The Strange Origin of the Kappa: Japanese Water Imp | Ancient Origins Members Site


The Strange Origin of the Kappa: Japanese Water Imp

The Strange Origin of the Kappa: Japanese Water Imp

Many supernatural creatures are depicted in Japanese art and literature.  Some seem realistic and might actually exist, since there have been witness sightings, while others are clearly composite creatures.  Still others might have been created by storytellers to explain seemingly inexplicable phenomena.  Such creatures include yuki-onna (snow women), who lure young men out of their beds at night and into the mountains where they freeze to death, and kitsune (foxes) which are thought to be shape shifters, often assuming the form of beautiful young women.  Even today in northern Japan, some people who are suffering from psychological issues are thought to be possessed by foxes.  Where some of these ideas originated is unknown.  And in some unique cases, there are many possible origins for a particular creature’s existence, with evidence to back up all such possibilities.  This is the case with the kappa (water imp).

The size of a small child, it has greenish skin and is sometimes artistically depicted with a turtle shell or fish scales, even though witness reports never indicate such scales or shell.  It is likely that this artistic embellishment was put into place to indicate that it is, in fact, a water-abiding creature.  It supposedly lives in lakes, ponds, and sometimes rivers, and it is generally always found in the water or next to it.  This is due to another unusual attribute that the creature has.  The kappa is described as having an indentation on the top of its head.  While this indentation is filled with water, it is much stronger than a normal human being, but if it empties, it becomes as weak as a human child and can be defeated easily. 

A Japanese bestiary drawing depicting a Kappa demon (c. 1760 – 1849).

A Japanese bestiary drawing depicting a Kappa demon (c. 1760 – 1849). Public Domain


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