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Kappa The Japanese Merbeing

Kappa or The River Child are the legendary Japanese Merbeing. They come in many forms and are known by many name such as: Neneko / Neko, Kawachi, Kyuusenbou, Ma-sunta, Mu jima, Ningyo. They smell like fish, enjoy cucumbers and sumo, and are said to be very courteous despite their malicious tendencies. Kappa frequently depicted as bipedal turtles from Shinto folklore that drag people into rivers and lakes—are often blamed for drownings.

Kappa illustration, a kappa that was caught in a net in Mito, Japan in 1801. This kappa had a prominent chest, a crooked back and three anuses. (Image credit: Pinktentacle)

Kappa physical description said to be half human and half turtle or frog with height around 3–4 feet. Weight, 20–50 pounds. Apelike face and long hair, scaly reptilian skin, webbed hands and feet, has a beak, a turtle like-shell, and the top of the kappa's head usually features a bowl-shaped depression containing water. The water inside this bowl is the source of the kappa's power.

Kappa mostly active in summer. Changes color like a chameleon, depends on their surroundings. Can also transform into a human. Has superhuman strength. Favorite food is the cucumber. Cries pearls instead of tears. Often malicious. Tries to drown children and travelers. Likes sumo wrestling.

The Edo era (1603 to 1867) saw some serious scientific literature devoted to the study of these creatures. Suikokouryaku (1820), for example, is a compendium of kappa-related information gathered from a variety of sources from Japan and China. The book, which is housed in the Iwase Bunko Library, includes kappa sketches by artist Kurimoto Tanshu.

Kappa Illustration, sketched by Ito Chobei, was captured during the Meiwa period (1764 to 1772) in Edo, somewhere in present-day Tokyo's Edogawa ward. (Image credit: Pinktentacle) 

One popular place to leave an offering is Sogenji Temple, a kappa-themed temple in the Kappabashi-dori neighborhood of Tokyo. Inside the temple is a large collection of kappa memorabilia, from ancient scrolls to souvenir coffee mugs—and, inside a wooden box, one kappa's mummified hand.

Kappa's mummified hand (Image credit: All About Japan)

A Kappa mummy is on display in Imari, Saga Prefecture, at the Matsuura Brewery, where it was discovered inside a black box during some renovations in the 1950s. 

Kappa mummy on display (Image credit: The Electric Temple)

The factory is over 300 years old. It is ancient, gloomy and filled with artifacts that its owner, Mr. Yamaguchi, says were mostly found a generation ago when the factory was cleaned out. It is said that a box was found up in the rafters and that in this box they found something. It was the remains of a small, skeletal creature, about the size of a small cat. Those who found it decided that they had found a dead Kappa.


Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology by George M. Eberhart

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