Folktale Friday: How to Defeat a Kappa

Standing at about 4 feet tall and looking like a cross between a turtle, a monkey and a hideous child, the Japanese kappa is a cunning amphibian trickster.

Fond of hanging out by rivers and ponds and luring small children to a watery doom, the kappa, or water imp, has undergone a bit of an image makeover in recent years looking decidedly more kawaii, or cute, now –

than it has in the past –



“How do I know if I’m looking at a kappa or a freakishly-ugly ten year old?”

A kappa will have a turtle-like shell and a concave curve on the top of its head. This dish-like defect will be filled with water, which is the source of the kappa’s strength. Without its head-hydration the creature is largely powerless.

What is the threat level of a Kappa?

If you’re a child near a pond or river: high.

If you’re an adult who prefers their bottom to be unmolested whilst you wander along the banks of a Japanese stream: also high. According to the folktales of the Edo period, the kappa is obsessed with obtaining the magical ball inside your bum.

What, you didn’t know you had one of those?

Well, according to Japanese folk-lore, you do and the kappa wants it, but it’s not going to get it’s hands dirty to get it. No, it’s going to straight-up suck that magic orb from your anus. Which is a sentence I never imagined myself writing when I started this blog.

“This blog is going to be as classy AF.”
Photo by Vlada Karpovich on

“How do I defeat a kappa?”


Given what I’ve just told you that may sound risky, but being Japanese the kappa is shackled by the social customs of its nation and, if bowed to, must bow in return. In doing so, the water in its head-bowl will pour out, leaving it powerless.

Another option is to throw a cucumber at it. Seriously, they love those things. Perhaps it’s something to do with the cucumber having the highest water content of any food. Even mythological creatures need to stay hydrated, I guess.

If all else fails, kick it in the face. It’s only 4 feet tall after all.

Photo by Snapwire on

What’s the kappa origin story?

Researchers believe that the myth of the kappa was probably invented as a way of teaching children about the dangers of venturing too close to open water without an adult …or a cucumber.

Don’t leave home without it.
Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

Furthermore, historical “sightings” of the kappa may have actually been rare glimpses of the elusive giant Japanese salamander, like the one being manhandled here by angler and fish-torian Jeremy Wade:

So, what have we learnt?

If you meet a Kappa, remember your manners, observe the cultural rules of the country you’re in and, for goodness sake, don’t turn your back on it.



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