Indomitable is our series where we unpack the history and meaning behind the most prominent icons from traditional Japanese tattoos (Irezumi). Be sure to check out our other installments about hannya masks, kitsune, and the legendary Nue.
One such fiend that has crept out of the black lagoon of the human mind is the kappa — a turtle-like demon that has an appetite for flesh and sucking out entrails. Kappas are one of several Suijin — aka water deities — from Japanese folklore. Aside from tengu and oni, they are one of the most commonly depicted yokai seen in ukiyo-e (woodblock prints) and other Japanese art. Though this beast hasn’t ever been definitively sighted in real life (thank God), it’s made an appearance in countless tattoos, where it’s unnerving legend lives on to this very day.
To see more depictions of yokai, make sure to visit these artists’ Instagrams. If you’re out to get a tattoo of a kappa, have one of them design it for you. They all bring out its bizarreness in unique ways, channeling the creepiness that makes these murderous turtles such captivating icons in traditional Japanese tattoos.