Japan, Vampires in

Japan, Vampires in

(pop culture)

The varied creatures of Japanese folklore did not include a classical bloodsucking vampire. Possibly the most vampirelike of the numerous mythological beings was the kappa. Described as fabulous creatures of the waters—rivers, ponds, lakes, and the sea—the kappas penetrated the Japanese culture and now appear in fiction, cartoons, toys, and art. The kappa was first widely written about in the eighteenth century. It was described as an unattractive, humanlike child with greenish-yellow skin, webbed fingers and toes, and somewhat like a monkey with a long nose and round eyes. It had a shell similar to a tortoise and smelled fishy. It had a concave head that held water. If the water in its head spilled, the kappa would lose its strength. The kappas operated from the edge of the water in which they lived. Many stories related attempts by kappas to grab horses and cows, drag them into the water, and suck their blood through their anuses (the main trait that has earned kappas some recognition as vampires). However, they have been known to leave the water to steal melons and cucumbers, to rape women, and to attack people for their livers. People would propitiate the kappas by writing the names of their family members on a cucumber and throwing it into the river where the kappas lived.

The kappas were viewed as part of the rural landscape. They were not attacked by humans, but on occasion kappas attempted to strike deals with them. Such a relationship was illustrated in the story of “The Kappa of Fukiura.” The kappa near Fukiura was a troublesome creature until one day it lost an arm trying to attack a horse. A farmer retrieved the arm, and that night the kappa approached the farmer to ask for its return. Rebuffed at first, the kappa finally convinced the farmer to return the arm by promising that it would never again hurt any of the villagers. From that time forward, as reported by the villagers, the kappa would warn them by saying, “Don’t let the children go out to the beach, for the guest is coming.” The guest was another kappa, not bound by the Kappa of Fukiura’s agreement.

Another popular story of the kappas told of one who lived at Koda Pond. A man left his horse tied by the pond. A kappa tried to pull the horse into the pond, but the horse bolted and ran home. The kappa spilled its water, lost its strength, and was carried to the stable. The man later found his horse along with the kappa. Caught in a weakened condition, the kappa bargained with the man, “If you prepare a feast in your home, I will certainly lend you necessary bowls.” From that time on, whenever the man got ready to hold a feast, the kappa would bring bowls. After the feast the bowls would be set out and the kappa would retrieve them.

Apart from the kappa, the Japanese had another interesting folktale. The “Vampire Cat of Nabeshima” told the story of Prince Nabeshima and his beautiful concubine Otoyo. One night a large vampire cat broke into Otoyo’s room and killed her in the traditional manner. It disposed of her body and assumed her form. As Otoyo, the cat began to sap the life out of the prince each night while guards strangely fell asleep. Finally, one young guard was able to stay awake and saw the vampire in the form of the young girl. As the guard stood by, the girl was unable to approach the prince, who, then slowly recovered. Finally, it was deduced that the girl was a malevolent spirit who had targeted the prince. The young man, with several guards, went to the girl’s apartment. The vampire escaped, however, and removed itself to the hill country. From there, reports of its work were soon received. The prince organized a great hunt, and the vampire was finally killed. The story has been made into a play, The Vampire Cat (1918), and a movie, Hiroku Kaibyoden (1969).

Contemporary Japanese Vampires: The Japanese, while lacking an extensive vampire lore, have in the last generation absorbed the European vampire myth and contributed to it, primarily through the film industry. Their contemporary vampire is called a kyuketsuki. As early as 1956 a film with a vampire theme, Kyuketsuki Ga, was released. It concerned a series of murders in which all the victims had fang marks on their necks, but in the end, the killer turned out not to be a vampire. Some years later the director of Kyuketsuki Ga worked on another film, Onna Kyuketsuki (1959), which told of a real vampire who kidnapped the wife of an atomic scientist. Among Japan’s 1960s vampire movies was Kuroneko (1968), which built upon the vampire cat legend. A woman and her daughter were raped and murdered by a group of samurai. They returned from the grave as vampires who could transform themselves into black cats and attack their murderers. In Yokai Daisenso, a provincial governor was possessed by a bloodsucking Babylonian demon, an early signal of the coming absorption of Western elements in the Japanese movies.

Hammer Films’ vampire movies inspired the 1970 Chi i Suu Ningyo (The Night of the Vampire) and the 1971 Chi o Suu Me (released in the West as Lake of Dracula), both directed by Michio Yamamoto. Dracula made his first appearance in Japan in the 1970s. In Kyuketsuki Dorakyura Kobe ni Arawaru: Akuma wa Onna wo Utsukushiku Suru (literally: Vampire Dracula Comes to Kobe: Evil Makes a Woman Beautiful) (1979), Dracula discovered that a reincarnation of the woman he loved lived in Kobe, Japan. In 1980, Dracula, a full-length animated movie based on the Marvel Comics characters in the very successful The Tomb of Dracula, was the first of a number of excellent cartoon vampire features out of Japan. It was followed by Vampire Hunter D (1985) and Vampire Princess Miyu (1988), some of the most watched of the Japanese features in the West. In The Legend of the Eight Samurai (1984), director Kinji Fukasaku offered a Japanese version of the Elizabeth Bathory story in which an evil princess bathes in blood to keep her youth. The vampire theme was carried into the 1990s with such movies as Tale of a Vampire, directed by Shimako Sato and based upon the Edgar Allan Poe poem, “Annabel Lee.” By the end of the 1990s, manga, the Japanese comic books, and animé, the animated version of comic art, had found an audience, and amid the hundreds of titles making their way to the West were a representative number of vampire titles. The more successful manga had originated as animé or were made into animé. Through the first decade of the twenty-first century a number of vampire-oriented television series for children and youth appeared, most animated, including Descendants of Darkness (2001), Hellsing (2002), Vampiyan Kids (2002–03), Lunar Legend Tsukihime (2003), Bloodhound: Vampire Gigilo (2004), Moon Phase (2004–2005), Karin (Japan 2005), Trinity Blood (Japan 2005), Blood + (2005–06), Nigema!? (2006–07), Black Blood Brothers (2006–2008), and Rosario + Vampire (2008). Translated and transferred to DVDs, these television shows were later released in West, along with their related comic books.

After Vampire Hunter D appeared, its became recognized as one of the finest vampire films of all time, and both its writer Hideyuki Kikuchi and artist Yoshitaka Amano were recognized for their talents. Kikuchi went on to write a series of Vampire Hunter D novels and Amano illustrated the movie’s sequel Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust (2000), and the covers of the novels. Currently, Digital Manga Publishing and Hideyuki Kikuchi are overseeing a project to adapt and publish all of the Vampire Hunter D novels into a manga format.


Amano, Yoshitaka. The Art of Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust. Screenplay by Yoshiaki Kawajiri. San Diego: IDW Publishing, July 2006.
———. The Art of Vampire Hunter D. Milwaukie, OR: DH Press, 2007. 200 pp.
———. Coffin: The Art of Vampire Hunter D. Milwaukie, OR: DH Press, 2007. 200 pp.
Dorson, Richard M. Folk Legends of Japan. Rutland, VT: Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1962. 256 pp.
Hurwood, Bernhardt J. Passport to the Supernatural: An Occult Compendium from All Ages and Many Lands. New York: Taplinger Publishing Company, 1972. 319 pp.
Jones, Stephen. The Illustrated Vampire Movie Guide. London: Titan Books, 1993. 144 pp.
Van Etten, Gerard. The Vampire Cat: A Play in One Act from the Japanese Legend of the Nebeshima Cat. Chicago: Dramatic Publishing Company, 1918. 16 pp.
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