BBtv: Hunting for the Kappa Monster in Tokyo, part 1

Oh, man, this is weird. How do we explain this? Okay. So, the Boing Boing tv team planned a series of episodes about Japanese monsters for Halloween, and for this purpose, we sent Sean Bonner to Tokyo, armed with a video camera. The plan was: meet up with Matt Alt and Hiroko Yoda, authors of the previosly-boinged book Yokai Attack: The Japanese Monster Survival Guide, and hunt down the truth about mythical monstrous creatures from Japanese folklore.

We'd planned to start our Japanese monster series with a hunt for the Kappa, a water-dwelling, ninja-turtle-like, child-sized creature who is fond of cucumbers and human colon meat (I'm not making this up). Legend says the Kappa will reach into your butt to eat your colon, which is grosstastically awesome.

Anyway -- Sean made it to Tokyo, and shot evidence of the Kappa on Japan's urban streets (signs, blow-up Kappa dolls, stickers). But then, suddenly, the raw footage he was FTPing to us nightly just STOPPED. Bam. Just like that. And with it, all evidence we had of Sean's whereabouts and well-being.

Today's BBtv episode is part one of what we hope will be a two-part series on Kappa Hunting in Tokyo. IF HE SURVIVED. Sean, if you can read this, I sure hope you were armed with cucumbers. The alternative is too horrible to imagine.

Link to Boing Boing tv post with instructions on how to subscribe to our daily video podcast. Here's the direct MP4 link in case you can't deal with Flash video. Whatever you do, don't miss Sean dancing the Kappa Dance at 05:41.

Previously on Boing Boing:
Japanese monsters, and how to survive their wrath: YOKAI ATTACK


  1. technically, they insert their arm to obtain your liver, not your colon. Not to worry; a cucumber or two offered up in the backyard pond semi-regularly and they leave you be. Pets are extra.

  2. The creepiest Japanese monster is the karakasa, a one-eyed, one-footed umbrella with a mouth. Shudder.

    FYI, here’s an online guide to Japanese obake with some nice vector illustrations. Not as nice as the book BB links to, but still nicely done:

  3. Sean, as you well know, perhaps among all your ol’ pals I’m perhaps uniquely suited for hot monster danger support action. Should you be able to read this, and should you require my skills, please contact me via your typical method (e.g., teledildonic pineal transference) (I guess you could call too), and I’ll strip down, suit up and Jet Jaguar right over. Or just strip down. Your choice. Anyway, I’ll be in the orgone accumulator, awaiting word. Dead but dreaming. As usual.

    Ia fhtagn,


  4. Mata-Nui!

    In the early 90’s I was working at Intellicorp, an old AI company. They were famous for something called KEE.

    A newer, non-LISP machiney offering was created called ProKEE. With some marketing magic it was renamed ProKAPPA. K – Kappa, for Knowledge.

    I was quickly dispatched to Tokyo to work with our old distributors. After some chit-chat I was asked, quite seriously, why we had this new name.

    K – I said, Kappa, for Knowledge.

    The Japanese team starts looking at each other, and quietly talking. They stop, talk some more. Finally one of the more forward guys sez: “Yes, we have a Kappa too.” They look worried/

    I was pretty interested. Could they tell me more?

    More quiet talking. “It is a…” more talking “.. a ghost” “a…monster” more muttering among themselves “like child ghosts” “monster child” “it drowns children” “you have named your product after a monster ghost…” ” but it’s polite monster ghost” huh? “it has water! UP HERE!!” quiet talking ” this may be difficult to explain in Japan ”

    Whoa. I had to figure out what to do. These guys were a bit worried.

    I decided to find the Kappa Temple and make an offering.

    ( to be continued, w/pics )

  5. Wow, thanks for the really interesting comments, everyone!

    @#8 caseyd, that’s INCREDIBLE. Please return with pics!

    Hey, everyone, tomorrow’s episode — part two — is pretty incredible. I hope you enjoy it.

      1. My Three Weeks on a Bus with MZB

        Back in the 80s, I was reading the travel section of the Sunday paper when I came across an earth mysteries and Arthurian legend sites tour of the UK that was starting in a week. I called and was told that I could get half price for the tour and the airfare because it was a last minute booking. So I begged my boss for three weeks off and booked the tour. Marion Zimmer Bradley was meant to be the celebrity hostess for the tour.

        I was waiting at SFO when I noticed a rather squashy woman holding a copy of Mists of Avalon. I asked her if she was going on the tour and she identified herself as MZB. I made the mistake of mentioning that I had just read one of her Darkover novels, for which she offered me condolences.

        My last minute reservations about taking a package tour were alleviated when I saw the freak show (and I mean that in the best possible way) that would be sharing my motor coach: a documentary film crew from Santa Fe, matching lesbian judges from Florida, a real live gypsy and a woman who would later prove to have been friends with Beckett and Ionesco.

        Excitement was high. There were only about ten of us on a motor coach meant for thirty-something. Almost everyone was interesting. We would be touring neolithic monuments. We had The Authoress of The Mists of Avalon there to grace us with her presence. What could go wrong?

        The tour in general could scarcely have been more fun. We saw things that hadn’t had tourists since Hadrian built his wall. We had guest experts travel with us to lecture on history, culture and metaphysics. We had a psaltery player to serenade us with medieval music every evening. And we had Marion.

        It turns out that Marion had an unusual personality. By the end of day two, I was the only person who wasn’t referring to her as ‘it’. At least in front of her face. She was the most stubborn, rigid, frustrated, angry, rules-obsessed person most of us had ever met. We got a lecture at breakfast one day about how the government should re-educate ‘night owls’ because it’s unnatural to want to stay up once it’s dark. In an episode eerily presaging the Dursleys, one of tourists mentioned having a dream about a purple cow and was roundly abused for giving in to unrealistic fantasies.

        She and I got along famously, because I ♥ crazy people. But I’ll always have the image of a loudly flatulent, poncho-clad misanthrope raking her baleful glance over a world of rule-breakers and wrong-doers.

  6. I wonder how this works in conjunction with the reaching-into-anus part…

    Oh, and Antinous, CaseyD: You. Have. To. Post. Those. Stories. :)

  7. The version I heard from my Japanese ex-fiance asserted that the Kappa’s butt interaction is thus: “They crawl up your butt and make you gay.”

    That part seemed to be “canonical”, but she also had a theory that their appearance in Japanese folklore coincided a little too neatly with the arrival of Jesuit monks with curiously similar haircuts, some from Capuchin orders, thus “Capu”=”kappa”. Apparently, some Catholic priests’ reputations for certain proclivities are cross-cultural and span centuries, hence the butt thing. One can only speculate as to where the cucumbers come in.

    Has anyone else heard this take, or was this “original research” on her part?

    1. “They crawl up your butt and make you gay.”

      They need to add that to the liner notes for Inuyasha.

  8. Reminds me of a Chuck Palahniuk short story ; “Guts” – I guess the Kappa was sitting in intake for the pool.

    1. She was really quite interesting and had been through some serious crap in her life. But most people weren’t willing to get past the barbed wire.

  9. The guidebooks did mention a Kappa Temple. One hot Saturday I started walking.

    I loved walking in Tokyo; I walked for miles every night watching the steam condense on the wildly lit towers.

    The Hawkwind in my Walkman guided me.

    I finally got to the working class neighborhood where the temple was supposed to be. Sure enough were were bronze Kappa things along the street. But after that zeroing in on the temple was a hard go.

    IIRC the street numbers are based on construction (re-construction, this was firebombed hmm? ) sequence. My guide book was just good enough to get me to somewhere w/in a mile or so.

    In the Flickr set you’ll see the street sign I finally found.

    Going down the near by alley I found a gate with a more telling sign. Further down the alley it opened up into a courtyard – on the right a smallish building.

    The scale of this was quite a surprise after the other temples I had wandered into. At first I thought it was someone’s small house.

    After all the mutterings I expected something far more gruesome. Instead it was beaky garden gnomes with holes in their heads. and turtle shells. and claws. cucumbers lay about. the air reeked of fermented rice.

    After some befuddlement I decided to make an offering.

    I lacked a cucumber, so I scurried back up the alley to a nearby liquor store of some sort and bought some Sake. I tried to explain that it was for the Kappa, and that I was an AI grog trying to appease the local distributors, but, ahem. well. After a bit they did sell me a small bottle.

    I scooted back down the alley, poured sake into the waiting cups and dashed off the remainder.

    The following workday I told my hosts of my adventure. They were pretty surprised and we consulted a map to verify my report.

    Apparently we all decided that the Kappa could be put to good use. If you remembered to bow to the Kappa it would bow back – and lose the water in its cranial depression ( divot, or monk’s haircut thingy discussed previously ) which was the magical power source when on land.

    There was more muttering and goofyness but we eventually got back to work. The name stuck. I think one or two of the guys did pass out, as was their wont. There was a fair amount of that going on.

    My last day I was given the gift of the Kappa. It remains in a place of honor, next to all the Mozilla fetishes in our household house.

    Perhaps, Xeni, your correspondent is in need of sake and cucumbers? This trip was in the day of compuserve dialup to the Well, so perhaps the requirements have changed.

  10. #31

    If you are interested in critters from Japanese folklore other than the kappa, there are other documents I have on scribd about them.

    This one is the most popular one (and for good reason):

    kitsune (fox):

    tanuki (usually called a “raccoon dog” in English):

    then there’s this:

    plus other documents related to Japanese folklore, legends, etc:

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