Updated: Apr 7
Kappa Kappa Hey!
Welcome back all you ghouls ghosts and goblins! It's Friday so its yet another entry in the Speakeasy Tattoo LA blog of random ramblings authored by a rambling madman.
Did y'all watch the BIG GAME!?
Did we win?
(I dont know anything about football)
So last week we took a small dive into the wonderful world of Japanese Yokai, focusing on the red-faced Tengu. Well why not stay on this path and touch on some other Yokai in Japanese folklore that often make appearances in traditional Japanese tattoos.
Well, hold onto your butts (literally) because this week we are dipping our toes in the waters of the Kappa Demon.
Looking like a humanoid, beaked turtle creature with a hole in its head, the Kappa demon is a water dwelling creature in the rivers and lakes of Japan.
Yet another mischievous creature making up the Yokai pantheon, the Kappa's menace seems to vary over time and depending on the particular folklore. At best, they are triksters and perverts, merely being known to look up beneath women's Kimonos. At worst they are known to commit the most horriffic crimes from drowning anyone who ventures near the water's edge, devouring children and adults alike and raping bathing women. Needless to say, not the nicest creatures to encounter. Sometimes they kill their victims for the sole purpose of drinking their blood or eating their liver, but more often than not they are seeking a magical and powerful ball known as a shirikodama. This
magical ball gives the Kappa power and is located, yes, in the victim's anus.
In fact, it is their obsession with the anally-located shirkodama that leads us to a few of the Kappa's weaknesses. For one, you can lure in and trap a Kappa by standing at a river or lake bed, dropping your underwear and bending over, exposing your lunar surface to the water, drawing in the insatiable Kappa. Try it! I do it at the LA river all the time!
Another weakness of the Kappa is cucumbers. Other than children, Kappa's favorite meal is cucumbers. One could say they are obsessed. And while Johnny Marr once famously (and correctly) proclaimed "cuke is puke" in regards to how disgusting cucumbers are (its a scientific fact, dont DM me), Kappas cant get enough of the disgusting green phallic veggie. Ever go to a sushi restaurant and see "Kappamaki" on the menu? Welp, that's named after these little turtle demon predator creeps. In Edo (old Tokyo), there used to be a tradition where people would write the names of their family members on cucumbers and send them afloat into the streams to mollify the kappa, to prevent the family from coming to harm in the streams. However, eating cucumbers before swimming could potentially spell certain doom for the swimmer.
For their last "weakness" we see a commonly seen motif in Japanese folklore: politeness and honor. This also brings us to probably the most notable physical feature of the Kappa (as if a creepy black-haird humanoid turtle things coming for your as...butt isnt notable enough as it is). At the top of the Kappa's head is a hollow depression, even sometimes depicted as a hole, containing water. It is from this water in the Kappa's head that it derives it's power. SO because the Kappa is a stringent adherent to politeness and social protocol (if you ignore horrific things like eating people or rape), if one encounters a Kappa, simply bow in greeting. The Kappa will always return the gesture. In doing so, the water contained within its head will spill out. This forces the Kappa to be stuck in a bowing position until it is able to return to water and because the Kappa is already at its weakest while on land, this is an immediate defeat of the Kappa. But it doesn't end there. If you feel so inclined, you can refill the Kappa's head with water, the Kappa will be so grateful that it will forever be your servant.
While these are the MAIN weaknesses of the Kappa, I would be remiss if I ignored what one may consider a "Kappa repellant" so-to-speak. Farting. Much like myself (and most of us) Kappa's are repelled by farting, as depicted in this Yoshito painting from 1881.
Kappa remain in contemporary Japanese folklore today. As mentioned, you can go to just about any sushi restaurant and order Kappamaki. In the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles third live-action film, the Turtles are sent back in time to ancient Japan and are mistaken for Kappa. To this day, Japanese children are told tales of Kappa to warn them of the dangers of playing in water. It is not uncommon to see warning signs near bodies of water depicting Kappa all over Japan.
So why do we see this in Tattooing? Well, the "meaning" of a Kappa tattoo is varied, like the Kappa itself. A Kappa tattoo can represent a duality. Good and evil. Or it can represent the wearers dedication to politeness and honor. Or, oftentimes, the wearer might simply like the imagery of the Kappa. Kappa tattoos are often depicted as both fearsome and terrifying while simultaneously looking somewhat goofy, keeping in the theme of duality.
As with all Yokai, there is far more nuance and variation to the Kappa than I could touch on here. Japan has gone through numerous dynasties and is geographically large so Kappa legends and characteristics vary over time and regions. Hopefully I have given you some knowledge this lovely Friday morning. Take that knowledge with you on your next Tinder date. Impress them with your magical Shirikodama. If you wanna get more in-depth, or if you just wanna see some old traditional Japanese depictions of farting, check out this link here. Or for further Kappa tattoo content check this out here.
That's all this week. I love painting Kappa (seen here) and would love to give you a little polite turtle demon if that's something that interests you. As always, we are taking submissions for future appointments here. Whether its a traditional Kappa, some neon colored smoke, a marble statue worthy of a greek god or a portrait of Maynard James Keenan, Speakeasy artists are ready to work with you!
Enjoy your weekend. Get covid tested. Stay safe. Wear a mask.