and feet. They are typically the size of a child but are deceivingly strong and known to attack livestock and humans (particularly children, their prey of choice). The crown of a kappa’s head is concave and holds its life force, water from its home. Kappa are strictly freshwater beings and are often blamed for drownings. At one point in time were referred to as "anus vampires" as many victims were found with distended rectums. It was believed that after drowning their prey, kappa sucked their entrails or life force out via the anus. The kappa has a voracious appetite for the blood of human children, second only to their appetite for cucumbers. Kappas’ love for the vegetable and its usage by river goers to appease the sprites (and enable a safe bathing experience) led to the creation of a cucumber-filled sushi roll called kappamaki.

Despite their gruesome qualities, kappa are extremely intelligent and have a strong sense of decorum. If attacked by one, the only sure way to escape is by bowing deeply to them—in Japan, bowing deeply to someone is a sign of great respect. The kappa will return the bow, spilling the water from their head and rendering them immobile. By refilling the cavity on its head with water from its home, the kappa will become obliged to you for eternity. Once captured, they are very loyal, helpful and will always keep their promises. Benevolent kappa were even believed to have taught bone-setting to their human captors. A fine example of their loyalty can be seen in the cheesy 2010 Japanese film "Death Kappa", in which a kappa (indebted to a young pop star and her grandmother) is exposed to radiation and battles another monster to protect his benefactresses. Spoiler alert: the world is saved and further crisis is averted, mostly thanks to Death Kappa. See? They aren't all bad.

These days kappa aren’t really considered a threat unless you’re racing a Koopa Troopa in Mario Kart or battling a Pokemon trainer with a Golduck in their party, but if you’re planning on going to Japan it sure couldn’t hurt to walk softly and carry a big cucumber.

For more information on the elusive kappa, check out wikipedia, pantheon.org or onmarkproductions.com's deity dictionary.

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