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Have you ever met kappa, the Japanese water imp?

As expected, the Japanese water imp, kappa, is cute and friendly. His reptilian skin can be blue, deep green, yellow, or even red. Kappa (河童, river child), AKA Kawatarō (河太郎, water boy) is the size of a 6-10 year old child, with big eyes and a turtle-like beak. He lives alone, but can understand Japanese language. If you look closely at the kappa’s head, you will see a dish that needs to be filled with water when leaves his lake or river. If the water dries out, he may easily die. By the way, people with a round bald spot on the top of the head are called kappa-hage, which means “as bald as kappa”. If you fill the kappa’s dry dish, he will serve you forever. kappaSlavic mythology also has a water imp or male water spirit, called wodnik, vodanoj, vadzianik etc. He is sometimes described as an old man with a frog-like face and webbed hands. A typical slavic water spirit has a long beard and hair, and is rather scary. Sometimes he resembles a vagrant, sitting at the water surface. Likes to smoke a pipe, and can drown people. A similar creature is known as “Water Ghost” (水鬼) in China, and as water troll in English-speaking countries. kappa

Kappa usually do not like to harm people, but often do mischievous tricks like looking up women’s kimonos. In the Edo Period, however, people were afraid that kappa would drag their children into the water and eat their livers. In order to befriend kappa, you should feed them with cucumbers, eggplants, buckwheat noodles (soba), fermented soybeans (nattō), Japanese winter squash (kabocha).kappaSushi rolls with cucumbers are called kappamaki because of that. They can even help farmers irrigate the land or bring fresh fish. People can even trick kappa to do what they want because water imps always keep their own promises. kappa

To see many kappa statues, go to Kappabashi (Kappa Bridge) street that lies between Ueno and Asakusa. It is a kitchen town, popular among tourists and local chefs. It is said that the Bridge was build by some raincoat merchant with the help of kappa.


Address: 3-8-12 Matsugaya, Taito-ku, Tokyo
Opening Hours: Most shops open from 9 am to 5 pm
Regular Holidays: many shops are closed on Sundays and public holidays
Telephone: 81 3-3844-1225
Access 1: 5 min. walk from Iriya Subway Station
Access 2: 7 min. walk from JR Ueno Station, Iriya Exit
Distance to airport: 24 km from Haneda Airport
Official website: http://www.kappabashi.or.jp/en/index.html

Article by Olga Kaneda

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