Why DO kappa flip their lids for cucumber? No better time to investigate that than June 14, recognized around the globe as Cucumber Day.

Okay, hands up. Who knew that June 14 was World Cucumber Day? While I’m a dedicated fan of those versatile, water-rich veggies, I had no idea they even HAD an awareness day, much less when it was. Apparently it started in Britain in 2011 to build appreciation for the humble gourd, but now it’s catching on worldwide!

June 14 is also the designated World Blood Drive Day, adding to the confusion, and in Japan it’s also a day to celebrate the crisp and flaky golden glory that is fried chicken. But maybe it’s about time to recognize the glory of the cucumber in Japan, especially as they have a famous fan cooked right into their folklore. I’m talking, of course, about the kappa.

▼ My first introduction to the kappa was in the Harvest Moon videogame, where you have to give him three cucumbers to win him over.

Kappa yokai (spirits) are very distinctive in Japanese folklore: they’re amphibious, mischievous little critters that usually come in green or blue-yellow, with a funny plate on their head usually encircled with leafy fronds. They’re also so associated with cucumber that cucumber sushi rolls are dubbed kappa maki. But where did that association derive from? SoraNews24 called on its most qualified kappa experts to peel the layers off this mystery.

Turns out that the most popular image of a kappa – green, plate-headed, toting its young on its back and constantly craving cucumbers – originated well after Japan’s middle ages. The earliest use of the word “kappa” dates back past that, to the Muromachi period (1336-1573) where it was included in a glossary that read: “When an otter grows sufficiently old, it will become a kappa” (though the kanji, 河童, are the same as modern-day kappa, this glossary transcribes it as “kawarou” instead.)

▼ A pair of frisky modern otters, for comparison

▼ A statue depicting two frolicking kappa, from Kizakura Kappa County in Kyoto – can you see a resemblance?

The name “kappa”, no matter how you slice it, originated in the Kanto region of Japan. Other areas had their own names for the little monsters: Gataro, Seko and Hyosube, just to name a few. Though it started out as a Kanto-specific term, the Edo period (1603-1868) saw more and more academics colluding to talk about important issues like probable water demons. The term “kappa” seems to have been popularized for this specific critter around that time, and back in those days it was serious academic language!

That’s all well and good as etymology goes. As the centuries went by, the concept of a kappa became increasingly realized in paintings, sculptures and fairytales; but judging just from those portrayals alone, where does cucumber enter into it?

▼ “Hand over all your cucumbers right now, I won’t take no for an answer!”

One theory suggests that kappa were “water gods”, hence why they purportedly had such a passion for sumo wrestling (water plays heavily into the history of sumo, from wrestlers rinsing their mouths with sacred water to the concept of fighters embodying water spirits when they fight). Well, it was common to offer cucumbers to water gods – and honestly, the logic is pretty sound, considering how much water content a given cucumber has.

So perhaps kappa are just honoring their origin as gods, and their craving for cucumbers is just a disguised desire for offerings to how awesome they are. While this is just one theory, it holds water with me! If you were a water god, you’d probably want everyone to shower you with cucumbers too… Though personally, I think I’d be happy with this massive maguro offering instead.

Source: ©SoraNews24
Insert image: Wikimedia Commons/Peter Trimming

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