#24 – The Kappa

As a general rule of thumb, if you are a small child frolicking in the local waterways without adult supervision, there’s a good chance that you’re going to die. Rivers, reservoirs and lakes have all kinds of hidden snags and currents and hypothermia-inducing temperatures that make them thoroughly unsafe places to dick about in, and every year all over the world they claim the lives of hundreds of unprepared swimmers that either weren’t old or smart enough to take those risks into account.

Not the most hilarious start to a humorous blog, I’ll admit. Tell you what – let’s lighten it up a bit with some proper comedy:

Actually, this is far worse than any number of dead kids.

Actually, this picture is far worse than any number of dead kids.

The reason I bring it up (the dead kids, I mean, not Rob Schneider’s nipple – I have no excuse for that) is that when it comes to monsters and cryptids, often the psychology behind the folklore is just as interesting as the potential existence of some weird new animal. It’s a common theory that a lot of the lake monsters and water imps from local legends all over the world are actually a psychological hangover from hundreds of years of concerned parents trying to get their dickhat kids to stop jumping into dangerous rivers. Stories of murk-lurking beasties grabbing at ankles from the riverbed form a sort of ‘don’t do that, you daft cunt’ warning from the days before those rubbish ‘no bombing’ signs by the side of the pool. Back in the halcyon years when children’s entertainment involved going outside rather than sitting on their pimply arses and trying to invent new racial slurs for Mexicans on Xbox Live, the best way to get your little bastards to behave themselves was to scare the living shit out of them – the Kappa is the Japanese method, a much-reported water monster the tales of which have been terrifying children out of the streams and ponds in that part of the world for centuries.

Pokemon were a lot weirder in the 17th century.

Pokemon were a lot weirder in the 17th century.

The Kappa is a truly intrinsic part of the Japanese national identity, and even has its own idiom; “a kappa drowning in a river” is often used as a way of suggesting that even experts make mistakes. They’ve been blamed for all sorts of horrible crap over the years, from the drowning of children through to rape and the eating of livers and – I shit you not – the killing of victims in order to steal their shirikodama, a mythical ball that contains a person’s soul. A mythical ball that contains a person’s soul that is apparently located in your anus.

Or at least, that's what his Craigslist advert claimed.

Or at least, that’s what his Craigslist advert claimed.

At the less sinister end, they’re also said to peek up kimonos and fart loudly whenever people pass, just because hey – if you’re going to be an anus-rummaging turtle rapist, you’ve got to know how to have a good time. They’re seen as trickster spirits, and to this day a lot of Japan’s open stretches of water are signposted with warnings of potential Kappa attack rather than the sane option of “YOU MIGHT FUCKING DROWN HERE” that the rest of the world has opted for.

Obviously, should the Kappa turn out to be a real animal, you can pretty much guarantee that they don’t really fart intentionally, rape women, or speak Japanese like the mythology suggests. It’s even claimed that they’re experts in medicine, and that friendly Kappa taught the early Japanese the art of setting broken bones – presumably as an apology for all the pelvises they shattered in their frantic search for magical arse-balls.

Of course, it’s been the case for pretty much all of humanity’s time on Earth that we’ve applied bullshit magical powers to a lot of the animals we’ve encountered. Gods and monsters often have a factual basis in the animal kingdom, and the Kappa could be no different. They’re said to swim like fish but have distinct arms and legs ending in webbed hands, walking bipedally on land when they venture on to it. They also have a distinct plate on their head and monkey-like faces, sometimes with a beaked mouth and odd manes of hair, and are said to be the size of a small child. In my search for another picture to show you, I found this one, and don’t ask because I haven’t got a fucking clue what’s supposed to be going on here either:

That's one hell of a shirikotama he has there.

That’s one hell of a shirikodama he has there.

I’ve included the Kappa here because they don’t seem to be content with being confined to mythology, and contemporary accounts of real-life encounters with them still happen every now and then. In 1978 two construction workers named Makoto Ito and Toshio Hashimoto were fishing off a stone seawall in Yokosuka when a Kappa popped its head above water and looked around – Ito later described it as “not a fish, an animal or a man. It was about three feet in height and covered in scaly skin like a reptile. It had a face and two yellow eyes that seemed to be focused on us”.

From the sound of it, the two of them were lucky to get away with their tackle intact.

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