Every Japanese person knows about kappa, the tricksy and sometimes dangerous, yet strangely polite, water demons from ancient folklore. But how many have actually seen one in real life?
Next month, people will have the chance to, when parts of a supposedly real kappa go on display in all their mummified glory.
The kappa, or ‘river-child’ is a demon from Japanese folklore. They are usually depicted as small and humanoid, with scaly reptilian skin and webbed hands and feet. Kappa lurk in ponds and rivers, and their behaviour ranges from mischievous pranks to more sinister actions such as attacking women and pulling people into the water to drown them. (Interesting side note: Kappamaki is the name for cucumber-filled sushi rolls, so named because kappa are said to adore cucumber.)
There are many, many tales of kappa to be heard all across Japan, and while some people say that it was simply a myth to teach children the dangers of water, or have suggested that it could have been based on the giant salamander, others still firmly believe in the creature, and in some old villages you can still find signs next to bodies of water warning of kappa.
However, no one has ever been able to prove their existence. Until now?!
Mummified kappa remains from Miyazaki prefecture in Kyuushuu will be on display for the first time at the Miyakonojo Shimazu Residence, until June 22. They were presented to the Miyakonijo Shimazu family after the kappa was supposedly shot on the riverbank in what is now the Mimata town area around the year 1818.
The foot and arm measure about 8cm and 15cm respectively, but unfortunately you can’t see the characteristic webbing between the digits.
Mummified kappa parts frequently pop up across Japan, but they’ve usually been exposed as being made by patching together bits of other animals bones, in the same way as the infamous Fiji mermaid. But there has been no expert opinion on these latest remnants, and apparently no plans to get an inspection. Make of that what you will.
▼ I mean, sure, they look the part, but one mummified animal arm probably looks very much like another.
▼ This traditional woodblock painting suggests that farting in its face is one way to get rid of a pesky kappa.