Episode 30 - Attack of the Burping Lecherous Bum Otters (Rivers Week)
Updated: Apr 18
Sam's Episode Notes - The Kappa: Japan's cucumber loving, prostate examining, child snatching water perverts.
This is probably the silliest thing I've ever talked about on this podcast. Kappa are water imps who live in streams, rivers and lakes – and despite the ridiculousness surrounding them are absolutely a real part of Japanese folklore, and actually very popular today – they are common features of Japanese cartoons and quite often used as company mascots and in water safety campaigns for kids. BUT there's a dark undercurrent to them which we'll talk a bit about today.
So, what is a Kappa. The name means river-children and they basically naughty little demons. They look an awful lot like little teenage mutant ninja turtles in most of the ancient engravings depicting them – greenish and slimy, about 60cm or two feet high and basically humanoid with webbed feet and shells on their back. They also have a dished skull, so sort of a bowl on top of their head which is always filled with water. That bowl is very important because it's is their only weakness, but we'll come on to that soon.
Kappa as they are today started to appear in Japanese folklore in around the late 16th century and it's believed they may have evolved from a combination of factors including a character called Sha Wujing from a Chinese book called journey to the West, first published in 1592 – it's best known in Western Culture by the title Monkey. Also, their appearance is thought to have evolved from the appearance of the first Portugese monks who started to arrive in Japan at around this time. If you think of the classic shaved-head slightly podgy Christian monk it's not a million miles from a teenage mutant ninja turtle. Before that, earlier versions of the Kappa from the 14th century more closely resemble Otters, which is where their size and naughtiness and playfulness comes from.
They are incredibly strong – supposedly fantastic sumo wrestlers. They also have a very childish sense of humour, and like to burp and fart loudly to one another and to make children giggle.
Aaand they are perverts – they like to sneak into villages near the river at night and peer through windows at ladies taking off their kimonos. In fact there are stories of Kappa flirting and falling in love with women and having children with them. But mostly there are just burping, farting voyeurs.
Incidentally, they also have a land-based cousin called the Hyosube, which is like a Kappa but hairy. And their main job in Japanese folklore, and I think you'll like this - is to break into houses at night in order to wash and leave lots of hair in the bath and clog the plug hole. So there you go. It's not ladies, it's imps.
Anyway, the Kappa also absolutely love cucumbers. I don't know why, this is Japanese folklore and it's batshit crazy, but there's nothing a kappa won't do for a cucumber, and it's one of the ways in which you can appease them and make them work for you and do your bidding. In fact in a lot of traditional Japanese art there are illustrations of Kappa being fed cucumbers or running around with them. There is a theory that because cucumbers have a lot of water in them and the Kappa need to be close to water that cucumbers give them strength, but I don't know.
So, so far we've got naughty little pervy turtle-monk Otter things who like to peek at ladies and fart. So basically any teenage boy. BUT they aren't just cheeky imps, Tom. They are bastards. Their main job apart from playing practical jokes and stealing cucumbers from gardens is pulling unsuspecting passers by into the water and drowning them. They especially like to do this to people on horseback and ESPECIALLY to babies and young children, who they haul into the river and drown. This is why nowadays they are used as water safety mascots in Japan – because if you go swimming alone or dive in to the shallow end, the Kappa will get you. This part of the story probably comes from the fact that in feudal Japan in the 16th century and for quite a while afterwards, in fact, poor families would quite frequently leave unwanted babies or kids they couldn't support by the river to drown – so that's why there were babies in the river. It was the naughty Kappa, not a desperate form of infanticide. So pretty awful, really.
Anyway, the babies the Kappa just eat or drown. Nice and easy. Adults get a far more gruesome fate. Because the Kappa are after their Shirikodama.
Now, Tom. The Shirikodama is the human soul in Japanese folklore. But because Japan is mad, the Japanese don't believe your soul is in your heart or your mind. No. They believe it lives in a little ball in your bumhole.
Yes Tom. The Japanese believe the soul is essentially your prostate. And that's exactly what the Kappa are after. So whilst kids just get drowned, adults get their soul and their prostate ripped out through their bum whilst being held underwater by a gaggle of naughty turtles. And if the drowning doesn't get you, being fisted by a giant Otter thing probably will.
Why do they do this? Well, sometimes it's just to eat it, and sometimes its to use as currency to pay taxes to the river god or river king.
You think your taxes are a ripoff, you don't know the half of it.
So how do you catch or defeat a Kappa, Tom? Well, you can't do it by force. They are far too strong – amazing Sumo wrestlers and obviously very good swimmers. So instead you have to trick them, and go fishing. Genuinely, the best way to try and lure a Kappa out is to give it what it wants – and so there are some brilliant Japanese engravings from the 18th and 19th century of men on rope swings over the river, Kimonos up around their waist, exposing their bare arses to the Kappa below to try and lure them out. Because ancient art is fantastic. I'll pop a picture of this up on our social media - @that_was_genius, because it's bloody brilliant. The guy looks so determined, he's got a real look of concentration on his face. And the detail in the bum is just wonderful. Japanese art really is beautiful.
Anyway, what do you do when you've lured a Kappa? Well one of their defining personality traits is politeness, Tom. This despite the fact that they'll watch you undress, steal your cucumbers, fart in your face, kill your kids and put their hands up your bum uninvited. Despite all that, they respect formal politeness. So you bow to them. When you do this, nice and low, they will always return the gesture – at which point that bowl of water on their head comes into play.
It'll spill as they bow, and if their bowl is emptied or damaged, they are immediately paralysed or choked – they can't breathe without it. Now, at this point there's two things you can do. Firstly, you could leave the Kappa to die. That's fair enough, the little prick probably deserves it.
OR you could be savvy and use this to your advantage. Because Kappa are, as well as being the most polite of murderous voyeurs, very loyal. Give one a cucumber, you've got a friend for life. Save one by refilling its water bowl, and it'll be your loyal servant forever more and ask nothing in return. It'll cook, clean, work the fields, you name it. So people used to catch Kappa to use them as slaves or servants. So if you're ever in Japan, Tom – and you see a filthy basically humanoid creature about 60cm tall working in a rice paddy, it's not an eight year old being subjected to horrific conditions of child labour, no, it's the mythical bum otter repaying the debt of a life saved. Honestly, officer.
So there you go, Tom. The Kappa. Japan's farty, cucumber loving, prostate nibbling water demons and their plughole blocking friends, reduced from murderous child-killers to kids TV characters. But bearing in mind this is Japan we're talking about, maybe that's not so mad.
Incidentally, public service announcement - if you're a male aged 50 or above and listening to this podcast, you are in a high risk group for prostate cancer so do feel free to go down to your local canal, pull down your trousers, bend over and throw a cucumber into the water for a complimentary checkup.
· Mentioned in previous episode that I was going to do a Roman topic
o Crossing the Rubicon
o Julius Caesar’s act that essentially declared was on the Roman senate, led to civil war, which Caesar won against Crassus and Pompey and eventually led to the end of the Roman Republic and the creation of the Roman Empire.
o Too obvious!
· I also mentioned that I might do the Battle of Rorke’s Drift which took place by a river
o 1879; around 140 British soldiers and a few extras held a missions station when under attack by 3-4 thousand Zulu warriors.
o 17 British soldiers killed, around 350-850 Zulus killed
§ Michael Caine
· I ended up looking at other famous battles that took place at a river
o Lots of them!
o Can you name this one Sam? I came across it on Wikipedia.
§ Year 1000
§ Took place at the Fords of Beruna
§ The winning side were led by Sir Peter Wolfsbaine, Orieus and Edmund Pevensie
§ The defeated were led by Jadis, General Otmin and Ginarrbrik
o It’s actually a battle in the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe
§ Hilariously written up on Wikipedia like it were a real battle
· Great Army of Narnia (with flag)
o Talking animals
§ Including kangaroos
§ Men-headed bulls
§ Red dwarves
· Like squirrels
· Presumably those bastard great squirrels were on the White Witches side
§ A giant; Rumblebuffin
· Army of the White Witch
o Amongst others
o People of the toadstools
§ Demon male lurking over sleeping women ready to rape them
o Ankle slicers
· 5,000 vs 15,000
· Unknown, buy heavy
Anyway, The Chronicles of Narnia leads me nicely to my topic; ferrymen of myth (or boaty psychopomps
· Geordie describing a really smelly fart
· C.S. Lewis, author, was heavily influenced by Classical, Germanic, Norse and Celtic mythology
· Probably best known
· Ferried the souls of the recently deceased across the river Styx and Acheron to the underworld
o This is a part of many classical myths
§ Aeneas in the Aenied
§ Many more…
· Mesopotamian myth
o Turns up in the Epic of Gilgamesh
§ Earliest surviving great work of literature
Manannán mac Lir
· Irish mythology
· Variations in Scottish, Welsh and Manx myth
o In Welsh myth, he has a brother called Bran the Blessed
· He’s got a boat called ‘wave sweeper
o A sea chariot called ’water foam’
o A sword called ‘the answerer’
§ If he pointed it at someone, they had to answer his questions truthfully
o A cloak of invisibility
o Flaming helmet
o Magic goblet of truth
· Liam Neeson
o I don't know who you are. I don't know what you want. If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don't have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills, skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter go now, that'll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don't, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you.
· He also had a daughter called Curcog; meaning ‘bushy tuft’
· A short poem found in the Codex Regius
o Written around 1270 and in it many Old Norse poems survive
o It’s currently in Iceland and is a very precious document
§ In 1971 it was transferred to Reykjavik from Copenhagen with a military escort!
· A contest of abuse between Thor (the hammer wielding god of Norse mythology) and the ferryman Harbarth; probably Odin in disguise (Woden; Old English, Wednesday). Thursday; Thor.
· Very chaotic and badly written poem!
· Thor is on his way home from the East; a reference to his journey fighting giants
· He comes to the river and shouts to Harbarth to give him a lift
· Harbath says that he is not to let anyone cross who he doesn’t know; the owner of the boat said so
· Thor gets annoyed by Harbath being difficult (1)
· Thor says that he has just killed a bloody great giant, what have you been up to!?
· Your mum’s dead
· Harbarth says that he has been fighting too, and shagging lots of women
· Here begins a contest of oneupmanship
· You killed one giant aye? Well I killed two, and one of them was really big
· (2) Reference to Norse myth; Thor and some chums hide in a giants glove during a storm, thinking it to be a room
· I’ve been shagging lots of women, and being really clever
· You can bugger off and walk around this swollen river