Japan is home to quite a few mythical folkloric creatures with one of the most famous ones being the bipedal, turtle-like aquatic goblins known as Kappa. If you’ve ever been to Kappa Zushi you may have noticed the creature on their logo and signage. Also, one of the most popular sushi rolls is kappamaki; a cucumber sushi roll which is available in all sushi places, and not just the aforementioned conveyor-belt sushi chain.
A decade ago I visited the small Kappa-dera Temple in Tokyo (details at the foot of this post) as part of my cycling Tokyo’s most haunted sights…in one day challenge, and when I saw that there was another Kappa Temple of sorts in Izu I wanted to see it. That time finally came back in May when, on the back of seeing lion rock and the abandoned Okawa Grand Hotel, I headed a bit further down the east coast of the Izu Peninsula.
Kawazu Station was where I disembarked and then proceeded to walk westwards on foot for about twenty minutes. The views of the Kawazu River were nice and gave me a refreshing feeling on what was a warm day.
Not long after crossing the river via Arakura Bridge I arrrived at Kappanotera Seisoku-ji Temple (256 Yatsu, Kawazu, Kamo-Gun, Shizuoka-ken) which is on a very quiet one-way backstreet. This power-spot is an ancient temple with a history dating back 700 years, and it is also the 33rd of the Izu 88 temple pilgrimage. Only 86 left for me to visit now!!
The Kappa statues soon appear on the left as you enter the premises and one of them is holding a pot which symbolises a story from many centuries ago. Before I retell that it’s perhaps important to know that Kappa have been known to grab children crossing bridges and drown them so they certainly aren’t warm, gentle, cuddly creatures.
However they’re not entirely antagonistic to human beings as the story basically goes that a Kappa lived in the Kawazu River and was very much hated by the villagers but one evening the chief Priest helped him out. Later that night the Kappa reappeared and gave the Priest a pot as a gesture of gratitude. In hindisght this is not so surprising as once befriended, kappa have been known to help farmers irrigate their land or bring fresh fish, which is regarded as a mark of good fortune for the family that receives it.
This pottery jar, which has a height of 363 cm and a diameter of 10 cm, is thought to be from the Kamakura Period about 700 years ago. If you want to see it up close then you have to contact the temple in advance to arrange a viewing.
There are a few little Kappa statues dotted around the temple grounds, particularly near to the water features. Look closely and you can maybe see that they have a bowl-like dent on the top of their head which must be kept full of water for them to survive so if you see a real one be sure to bow to it and they will be obliged to bow back in return (as they are obsessed with politeness) thereby killing themselves.
Kappa are typically depicted as green, human-like beings with webbed hands and feet and a turtle-like carapace on their back. It was maybe no surprise then that in the live-action ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III‘ (1993) film, the ninja turtles were often mistakenly called Kappa when they travelled back in time to Feudal Japan.
The main hall was a typical-looking one but when I stepped inside and looked up I noticed some beautiful ceiling paintings. It seems this temple is also famed for some kind of red stamps or seals which are given out during the cherry blossom season when the nearby area becomes busier than usual with visitors coming to Kawazu to see the beautiful blossoms.
This was just a short visit as I had to get back to the station for the next train as they’re not so often in this part of Japan. Tokyo it is not! There was enough time to take a quick detour to see the foot bath beside the river in Sasahara Park which has some lovely views of the lush green vegetation and mountainous scenery in the distance.
There’s no need for vending machines in this part of Japan as some simple shelving unit with bags of fruits or vegetables and an honesty payment box is all you need!
The Izukyu Line runs down (or up!) the east coast of the Izu Peninsula and really is a quite scenic journey with some splendid sea views along the way. There are special trains with comfortable seats facing the windows on the coastal side but to get the true experience you still can’t beat the simplicity of just standing behind the driver at the front of the train.
Bonus: 180 kilometres north-east of Seisoku-ji is Sougenji Temple a.k.a. Kappa-dera Temple in Tokyo. This temple in Taito-ku is dedicated to Kappa and was built to appease the many kappa creatures in the area. The altar has offerings of cucumbers for them which is their favourite food.
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