Have you ever ordered a Kappa Maki Roll at your favourite sushi restaurant?
If you aren’t of Japanese descent, you probably either didn’t think what the name could mean, or assumed “Kappa” meant “cucumber.”
A Kappa Maki Roll is a simple cucumber roll after all. But Kappa Maki isn’t named for its ingredients, but rather the kind of creature who enjoys those yummy ingredients.
The Kappa is a popular creature in the Japanese tattoo world, likely because of its bizarre appearance and back story.
The Kappa belongs to the Yōkai family.
Who are the Yōkai?
The Yōkai are a group of cheeky demons in Japanese Mythology and Folklore.
The direct translation from the Kanji for the word “Yōkai” is in two parts, and those parts are a mix of attraction, suspicion, and the supernatural.
Yōkai are an interesting group, and many people get tattoos of these fascinating creatures.
Kappa is a more prominent member of the Yōkai group, but there are other cheeky characters like Tofu Boy– a young shy boy who wanders the streets of Japan offering people a (secretly poisoned) cube of tofu.
The Yōkai straddle a line between silly and scary, evil and honorable.
The stories you hear about Yōkai will likely leave you wondering how you feel about them overall, and that can be a really interesting contrast for visual artists to play with.
What is a Kappa?
Kappa does not refer to one monster but rather a group of monsters.
Kappa is the same plural and single, like “fish.”
Which would only make sense, because Kappas are water dwelling creatures.
Kappa are among some of the strangest legendary creatures in terms of looks.
They have a hole at the top of their head filled with water.
If the water spills out, they risk losing their powers, or even their life. More on that later.
Described as being the size of a 10 year old child, Kappas are kind of a monkey like creature with fish scales.
They are sometimes drawn with beak like mouths and usually have a tortoiseshell on their back.
Many people have drawn comparisons between Kappa and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which has become something of an inside joke in the fandom.
TMNT may be ever so slightly similar in appearance, but overall they are quite different!
Are Kappa Real?
As with many popular mythological creatures, there are those who say they have spotted Kappa in the wild.
There are theories that people may be seeing the Japanese Giant Salamander, which dwells in rocky streams and river’s edges, which is also where many Kappa are said to live.
This particular Salamander is known as the Ōsanshōuo, or “giant pepper fish.”
When threatened, this creature emits a white sticky substance with a strong, peppery smell. Hence the name.
It’s natural that someone may be taken aback when encountering such a creature, which may be good evidence that they are mistaken for demons!
Another theory is that people are coming across the Japanese Macaque, also known as the “Snow Monkey.”
These little guys are known to bath in rivers and are quite furry, so they take on a slightly monstrous look when wet.
Kappas may also be based on an extinct river otter native to Japan.
This otter was quite large, nocturnal, and could stand on its hind legs.
A pretty scary sight for your nighttime stroll by the river!
Are Kappa Evil?
It’s difficult to assess Kappa in terms of good or evil.
Before you go ahead and get a Kappa tattoo, you should definitely do your share of reading about these supernatural beings.
There are so many legends about the Kappa that paint them in different lights.
Sometimes they seem like innocent creatures who love to munch on cucumbers, other times they are quite cruel.
Kappa are said to be excellent at keeping secrets.
However, they have a polite and obliging nature that can lead them into trouble.
If you are trying to outsmart a Kappa or steal their secrets, all you need to do is bow.
When you bow at a Kappa, it knows that the polite thing to do would be to bow back.
The only problem is, when a Kappa bows- the water spills out of the top of its head!
This not only puts the Kappa in danger, but the spilling of the water also reveals all the secrets they’ve been hiding.
Because the water on top of a Kappa’s head is so vitally important, they will be forever grateful to you if you refill their water hole.
After this, the Kappa will be your constant companion and helper.
Kappa are also said to have taught humans how to reset bones.
Conversely, Kappa are known to assault humans.
It is said that humans have a precious ball or jewel inside their anus, and the Kappa are intent on grabbing them.
Some say this item is the human soul itself.
Others say what the Kappa really wants is the human’s liver, and this ball is blocking the way to it.
In either case, extracting it will kill a human.
If the Kappa obtains this jewel or ball but the human doesn’t immediately die- the Kappa will drown them.
Based on this concept, Kappa are said to hide out inside toilets and reach up at unsuspecting humans.
In some cases if a child was born with an abnormality, people would theorize that the mother had been assaulted by a Kappa and this is the Kappa’s child.
Somewhere between the good and vicious sides of the Kappa is the Kappa’s obsession with farting.
Possibly due to the sheer amount of cucumbers a Kappa eats, it is known for its gassy tendencies.
There is even a saying in Japan that goes: “He no Kappa” and roughly translates to “like a Kappa farting.”
This saying would be used similarly to “piece of cake” but is less appetizing somehow…
What do Kappa Tattoos Represent?
A Kappa tattoo has a complex meaning, like the creature itself.
Some may get a Kappa tattoo if they feel they have a dual nature.
Or to represent the duality of life.
Others may get this tattoo to represent their dedication to politeness.
Still, others may simply get this tattoo because they think the Kappa is a cool looking monster.
There is no one art style associated with Kappa tattoos, so artists will get creative with their renditions.
Common themes in Kappa tattoos will include water imagery, cucumbers, and shades of green.
The Kappa is often drawn in a fierce way while still looking slightly goofy, which is representative of its nature.
Kappa Tattoo Ideas
If you can reconcile the good with the bad, or want to be reminded of the duality of living creatures, a Kappa tattoo is a really interesting choice.
Not sure if you want to party with the river demon?
Take a look at our gallery for some of the best Kappa tattoos online.
For more Yōkai tattoos go to: