Translated from Nihon no Obake Banashi
Long, long ago, a kappa lived in the river. This kappa would threaten children who were swimming in the river, pull the tails of horses walking along the river banks and drag them into the water, and generally cause mischief to those around him.
The river this kappa lived in was in a mountain in the province of Hida (modern day Gifu prefecture), and all the villagers were troubled by its presence.
“That damn kappa. I would sure like to give him a beating at least once! He’s getting worse and worse every day.”
Finally, some young men who were an excellent swimmers went to the river to get rid of him.
The kappa himself was unbothered by this, and was swimming as always easily at the deep bottom of the river.
“Inside the river is a kappa’s heaven! Anyone who wants to try their luck with me here is welcome to come. They will be the ones in for a beating!”
When the young men entered the water, the kappa shot out in a flash, wrapping his body around a young swimmer, pulling harshly on his legs and fixing his face with a terrible glare. When he was in the water, the kappa was even stronger than on dry land, and he was filled with a mysterious power. When he was in the water, the kappa would lose to no one.
The young men, afraid of drowning, soon lost confidence and fled from the river and the kappa. Together, they formed a new plan.
“All right! The next time we have to get the kappa to leave the water! Then we can grab him together and turn him upside down to force the water to spill from his head-plate.”
With the plan set in detail, they each decided what role they would play.
The following day, one of the young men found that the path from the fields were they were growing cucumbers was wet. Following the path, they found it connected to the river.
“The kappa! These are clearly the footprints of a kappa…he has come to steal the cucumbers.”
Kappa’s are well known for their love of cucumbers.
The young men quickly informed the rest of their fellows. Carrying sickles and wooden bats, they crept into position around the cucumber plantation.
“He’s here. He’s here.”
In the shade of the cucumber plants a figure the size of a small child was hiding. It was the kappa. His skin was green and shiny as if slicked with oil, and on the top of his head was an indented plate filled with water.
“For sure it is the kappa…”
“Hit the top of his head and make him spill the water! Spill the water!”
Everyone sprang out shouting all at once, leaping on the kappa.
But the kappa was not about to lose. He desperately turned towards them.
For you see, the kappa is not only strong in water. Even on dry land he is something to fear. Unless you manage to spill the water from his head plate and dry it out, he has the strength of a hundred men. Nay, a thousand men! The kappa effortlessly threw the young men as they came at him.
However, he was having so much fun flinging the young me around that he didn’t notice that the water had spilled from his head-plate.
“Oh no! What have I done!”
But it was too late. Picking themselves up off the ground, they saw the kappa lose his power. Fully drained of strength, the kappa plummeted to the ground.
“What did I do…what did I do…”
Without his water, the kappa was truly helpless.
The young men hoisted the kappa aloft and carried him to the house of the village elder, where he was tightly bound.
“I humbly beg your forgiveness. It is just as you say. I was wrong….”
The kappa’s mighty energy had left him, and he sobbed uncontrollably, apologizing over and over again in a voice filled with melancholy.
“Well this is no good. What do you all say? What should we do with this kappa?”
The young men gathered together to discuss it. At length, the daughter of the village elder came by.
“Please, I implore you. Speak to your father for me. Help me! Help me!”
The kappa begged the young woman.
“No way! You have caused nothing but trouble! I will never forgive you!”
The daughter grabbed a near-by ladle and smacked the kappa on the head with it.
At that exact moment, the kappa’s strength suddenly returned.
It seems that inside that ladle there was a single drop of water. And that single drop of water in his head plate was enough.
With water in his head once more, the kappa used his mighty strength to tear free from his bonds. However, his right hand was bound more tightly than his other, and in his desperation to get free his right arm ripped from its socket.
“Hey! The kappa has escaped! After him! After him!!!”
In all the confusion, no one was sure where exactly to chase after the kappa, The now one-armed kappa flew like the wind, escaping to his river home where he dove in and swam quickly to the bottom.
From then on, the one-armed kappa no longer threatened or annoyed the people of the village.
This is a folktale from Gifu, although similar tales can be found almost anywhere. The kappa is a terrible creature of mischief, and can be found in Japan anywhere rivers are present.