A chubby cheeky raccoon dog with a straw hat, an unpaid bill and a sake bottle, can be seen at the entrance of shops, restaurants and sake factories in Japan. When visiting the country you get used to see animal statues as well as the ones of supernatural creatures, so is no surprise that almost naturally an interest for the Japanese folklore and mythology develops within.
These supernatural creatures’ figurines and folktales are passed down from generation to generation.
Personally Kappa and Tanuki the raccoon dog were the ones that I grew fond of. The two unusual ‘cuddly’ creatures have been surviving since the Edo period and recently have taken part of animated movies and adverts contributing to their popularity.
Kappa is one of the many water deities that are found in lakes, rivers, ponds, springs and irrigation water systems. They possess a 6-10 year old child stature, scaly green skin, webbed hand and feet, turtle mouth and shell. On the head a bowl-like depression surrounded by hair is filled with water that is the source of Kappa’s vitality. They are extremely polite, with an eager appetite for cucumbers and do love to wrestle. Legend says that Kappas jump out of water to grab and drag cattle, horses and humans into the water drowning them and feasting from their blood and flesh. They have also been associated with theft and drowning children, explaining why to this day there are caution signs around some lakes warning visitors about the presence of a Kappa. However, fear not! Kappa can be defeated and its weakness resides in the fact that they are exceptionally polite. If you ever come across a Kappa do not forget to bow because it will return your compliment, bowing lower than you have spilling the strength-giving water of its head bowl and losing its power. The other way to escape a Kappa is to throw a cucumber into the water, as it will give preference to the cucumber over you.
Despite its many mischievous and evil ways, Kappa is always portrayed as trustworthy; its honest and compassionate side surfaces when the mischief goes awry and finds itself weakened or incapacitated. In order to be set free or receive its reattachable yanked arm, Kappa takes an oath pledging to stop its evil manners and to assist with bone setting techniques or formulas for medicines/ lotions.
Tanuki, the raccoon dog has a strong link to wealth; though that has not always been the case. In the past they were considered a bad omen, it was believed that they assumed human form on the moonlit nights, haunting and possessing people. As with Kappa, Tanuki’s image also evolved through time and they are now cheerful, lovable and compassionate rascals that bring prosperity, fortune and success.
Two ‘little’ endearing monsters that you cannot miss when in Japan!