Best places to see Yokai in Japan: Kappa in Tokyo

Japan has a plethora of supernatural entities called Yokai whose behavior ranges from friendly and helpful to humans to downright malicious. Though, I never heard of one ranking in billions of dollars and going off to be a spaceman while its factory workers work in 1984 like conditions. But they do can be deadly to humans and the subject of this week`s post, the Kappa most certainly falls into that category.

19 century guide to 12 types of Kappa
19th century guide to the types of Kappa

Kappa

The appearance of Kappa is most commonly depicted as a green humanoid with a turtle shell on its back and a depression on its head to hold water. But there are many regional variations and its appearance has changed with time. Kappa live in rivers and ponds and are thought to be inspired by the Japanese giant Salamander. Kappa are often malicious, drowning humans who get too closed and a mythical organ called shirikodama from their anus. They were and are used as a metaphors of the danger of drowning in bodies of water.

Warning sign about drowning with a picture of a boy being dragged by a Kappa
A kappa be used to depict the dangers of drowning on a sign in Fukuoka
By Sehremis via Wikimedia Commons

But don’t fret, if you should encounter one simply bow as Kappa are polite creatures and will bow back spilling the water in the bowl on its head. This weakens it. Another technique is to challenge them to Sumo which they love. But you could also choose love not war and befriend one. They love cucumbers and there is even Kappa sushi, sushi with cucumber as the main filling. They have been said to help humans on occasion with farming or sharing their knowledge of medicine. Where can you find them in modern Japan? Look no further than Kappabashi street in Tokyo.

Sumo wrestler watching a sumo match between spotted Kappa
Wood block print of a Sumo wrestler watching Kappa Sumo wrestle

Kappabashi

Kappabashi is a street in Tokyo packed with restaurant supply stores. It is the go-to place for restauranteurs to get knives, decorations, food display models, and more for their restaurant. It’s recognizable by the giant sculpture of a chef`s head on top of a building.

A scrupture of the head of a chef with a white hat and curly mustache on top of a building
The Chef sculpture on the south entrance to Kappabashi dori
By Basile Morin via Wikimedia Commons

The origin of the name of the street is thought to come from either the word Kappa meaning raincoats or from a local raincoat and umbrella merchant named Kappaya who funded a water management project in the area. Because it has the same name, the yokai, Kappa has been adopted as the street`s mascot. All along the street, you can find kappa statues, plushes, and various decorations. There is even a temple devoted to these mischievous water imps.

wooded statue of a green kappa
Kappa statue in Kappabashi

Kappa-dera

There is a folktale about how Kappaya was assisted in creating embankments and a bridge for the flood-prone Sumida river by a Kappa. The bridge in other stories is where poor samurai would come to hawk raincoats to get by and others would hang their raincoats on the bridge to dry. The bridge is said to be the site of the current Sogenji Temple, or as is more commonly called Kappa-dera. On the ground s of Kappa -dera, there are many Kappa statues and there is even a mummified “kappa” hand inside the temple. Normally at temples, you donate coins but here you can give cucumbers as an offering to Kappa to placate them and help you in water-related business endeavors.

Access

Take the Ginza subway line and get off at Tawaramachi Station. It is a short walk from there. Kappa-dera is about a 5 minute walk from Kappabashi.

4 thoughts on “Best places to see Yokai in Japan: Kappa in Tokyo

    1. Thanks so much! High-quality art haha. Kappa were popular in wood block prints in Edo period Japan. They are still popular in modern Japan, I see them on warning signs and at the Kappa sushi chain.

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