Author: Richard Perkins
Photos/Videos Taken: 2021/05/28
Address: 3-7-2 Matsugaya, Taito-ku,
Part of the Sōtō sect of Buddhism, 曹源寺 (sōgenji) is a Buddhist temple in the Taitō ward of Tokyo. Built back in 1588, this was a temple that was originally built at the Wadakura gate of Edo castle. It was then rebuilt where it stands now.
Sōgenji temple may look like just another ordinary temple, but it’s also referred to as the "Kappa temple". Kappa refers to a 河童 (kappa), a yōkai of the same name. Yōkai are said to have originated from Japanese folklore and are strange, fantastic creatures (for lack of a better word) with mysterious powers. Back in the Edo period (1603-1868), there was a canal that would often overflow every time it rained heavily. Those who lived nearby often found themselves in a predicament each time the canal would overflow, so a raincoat salesman, by the name of Kappa Kawatarō (also known as Kihachi), spent his own money to mend the canal so it wouldn’t overflow anytime it rained heavily in the future. A Kappa who lived in the Sumida river helped Kappa Kawatarō with the repairs. Because of the help that the Kappa gave in helping to mend the canal, the repairs were completed quickly. Soon after, the rumors of this Kappa began to spread, and is now worshiped at Sōgenji temple as a 大明神 (daimyōjin), or a Great Deity. This is also the temple where Kappa Kawatarō is said to have been buried. Thus how Sōgenji temple became known as the "Kappa temple".
Some may not believe this story of a Kappa helping out Kappa Kawatarō with the repairs on the canal, and there are without a doubt many people who don’t believe that Kappa actually exists. However, there is evidence at Sōgenji temple that the Kappa existed. In the main building in this temple, the hand of a Kappa is enshrined. Unfortunately, you can’t get inside the main building of Sōgenji temple without permission, but you can see the case that this Kappa hand is enshrined in through the glass window at this building.
In front of the main temple here is a 賽銭箱 (saisenbako), or a box in which monetary offerings (usually ¥5) are given before praying, in which cucumbers have been placed on top. Cucumbers are Kappa’s favorite food, and just like alcohol, especially 御神酒 (omiki—a type of sacred alcohol), and other types of food that may be placed at other Buddhist temples and Shintō shrines in Japan as an offering to the gods, the cucumbers here are placed as an offering to Kappa. This may also possibly be placed as a way to encourage other Kappa or other yōkai to come and pray at this particular temple. This is one temple where you can feel the love towards Kappa and a must-visit for those with an interest in yōkai.