Kappa to Shirikodama – Kappa and the Small Anus Ball

Translated and adapted from Mizuki Shigeru’s Mujara and other sources

To learn much more about Japanese Ghosts, check out my book Yurei: The Japanese Ghost

You have a magical ball in your butt, and kappa want it.

At least that is how the story goes. Although modern kappa are often portrayed as cute and mostly harmless, during the Edo period they were monsters who had a particularly vicious method of killing their victims. In probably one of the strangest bits of Japanese folklore, it is said that human beings have something in their body called a shirikodama (尻子玉), which translates literally as “small anus ball.” The ball is nestled either immediately inside the anus, or deeper inside the intestines or the stomach. The kappa have a preferred method of extraction.

Folklorist/manga artist Mizuki Shigeru wrote:

“Ever since I was a child I heard that I had to be careful in the water because the kappa would try and take my shirikodama. It was said that in the water, a kappa would come from below, extend an arm upwards and stick a hand up your anus to extract the ball.”

In some stories, the kappa don’t reach up with their hands but instead actually suck the shirikodama from the body. However it was taken, the person whose shirikodama was extracted from was almost always killed in the process. Usually the kappa would hold them underwater to drown them first, before taking the ball.

What is a Shirikodama?

No one really agrees on what the shirikodama is. Some say that it is the human soul, hardened into physical form. Some say that the shirikodama in pictures resembles the Buddhist Hojo, or wish-granting jewel. The hojo was onion-shaped, with a round body and a tapered top. The usual depiction of the shirikodama does indeed resemble this shape.

Many associate the shirikodama with the liver. Kappa were known to love human livers, and some say that the shirikodama was the liver, or that the ball was blocking access to the liver with the liver being the actual target for the kappa.

Why Do They Want It?

Again, no one really knows for sure. The most basic explanation is that kappa consider the shirikodama to be a delicious delicacy and that they eat it as soon as it is removed. This explanations is contradicted by some Edo era depictions such as the one by Jippensha Ikku that shows a kappa with a freshly extracted shirikodama holding it far away from his face and clearly disgusted with the item. The shirikodama was said to smell as bad as the anus it was removed from.

In one story, it was said that the kappa paid the shirikodama as a sort of tribute and tax to the Dragon King who lived under the sea and was the lord of all things under the water. What the Dragon King would want with such an item no one has dared to guess.

But they did want it. A humorous print by Hokusai Katsushika called “How to Fish for Kappa” (Onajiku kappa-wo tsuru no hō ; 同河童を釣るの法) shows a man using his own backside as bait to lure a kappa in to be caught with a net.

The Origin of the Shirikodama

The most commonly accepted origin is that drowning victims often have an open or extended anus, looking as if something was taken out of it. Bodies that had drowned in the river or ocean and then washed up on shore might have looked as if something had been forcibly extracted from the anus.

With kappa moving further and further way from their role as monsters in Japan, the legend of the shirikodama is on its way to being forgotten. Kappa have been recast in Japan as being friendly mascots of various companies or harmless characters on children’s cartoons. In movies like the popular “My Summer Vacation with Coo the Kappa,” the cute little kappa Coo never once sneaks up on its human friend Koichi to forcibly remove a magical ball from his anus.

Further Reading:

Check out other kappa tales from hyakumonogatari.com:

The Appearance of a Kappa

Do Kappa Really Exist?

The Kappa of Mikawa-cho

The One-Armed Kappa

The Appearance of a Kappa

Translated from Edo Tokyo Kaii Hyakumonogatari

In the Meiwa era (1764-72), near the village of Takekura in Honjyo-Go, a gang of tradesmen were gathered around a strange living creature that they had almost beaten to death.  Their supervisor happened on the scene and stopped them, then sent for Ooda Chogen to see if the thing could be identified.   Chogen quickly arrived and said “This is what we call a suiko (water tiger).  Over in the valley they call it a kappa.” Chogen then reached into his breast pocket and produced a drawing so he could compare the similarities and differences. (It is said that a copy of that same picture was made by Ito Chohei in the mid- Bunsei era (1823)).

This was the second time that Chogen had encountered this particular strange living creature.  He had made the sketch after his first encounter, and the thing before him now showed no discernible differences.   It was about 2 shaku long (60.6 centimeters) from head to foot,  and looked like it was covered in moss.  The body was as slippery as a catfish, but the hair was as black as palm-tree hair. The arms and legs resembled the skin of an eel, and on the top of the head was a depressed bowl.  The back and the belly was the same color.

During the Kyoho era (1716-36), excess children were sometimes abandoned in the rice fields in anticipation of the Imperial Inspection of farmer households.  This strange living creature was said to resemble those abandoned human children.

Do Kappa Really Exist?

Translated from Sore de Honto?

Of all the bakemono and yokai in Japan, the kappa is the best-known.  Depending on the area, they might be known as “gataro” or “kawako” or “gawappa.”   This just shows how wide-spread they are.  As for appearance, the most stereotypical kappa can be recognized by the indented bowl on his head and by webbed hands and feet.

There are many people who claim to have seen this kind of kappa.  But if you research exactly what people describe, it seems like what they are actually seeing is an otter.

Otters come from the mink family, and have a large tail.  They can use this tail for support to stand straight up on the river banks.  When they do this, they are almost exactly the same size as a human child.

An otter’s skull is soft, and can be flattened out at the top.  Just imagine coming upon an otter in the dim evening light, standing upright on a river bank.  Water running off its fur,  the head flattened out and eyes moving around restlessly, standing at the same height as a human child.  Don’t you think it might look just like a kappa?

In the Edo period, if you examine all of the different portraits of kappa, you can see the influence of the otter’s shape.  For example, the picture called “Suiko, scroll #20″ is obviously a mix between an otter and a turtle.

The distribution of otters in Japan and stories of kappa coincide, from Hokkaido down to Amami island.  But nowadays, otters are almost extinct in Japan.  I wonder if the legend of the kappa will fade along with them?

The Kappa of Mikawa-cho

Translated from Edo Tokyo Kaii Hyakumonogatari

In Kanda, in the vicinity of the town of Mikawa, there was a man named Kichigoro.  One late, rainy night he was out running errands for his business when he passed by through the gate leading to Sujikai bridge.  There he saw a young boy, about five or six years old, shuffling along the path.

“That is a brave kid to be out like this in the middle of the night…Hey, were are you going?

He asked the young boy, and when the boy turned his face in answer, he saw a face with a swarthy completion, eyes the color of blood and a mouth that stretched across his face from ear to ear.

Kichigoro was generally a brave man and so even this was not enough to shock him.  But when he stretched his neck to take a closer look, the strange creature suddenly jumped into the shadows and disappeared.

Kichigoro flew home as fast as he could where he quickly fell into bed.

“So it seems that the famous kappa does exist after all…”

The One-Armed Kappa

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.

“Ehhhhhhya!”

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.

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