A Popular Monster

If you've been following my blog since I got to Tokyo you may have noticed my interest in Japan's "yokai", a kind of monster that makes up part of Japan's incredible folk lore. There are very few yokai more famous than this guy here, the kappa. 

There is a kappa festival and unfortunately that is the only day the little kappa shrine is open. So the blurriness of these photographs is attributed to me attempting to take pictures through a window into a dark room on a sunny day...yep.

So why are kappa so famous? I really don't know. I'm currently reading a book about yokai and many stick the specific places or there are only one of them, kappa are pretty prevalent so maybe that's why. The entire area surrounding the shrine is known as Kappa-bashi and is full of statues and iconography devoted to the kappa.

Kappa means water child. They live in rivers and streams and grab unsuspecting children to their deaths in the shallow water. Most yokai are born out of general fears or suspisions (one of my favourites comes from how people often feel a bit scared to go to the loo when it's dark hah!). The kappa probably comes from women warning their children not to play near fast moving water.

This is supposedly a kappa foot. Kappa are pretty much thought to be giant Japanese salamanders, which are these things ..I'm a bit in love with them, I like anything a bit ridiculous looking, they're pretty hefty though as they get up to a metre and a half long and are kind of aggressive.

People give cucumbers, the kappa's favourite food, to ask for safe journeys across water. Cucumbers are really closely associated with kappas because of this custom and if you order cucumber rolls at a sushi place they are usually called kappa-maki. 

Kappas, like many yokai and bits of folklore were appropriated into the Shinto religion, but it's still pretty incredible to experience a shrine to something that possibly doesn't exist and completely predates religion as it is.

Get ready for more yokai and monster exploration in Japan as I recently made the discovery that very near my house an exhibition will be taking place on yokai and the artists that have depicted them over the years! Tokyo continues to amaze me with its secrets.


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