Kappabashi-dori, also known just as Kappabashi or Kitchen Town, is a street in Tokyo between Ueno and Asakusa which is almost entirely populated with shops supplying the restaurant trade. These shops sell everything from mass-produced crockery, restaurant furniture, ovens and decorations, through to esoteric items such as the plastic display food (sampuru) found outside Japanese restaurants.
The street is also an off-beat tourist destination.
The street's name is believed to come from either the kappa (raincoats) of nearby residents which were hang out to dry on the bridge, or from a merchant named Kihachi Kappaya who funded the project to build Shinhorikawa River for water management. However, due to the homophone with the popular mythical creature, Kappa, the group of shops along the street officially adopted kappa as its mascot.
Most depictions show kappa as child-sized humanoids, though their bodies are often more like those of monkeys or frogs than human beings. Some descriptions say their faces are apelike, while others show them with beaked visages more like those of tortoises or with duck beaks. Pictures usually show kappa with thick shells and scaly skin that ranges in color from green to yellow or blue.
Kappa supposedly inhabit the ponds and rivers of Japan and have various features to aid them in this environment, such as webbed hands and feet. They are sometimes even said to smell like fish, and they can certainly swim like them. The expression kappa-no-kawa-nagare ("a kappa drowning in a river") conveys the idea that even experts make mistakes.
Kappa are usually seen as mischievous troublemakers. Their pranks range from the relatively innocent, such as loudly passing gas or looking up women's kimonos, to the more troublesome, such as stealing crops or kidnapping children. In fact, small children are one of the gluttonous kappa's favorite meals, though they will eat adults as well. They feed on these victims by sucking out their shirikodama (尻子玉), a mythical ball inside the anus. Even today, signs warning about kappa appear by bodies of water in some Japanese towns and villages. Kappa are also said to be afraid of fire, and some villages hold fireworks festivals each year to scare the spirits away.
It was believed that if confronted with a kappa there was but one mean of escape: kappas, for one reason or another, obsess over being polite, so if you were to gesture a deep bow to a kappa it would more than likely return the bow spilling the water in its lilypad-like bowl on its head. If you could trick the kappa into bowing, the water kept in the lilypad-like bowl on their head would spill out and the kappa would be rendered unable to leave the bowed position until the lilypad like bowl was refilled with water from the river it lived in. If a human were to refill it, it was believed the kappa would serve them for all eternity.
Kappa are not entirely antagonistic to mankind, however. They are curious of human civilization, and they can understand and speak Japanese. They thus sometimes challenge those they encounter to various tests of skill, such as shogi or sumo wrestling. They may even befriend human beings in exchange for gifts and offerings, especially cucumbers, the only food kappa are known to enjoy more than human children. Japanese parents sometimes write the names of their children (or themselves) on cucumbers and toss them into kappa-infested waters in order to mollify the creatures and allow the family to bathe. There is even a kind of cucumber-filled sushi roll named for the kappa, the kappamaki.
Once befriended, kappa have been known to perform any number of tasks for human beings, such as helping farmers irrigate their land. They are also highly knowledgeable of medicine, and legend states that they taught the art of bone setting to mankind. Due to these benevolent aspects, some shrines are dedicated to the worship of particularly helpful kappa. Kappa may also be tricked into helping people. Their deep sense of decorum will not allow them to break an oath, for example; so if a human being can dupe a kappa into promising to help him, the kappa has no choice but to follow through.