Mythology And Folklore

Vampire Legend Japan



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Until the late 1950’s Japanese legends had no human-formed vampires.  At that time movies which featured vampires were developed, drawing from European vampire stories.  Two Japanese legends, however, did involve blood-sucking creatures.

The earliest Japanese legendary creature known for its blood sucking tendencies was the kappa, written about in the eighteenth century.  Kappas were said to be a cross between an ugly human child and an amphibian-like creature with a light greenish skin and webbed fingers and toes.  Also described as monkey-like with round eyes, it was said to have a shell like a turtle and fishy smell.

Kappas were said to live in water, leaving only to pull a horse or cow into the water where it sucked either blood or a ball-shaped organ called the shirikodama out of the animal’s anus.  They were also reputed to leave the water to steal melons and cucumbers, kill people for their livers and rape women.  A lily pad-shaped depression on the kappa’s head held water and if that water spilled, the kappa lost its strength. 

Legends developed in which people sought to placate kappas, even saving them when they spilled the water from their heads and became weak.   To ward off danger to their families, people wrote the names of family members on cucumbers which they tossed into the water to bribe the kappas and save their families.  But the kappas were also quirky and seemingly very polite, so if a victim bowed to them, they were compelled to do it back, spilling the water from their heads and rendering them harmless. 

The kappa legends persist until today and, because kappas fear fire, people hold fireworks festivals to drive them away.

Another non-human Japanese vampire legend involves a vampire cat, a prince and his love.  One night the cat stole into the woman’s bedroom, killed her by sucking her blood, disposed of her body and assumed her shape.  Each evening the disguised vampire cat would suck a little more blood from the prince’s body, weakening him.  Eventually one of the prince’s guards stayed awake and saw what was happening.  He kept the woman from the prince and he slowly recovered.  The young woman was driven away but continued to hunt for victims in the countryside.  A great hunt was organized by the prince and the vampire woman was killed.  The story became a play, “The Vampire Cat” and during the late 1960’s was also made into a movie, “Hiroku Kaibyoden.”

In the mid 1950’s the Japanese made a film called “Kvuketsuki Ga” in which victims had teeth marks on their necks, but were not, in fact, murdered by vampires.  From there Japanese vampire movies became more and more popular.  In one movie, the vampire cat theme was resurrected and a woman and her daughter who were murdered by samuri returned from their graves as shape-changing black vampire cats who sought revenge.  From there on, Japanese vampire movies have become very popular and are available in the US today.

So while the Japanese did not have a very active vampire legend legacy, they have built a large collection of movies carrying on a new Japanese vampire tradition.

 

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