Myths of the Kappa from Kurume, Kyushu

Hi everyone. Welcome those of you who have just followed me and my posts.

Last post for this year. Something fun, and with origins in central Fukuoka.

Do you know what a kappa is?

Scary kappa

Kappa are supernatural creatures which live both on land and in water. They are as tall as a four or five year old child. They have a beak-like snout, and fins on their hands and feet. They also have a shell on their back, and a water-filled dish on their head. As long as the dish is full of water, kappa keep their supernatural powers. Kappa are known for dragging people into the water and pulling out their livers through their anuses.

Although kappa harm people sometimes, there are also many tales where they have helped people. They are very curious. They often appear in cartoons because of their lovable images.

Kappa love sumo wrestling and cucumbers. That is why cucumber sushi rolls are called “kappa maki”. “Okappa” are bobbed hairstyles because they look like the kappa’s hairstyles. Kappa are excellent swimmers. There is a saying “Kappa no kawa nagare (a drowning kappa)” which means, even an expert can make mistakes sometimes.

Lets have a look at some kappa tales from Kyushu.

Chikugo Province (筑後国 Chikugo no kuni) is the name of a former province of Japan in the area that is now the southern part of Fukuoka Prefecture in Kyūshū. It was sometimes called Chikushū (筑州), Chikuzen Province. Chikugo was bordered by Hizen, Chikuzen, Bungo, and Higo Provinces. The ancient capital of the province was located near the modern city of Kurume, Fukuoka. In the Edo Period the province was divided into two fiefs: the Tachibana clan held a southern fief at Yanagawa, and the Arima clan held a northern fief at Kurume…. Kōra taisha was the chief Shinto shrine (ichinomiya) of Chikugo. Koora Taisha 高良大社, or Kora Daisha was the first shrine in Chikugo. It is a prestigious and the largest shrine in the region. At a height of 312 meters, Mount Kora stands on the westernmost edge of the Mino Mountain Range. … Kora Taisha Shrine, a former National Shrine and a major shrine in the Chikugo region.

Kora Taisha, Kurume, Fukuoka.

There are many legends about a kappa, called the water goblin 河童 in the Chikugo region of Fukuoka.

Chikugo is the origin of a kind of kappa gaku music, which is now an important intangible folk culture asset in neighbouring Oita Prefecture. 大分県無形民俗文化財 or “Music for the Kappa”. Kappa legends from here originate from the Chikugogawa 筑後川 Chikugo River which runs through Kurume and makes up part of a fertile area that has long been called the Chikugo Plains.

Tanushimaru 田主丸 suijin 水神 water deity is a kappa legend. In the year 901, when Sugawara Michizane was about to be murdered at the 筑後川 Chikugogawa river, the general of the regional kappa 河童の大将 stretched out his arm to help him, but his hand was cut off at Kitano Tenmangu – Fukuoka 福岡県の北野天満宮

Tanushimaru (田主丸町 Tanushimaru-machi) is a town located in Ukiha District, Fukuoka Prefecture. Tanushimaru is famous for its hot springs, the best being Mino Onsen, as well as its plant farming, unagi, and kappa. Legend had it that the nearby river is the origin of all Japanese kappa, and many monuments to the river monster can be seen around the town. Many of the local inhabitants offer cucumbers and sake to the kappa shrines. Kappa like cucumbers!

Taken by me at the National History Museum in Chiba. Shows evidence of a kappa like creature in Kurume, Fukuoka.

Next is a legend from neighbouring Kumamoto Prefecture which suggests that a kappa clan once lived upstream of the Yellow River in China and one of their groups made it all the way to the Kumagawa river 球磨川 in Kumamoto. Their offspring soon counted for more than 9000 kappa. 九千坊 Kusenbo / Kyusenbo, Kuzenbo, also became the name of their leader. They became the 九千坊 Kyusenbo clan in Kyushu and it was 加藤清正 Kato Kiyomasa who called on the help of the monkeys of Kyushu to fight them (Monkeys can see a kappa, even if he is invisible to the human eye). The kappa family was defeated by Kiyomasa, and moved on to a different part of Higo 肥後 (Kumamoto). With permission of the local lord 有馬 Arima, they settled at the river 筑後川 Chikugogawa in Kurume.
Having learned their lessons in Kumamoto, they now helped to control the water flow of the wild rivers for the farmers and were soon venerated as the messengers, or rather the Water Deity 水神 of the shrines in their honor, called 水天宮 Suitengu.

Suitengu Shrine in Kurume.

Based on the information from my friend Dr. Gabi Greeve. Thankyou Gabi.

Gabi has some great blogs if you like quirky things about Japan. Links below.


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