The Kappa is a water demon from Japanese folklore. It resembles a turtle, beaver or monkey-like humanoid. The Kappa are believed to have an insatiable appetite for cucumbers, but they also love to play tricks on humans. If you encounter one, it will demand you give it your finger in return for the “secret of immortality”. If you do, the Kappa will follow you until it gets its cucumbers.
Kappa Tattoo meanings
Kappa tattoos are often drawn with a water-filled depressions on their head called “sara” which is how they reproduce after being cut in half. A decapitated Kappa will grow another body from the two halves of its severed upper and lower torso.
It is considered bad luck to depict a Kappa with its “Sara” filled with water, which is typically done to portray the creature in a less menacing light. This has traditionally been depicted by showing the creature’s reflection instead of a hollow depression. There are several other regional variations of this myth that have survived into modern times, including one where the only way to kill a Kappa is to take possession of its “Sara” by stealing its soul-removing stone.
The tattoos often portray Kappas sitting on their haunches fishing, holding sake cups with saki pouring out, smiling under Buddhist prayer stones, or having water poured over them. One of the most famous images of a Kappa is by ukiyo-e woodblock print artist, Tsukioka Yoshitoshi. The creature appears in his “One Hundred Aspects of the Moon” series that he produced in 1886.
The Kappa has often been used as nautical imagery, with some people depicting them riding on capsized ships. This is a nod to their association with waterways.
In the modern-day, the water demon has been used as a character in anime and manga, video games, and even a Pokémon character. It is often portrayed in a light-hearted manner where it either has magical abilities or is an annoyance rather than a malevolent creature. The Kappa faces extinction from the modern depictions which portray it as cute and harmless.
The Kappa is often used in Japanese tattoos to depict the bearer’s love of the ocean, their desire to spend time there, and even fishing. It can also be a warning for people to stay away from bodies of water if they do not want to get followed by one.
Myths about Kappa
The most famous myth about the Kappa involves one of these creatures trying to steal a young woman away from her lover. It dragged her down to the river and she struggled so hard that eventually, its arms came off in her hands. This is why Kappa have such small arms, but they make up for it by having a beak-like mouth they can use to suck fluids and even kill a human.
Another, somewhat more sympathetic story tells of a young boy who was drowning in the river and crying for help. A Kappa heard his cries and came to help him, rescuing him from death. When the boy’s family found out what had happened, they took it as an opportunity and killed it with a cucumber, tearing its skin off the body and making the first kappa handbag.
The Kappa tattoo is often done in traditional Japanese style with bold outlines and bright colors. They are most often seen on men although some women do opt to incorporate them into their ink as well.