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Kappa 河童 The Most Familiar Aquatic Yukai

kappa yokai acquatico piu conosciuto

The Kappa 河童  is one of the most popular yokai in Japan and beyond. In the popular legends,  you can finds it with different names, such as kawatarō or kawako, but all agree that it's an aquatic creature, supernatural, part of ancient legends.
The kappa in shinto religion is considered one of the many suijin (水 神 "of the aquatic") and have always been among the yokai who have gained more space in Japanese folk culture until today where it is even cuddled and considered Kawai (cute).

There are several theories about the origins of the kappa. Some date back to the practice of floating the fathers of dead children along the rivers and streams, while another (a bit pulled and daughters of that period in my opinion) derives the name's nature from the " dress "used by Portuguese monks who arrived in Japan in the 16th century. They called their cape robe and the monastic look is not unlike that of these creatures, either from the loose skirt, like a shell, and to the "mowing" characteristic of the monks that recalls that of the yokai.

Most oral, painted or written descriptions represent kappa as humanoid by the size of children, though their bodies are more similar to monkeys or frogs. Some descriptions draw them with gorillas, while others have a face with a beak similar to turtle shape.
Generally the paintings of the time represent them with thick shells similar to those of a turtle and skin with flakes that can vary from green to yellow or blue.

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The natural habitat for these creatures is the lakes and rivers where thanks to their characteristics, like hands and feet palmed, they have become their dwellings. And 'well known that the Kappa know how to swim very well, so that in Japan have coined the expression: "kappa no kawa nagare" or "a kappa who gets carried away by the current," which means that we must not be too sure why even the best is wrong.

The main feature of the kappa is the species of "depression" concave full of water on top of the head. This cavity is surrounded by tight and short hair and the yokai draws an incredible strength from this feature but also reveals its greatest weakness.
Anyone who faces one can hope to be saved (because remember that are very strong creatures) so that the kappa pours water out of his head; one method is to exploit its deep sense of "civilization" and education, so with a stratagem bend before the clash as formal greeting.

Since this can not be conveyed that with a deep bow, the water in the cavity over his head will swell and weaken it so that it can no longer fight.
In that case if a human filled the cavity again it was believed that the kappa would serve it for eternity as a sign of respect for saving his life.
The same applies to their sense of honor, because if you can make a devotion to Kappa or if it give to you its word about something, it will remain "compulsory" to you in respect of the pact signed.


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There are also stories about human interaction with kappa, it is said that they performed some tasks for humans, such as helping peasants to irrigate the fields. They are also good doctors of medicine so much that following an ancient legend, it is said that they have been teaching humans how to cure fractures.

This type of yokai-human relationship has led to the birth of some Shinto sanctuaries, called Jinja, devoted to the veneration of kappa that have become benevolent to man.
The stories and the existence of the Kappa were used to educate those stubborn and rude kids, encouraging them to follow the costume to bow with the excuse that it is a defense against kappa.

But to read only this, it may seem that these creatures are nice and kind, but don't forget that they are yokai and follow their nature which is not always benevolent, in fact they are considered combining mischievous troubles but also ruthless predators because they eat human flesh, adults.
Their jokes go from being relatively innocent, like noisy flatulence or looking under the kimono of women (as they record old prints and stories) to the most dramatic, like stealing the crop, kidnapping children, or raping women.


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Kappa are antagonists of humans; they are curious about us and can understand and speak Japanese, so sometimes challenging those who meet to beat them in skill tests, such as shogi (similar to chess) or a sumo meeting. They can also make friends with humans in exchange for gifts and offerings, especially cucumbers, the only food that kappa appreciates more than human children.

The existence and popular tales of these creatures have come to this day and become the basis for cults and festivals associated with them. The legend speaks of the fear of the fire kappa for this, some villages hold festivals every year where there are many fireworks with the purpose or belief that fires keep away these creatures. Or the warnings that warn from the kappa that appear on the watercourses of some Japanese cities and villages still to this day.

The transition from legend to business in Japan is always subtle and this does not run away already Yokai, in fact we often find the Kappa represented in figures, models, keyrings, strap on and whoever has more. If you then add tourism to those areas or villages where you think you are staying or have been spotted, you will realize how popular legends become something more articulate.

Another important source for the "popularity" of the Kappa, the manga and the souls, you will find them represented in so many series, in all possible ways and in some cases improvable.
The examples are many, and the works are even more, but I want to bring to the attention the animation film of Kappa no kuu to natsu yasumi of 2007 which tells the summer experience of a boy with a Kappa.
In this animated film the man-kapa report is described and analyzed through the eyes and experiences of a child.


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We are faced with a particular yokai which, despite keeping its nature both benign and malignant, is always well-known and well-liked by the Japanese. Expanding its popularity has changed over the last 60 years, certainly due to the spread of souls and manga, to products that call it directly or indirectly (consumer goods, hobbies, ect).



Kappa, Yokai, Folklore, Mauro Piacentini

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