Friday, November 30, 2012

Beware of the Kappa

Here we go again - another folklore venture into scary water creatures.  This time it's Japan and the ever frightful Kappa.  Translated as "river-child", the Kappa are quite similar to the Nakki of Finland, the Slavian Vodnik and the Scottish Kelpie - all which have been used by these cultures to keep children very wary of the dangers of water bodies.

Leave it to the Japanese to provide so much detail that the creature can seem very real indeed.  From Wikipedia"Kappa are typically depicted as roughly humanoid in form, and about the size of a child. Their scaly, reptilian skin ranges in color from green to yellow or blue. Kappa supposedly inhabit the ponds and rivers of Japan and have various features to aid them in this environment, such as webbed hands and feet. They are sometimes said to smell like fish, and they can certainly swim like them.  Although their appearance varies from region to region, the most consistent features are a carapace, a beak for a mouth, and the sara, an indentation on the top of their head that holds water which is regarded as the source of their power. This cavity must be full whenever a kappa is away from the water; if it spills, the kappa will be unable to move or even die in some legends.  Another notable feature in some stories, is that the kappa's arms are said to be connected to each other through the torso and able to slide from one side to the other. While they are primarily water creatures, they do on occasion venture on to land. When they do, the sara can be covered with a metal cap for protection."

Use the Wikipedia link provided to read the rest of their description, traits, powers, vulnerabilities, locations, alternative names, etc. You'll also find that they are not always scary and evil, but can be benevolent when approached respectfully and provided foodstuffs or other gifts.  I don't know about you, but I plan to carry cucumbers with me if I ever visit Japan - the Kappa's all-time favorite food - better even than kids!  Some Japanese are known to write the names of their children on cucumbers and toss them into the river before swimming or bathing.  The jury is still out as to whether this protects, or marks, the kids, though.

I especially liked the water references related to the Kappa.  Not only is the water in their sara so important, but the single example of their sometimes helpful nature to man is that once befriended, they'd perform tasks for humans such as helping irrigate their fields.  Yep, come to think about it, we could use some of these guys around here, too.

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