* The Story of the Kappa *

This image is a calligraphy by Yamaoka Tesshu and as with so many of the things in his life it has to do with Budo and Swordsmanship.

This little illustration was chosen to decorate the T-Shirts made on the occasion of the 19th seminar of the Iles de Lerins (13 - 16 May 1999). It was used again at the 20th and 21st seminars and has now become the permanent Logo of the "Les Iles de Lerins" seminar.

Many people wished to know more about its meaning.

It says something to the effect :

Don't hold back,

Trying to protect your ass;

As soon as an

Opening appears,

Seize it !

* Anyone wishing to learn more about Tesshu the book "Sword of No-Sword" by John Stevens (Shambala) is highly recommended.


Here are some explanations about this slippery little fellow excerpted from the book "Japanese Mythology" by Juliet Piggot

The kappa is a creature of more intelligence than the Oni and is by no means wholly malevolent, in that it can be placated by man and has been known to impart certain skills, notably bone-setting, to humans.Some believe that the kappa is of Ainu origin, others that it is descended from the monkey messenger of the River god. Kappa resemble monkeys, but have no fur. They sometimes have fish scales or tortoise shell instead of skin. They are approximately the same size as a ten-year-old child, yellow-green in color and with an indentation on the top of the head, which is their main distinguishing feature. If the water in this hollow is spilled, the kappa immediately lose their powers. They live in rivers, ponds or lakes and are vampires, feeding upon their prey through the anus. Horse and cattle blood satisfies them as well as does human blood. A body with a distended anus found after death by drowning used to be thought to be the victim of a kappa, as indeed would a drowned child or adult whose body was not recovered.

Kappa are also said to be capable of raping women, a characteristic that they share with the Oni. Apart from blood, they have a liking for cucumbers and one way of placating them is to throw cucumbers with the names and ages of the family into the water where kappa live. They will then not entice these people into their clutches. Another characteristic of the kappa is its capacity for keeping a promise, and there are many stories in which a bargain between man and kappa is struck, to man's advantage. In spite of their many distasteful habits, they are strangely polite, often to their own undoing, for by bowing to an intended victim the water can be spilled from their heads and their strength dispersed. The story of the kappa and the loan of bowls which appears later is an example of a kappa's trustworthiness and courtesy.

One of the recurring facts about encounters with kappa is that if a human being is challenged to single combat with one, it is essential to accept, and hope that the kappa will not keep its head erect throughout the encounter.

The human can then extract a promise from it while it is in a weakened state.There was one kappa which looked deceptively like a child and used to ask those who passed by the pond where it lived to play pull-finger with it. Its victims were then pulled down into the water and never seen again. A man on horseback was able to vanquish this kappa. He locked fingers with the creature but then urged his steed into a gallop. Water was spilled from the kappa's head and it cried out for mercy, promising to teach the man how to set bones in return for its freedom. The man released his hold on his prisoner and later learned all the kappa had to teach him.When he finally let the kappa go, he extracted another promise to the effect that it would make its home elsewhere and not molest human beings again. This promise was also honored. It is claimed that among the man's descendants there was at least one skilled bone surgeon. The kappa knowledge passed down the mortal generations.

In another kappa story one of the creatures came out of a river and attacked a tethered cow by putting its hand up its rectum. In its struggles to escape the cow twisted its rope around the kappa's arm and at last the creature returned to the water,leaving its arm, broken off at the shoulder, behind. The farmer who owned the cow found the arm when he came to fetch his animal in the evening and took it home with him.Later that night the kappa came to the farmhouse, begging for the return of its limb, saying it would be able to fix it onto its body if it were given back within three days. The man did return the arm,but not without first obtaining a pledge that no animal, child or adult in the village would be molested again. The river where this episode happened flows into the sea by a sandy beach and the word of the kappa was honored to the extent that a supernatural voice used to be heard on the shore on occasions when children were playing there. The voice warned if there was an unwelcome guest on the beach in the form of another kappa not restrained from attacking humans within its grasp. In this way both the seashore and the river banks in the vicinity became safe from kappa assaults.

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Luc Tamisier.