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284

kappa

OLogy Series
anthropology
card
284

kappa

OLogy Series
anthropology

In Japan, a frightening water creature called the kappa was long known for pulling children underwater and drowning them. Tales of this small but mighty creature were often used to teach Japanese children to be careful when swimming in rivers and ponds. As Japanese society has changed over the centuries, so has the kappa. Today, Japanese children are more familiar with the cute, friendly kappa that appears in toys, movies, and books.

The best way to outsmart and escape from a kappa is to:

bow to it

make a silly face

shine a light in its eyes

Are you right?

Correct!

Out of the water, a kappa's strength comes from the water it carries in a dent on the top of its head. If someone bows to a kappa, it will bow back--spilling the water and losing its power.

Kappas' favorite food is:

candy

catfish

cucumbers

Are you right?

Correct!

Kappas love to eat cucumbers. Long ago, parents used to write their children's name on cucumbers and throw them in the water as a gift. They hoped this would persuade the kappa not to drown their children when swimming.

Laurel Kendall, anthropologist

The current image of the kappa reflects how we view childhood today. Long ago, the kappa was meant to caution children near the water. Now it's this cute childlike creature you see in toys.

The kappa combines the features of a child, a turtle, a monkey, and a duck.

Fact
or
Fiction
?

Fact

The kappa is often about the size of a child, with a shell like a turtle, and the face of a monkey. It's often shown with the beak and webbed hands and feet of a duck.

Physical features: size of a child but very strong; green scaly skin; shell like a turtle; face like a monkey, but with a beak; webbed hands and feet
Place of origin: Japan
Historical legend: Kappas lured children to the water, where kappas would drown and eat them.
Cool fact: Many modern phrases in Japan refer to kappas. "Kappa no Kawa Nagare" is Japanese for "even a kappa can drown," meaning that even an expert can make mistakes!

Image credits: Sean Murtha; Laurel Kendall: courtesy of AMNH.