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.

The Severed Heads Hanging in the Fowling Net

 

Translated from Nihon no Yurei Banashi

The Thrush Bird

At the Western base of Noriguchidake in the Japanese Alps there is a picturesque plateau.  All through-out this plateau are scattered small lakes filled with sky-blue water.

In the olden days, the road from Shinshu (modern day Nagano prefecture) to Hida (modern day Gifu prefecture) wound along this plateau linking lake to lake.  However, because fearsome things were known to happen along this route people referred to it as the “Road of the Dead.”

It has been two hundred years since this story was first told.  Sitting near the base of this plateau was a small village, where lived a peasant named Heitaro.  His greatest love was hunting the birds and beasts of the wild, and with the coming of winter Heitaro would venture forth with his fowling net and bow and arrow without fail.

“Today, if luck is with me, I will bring down a thrush!”

Heitaro spread out his great fowling net right in the open plains of the Road of the Dead, and waited for an unknowing thrush to fly into it.

At this time, it was still in the early hours of morning.  The white fog was thick, covering the ground and limiting visibility.  Heitaro crouched silently, hidden in the lee of a nearby tree and patiently smoked a cigarette.  After awhile, he heard a loud voice coming from the vicinity of his fowling net.

“Get that Heitaro!  Get that Heitaro!”

Heitaro could hear someone yelling this.

“Eh? What is that?”

Heitaro peered into the fog from between the branches of his hiding place.

“What the…?

Taken aback, Heitaro held his breath and began to shudder with fear.  The voice was coming from something unspeakably terrible.

Caught in his fowling net, lined up in a row, were several severed heads of dead men. And what’s more the heads were screaming:

“Get that Heitaro!  We are going to get that Heitaro!!!”

At any minute it looked liked the heads would free themselves and coming flying towards Heitaro.

Heitaro was too frightened to speak, and quickly dove into an open cavern in a nearby rock formation where he lay shivering. Because the severed heads might be able to come down the same opening that Heitaro had entered, he closed up the hole with another rock.

But he could still hear the terrible voices screaming:

“Get that Heitaro!  Get that Heitaro!”

In time, the dense fog that enveloped the scene began to dissipate, and along with the thinning of the fog Heitaro could no longer hear the voices.

The Dead among the Fog

 

“Now is the time to make my escape”

Heitaro made no move to gather up his fowling net.  Leaving everything behind, he started to run for his village at the base of the plateau.

As he was fleeing, however, again the thick white fog began to gather around the ground until Heitaro could longer see even those things right in front of his eyes. 

“Ahhh!  This is bad…this is bad…anything could happen in weather like this…”

Thinking this to himself, a long shiver ran along his spine. 

He found himself standing along one of the small lakes that decorated the plateau.  From the lake he could hear certain sounds:

“Slurp.  Slurp.”

It was clearly the sound of someone drinking from the water. Heitaro could also hear the sound of something moving along the ground like a worm.

Fearfully, he tried to search through the fog for the source of the sound…

“Ah!”

Heitaro screamed loudly, when he saw the ghastly blue colored things rolling around on the ground.  Drinking the water, dressed in white kimonos where the yurei of dead men.   And there were many of them!  Clinging to the banks of the lake they were pushing each other out of the way to drink from the blue water.

“O…oh no!”

Wanting desperately to flee, Heitaro turned to run but his legs where knocking together with terror and his feet wouldn’t move.  And it was here that Heitaro was seen.

“Heitaro!  We have been waiting for you!”

In a blind panic, Heitaro drug his unmoving feet finally breaking into a run.  Blindly he fled across the plateau until somehow or other he arrived at his village. But all was not well, as Heitaro could no longer go hunting and in time fell ill and succumbed to his bed.

When news of this affair reached the people of the village, they said:

“Is that so…things like really do happen?  I guess what they say about that road is true.  It really is the Road of the Dead.  A place where you go hunting for thrush and catch severed heads”

From that time forth and for a long time after, no one passed again along that route.

This legend is of the “Haunted Forest”-type, and is common amongst yurei tales. These same types of mysterious stories can be found in almost every area, with only the details changed to accommodate the local setting.

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