In ancient Japanese folklore, the Kappa are water demons that inhabit rivers and lakes and devour disobedient little children.
The Kappa are one of many Japanese water deities. The name, meaning “river child,” is a combination of the words kawa (river) and wappa, a variant form of warawa (child).
Since ancient times, Kappa have been used to warn children of the dangers of lurking in and around rivers and lakes, as kappa have been often said to try to lure people into water to drown them.
The Kappa is usually depicted as having the body of a tortoise, a beak, and the limbs of a frog, and has a hollow filled with water on top of his head (sara). While they are primarily water creatures, they are believed to occasionally venture onto land. Although their appearance varies from region to region, the most consistent features are a beak, a shell, and a sara, which is regarded as the source of the kappa's power. According to legend, the cavity must be kept wet when the Kappa ventures out of the water, or he will lose his powers.
Kappa are usually seen as mischievous or trickster figures. They like to play pranks on people, from the relatively innocent, such as spying on bathing women, to the malevolent, such as drowning people and animals, kidnapping children, raping women and eating human flesh. They are also said to victimize animals. The motif of the kappa trying to drown a horse is common to all Japan.
Many stories, say that if a kappa is caught in the act of harming an animal, particularly a horse, it can be made to apologize, sometimes in writing. Some of these written apologies are considered by many as tangible evidence of the existence of these creatures.
However, the Kappa species is not entirely hostile to human, for they are curious about human customs, and they can understand and speak Japanese. They may even befriend human beings in exchange for gifts or offerings of eggplant, buckwheat noodles), fermented soybeans), or winter squash), but especially cucumbers, the only food kappa are known to enjoy more than human children.
The Kappa is one of the most well-known folk legends in Japan and many believe the mythical creature to be true. In fact, there are signs near some lakes in Japan warning people of their presence. However, others maintain it is much more likely that the legend of the Kappa is connected with sightings of the Japanese Giant Salamander, or ‘hanzaki’, which is known to be aggressive and to grab its prey with its powerful jaws.
-Davis, F. Hadland. 1992. Myths and Legends of Japan. Dover Publications. p. 350. ISBN 0-486-27045-9.
-Mack, Dinah. 1998. A Field Guide to Demons, Fairies, Fallen Angels and Other Subversive Spirits. Carol K. Mack and Dinah Mack. p. 17. ISBN 1-55970-447-0