Sōgen-ji Kappa-Dera Temple

Sōgen-ji Kappa-Dera is a Zen Buddhist temple in Tokyo’s Kappabashi area or Kitchen Town, where most shops supply the restaurants. Kappabashi is nicknamed after the kappa in Japanese folklore.

Kappa illustrations.

Kappa are aquatic goblins, also known as kawatarō (川太郎), komahiki (駒引 or horse puller), in traditional Japanese legends. The name is a combination of the words kawa (river) and wappa (child). Shinto beliefs consider a kappa to be a water deity and one of its many temporary appearances. Sōgen-ji Kappa-Dera Temple is a shrine to the Japanese water-goblin deity, it even includes its preserved body parts.

Sōgen-ji Kappa-Dera Temple was founded as a Sōtō (schoolthe largest of the three traditional sects of Zen in Japanese Buddhism) Zen Temple. It was initially built in the Marunouchi area of Tokyo in 1588.

Sōgen-ji Kappa-Dera Temple. | Guilhem Vellut

Its location changes several times over the years for various reasons –being  moved to Yushima Tenman-gū due to the expansion of Edo Castle in 1591. The Great Fire of Meireki in 1657 destroyed most of the temple and it was moved to where it is currently located. Historically, due to the areas proximity to the Sumida River, it is prone to frequent flooding. Thanks to a local umbrella and raincoat merchant, Kihachi Kappaya, who invested his own money, started an effort to create a system to reduce the flooding in the area. Kihachi Kappaya created embankments and a pedestrian bridge to help solve the problem.

In Japanese folktales the kappa is tutrle-like aquatic creatures that sometimes grab unsuspecting people as they cross bridges or walk through swamps. People are pulled down into the muck and drown.

Kappa statues. | Alyson Hurt

In Japanese old wives’ tales, the Kihachi Kappaya received help from a kappa to complete the building of the flood reduction project that included controlled canal water drainage and bridge systems. In other tales, a poor samurai sold kappa raincoats close to the bridge and soldiers would hang their raincoats on the bridge to dry them. The Sōgen-ji Kappa-Dera Temple is said to stand on the exact same spot where these legends occurred. Upon the death of Kihachi Kappaya in 1814, he was honored by being interred at the temple.