Kappa (folklore)

Illustrated Guide to 12 Types of Kappa.jpg
A scroll showing various illustrations of kappa.
Grouping Yokai
Other name(s) Gatarō, Kawako
Country Japan
Habitat Rivers

A kappa (河童, lit. river child), also known as kawatarō (川太郎), komahiki (駒引, lit. horse puller), or kawatora (川虎, lit. river tiger) is a yōkai demon or imp found in traditional Japanese folklore. [1] [2] [3] The name is a combination of the words kawa (river) and wappa, a variant form of 童 warawa (also warabe) "child." In Shintō they are considered to be one of many suijin (水神,“water deity”), their yorishiro, or one of their temporary appearances. [4] A hairy kappa is called a hyōsube (ひょうすべ). [5] In Japanese Buddhism they are considered to be a kind of hungry ogre. Therefore, Sha Wujing, who is a character from the Chinese story Journey to the West is described like a kappa in Japan. [6] Kappa are distinguished as having a small pool of water suspended on top of their head, signifying their life force and habitat.

There are more than eighty other names associated with the kappa in different regions, including kawappa, gawappa, kōgo, mizushi, mizuchi, enkō, kawaso, suitengu, and dangame. [3] Along with the oni and the tengu, the kappa is among the best-known yōkai in Japan. [7] [8] These various names of the creature vary by region and local folklore, while the term "kappa" remains the name most well known outside Japan.[ citation needed]

Kappa have been used to warn children of the dangers lurking in rivers and lakes, as kappa have been often said to try to lure people to water and pull them in. [6] [9]

Kappa legends are said to be based on the Japanese giant salamander or hanzaki, an aggressive salamander that grabs its prey with its powerful jaws. [10] Other theories suggest they are based on historical sightings of the now extinct Japanese river otter as seen from a distance, otters have been known to stand upright and a drunk, frightened or hallucinating person may think they are seeing a humanoid entity and not a wild animal.

The best known place where it has been claimed Kappa reside is in the Kappabuchi ( ja) waters of Tōno in the Iwate Prefecture. The nearby Jōkenji ( ja) Buddhist temple has dedicated a komainu dog statue to honor the kappa, which according to legend helped extinguish a fire at the temple. [11] The Kappa is also venerated at the Sogenji Buddhist temple in the Asakusa district of Tokyo where according to tradition, a mummified arm of a Kappa is enshrined within the chapel hall.


The kappa is typically depicted as roughly humanoid in form and about the size of a child. Its scaly reptilian skin ranges in color from green to yellow or blue. [12] [13] [14] 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. [15] They are sometimes said to smell like fish and they can swim like them. The expression kappa no kawa nagare ("a kappa drowning in a river") conveys the idea that even experts make mistakes. [16]

Although their appearance varies from region to region, the most consistent features are a beak, a shell, and a plate (sara), a flat hairless region on the top of the head that is always wet, and that is regarded as the source of the kappa's power. This cavity must be full whenever a kappa is away from the water; if it ever dries out, the kappa loses its power and may even die. [3] [12] [13]

Another notable feature in some stories is that the arms are said to be connected to each other through the torso and can slide from one side to the other. [3] While they are primarily water creatures, they do on occasion venture onto land. When they do, the plate can be covered with a metal cap for protection. [9] In some versions of the legends, kappa spend spring and summer in the water, and the rest of the year in the mountains as Yama-no-Kami (山の神, “mountain gods”). [3] Although they are reported to live throughout Japan, they are often said to be particular to Saga Prefecture. [17]

Other Languages
العربية: كابا
Esperanto: Kapao
한국어: 갓파
Bahasa Indonesia: Kappa (mitologi)
italiano: Kappa
Bahasa Melayu: Kappa
日本語: 河童
português: Kappa
Simple English: Kappa (folklore)
ไทย: คัปปะ
українська: Каппа (міфологія)
中文: 河童