Origins of Pokemon: Three Scary Stories in Japan
It has been a while since I’ve written a real article, and I simply must say, the introduction never gets any easier. Well, straight to the point, the purpose of this short article series will be to provide a background on the simple and not-so-simple origins, or speculated origins, of the Pokemon we all know and love. To start off, the most obvious place to begin would be in the homeland of the Pokemon franchise, Japan. Why scary stories then? Well that’s where all the fun is. Without further ado, let’s get started.
Everyone knows about the Kappa, or at least have heard about it. If you haven’t, hear are the facts. The Kappa is a tremendous example of what folklorists like to call a Kinderschreck, which basically means that it’s a fictitious story contrived to instill fear in children for a practical reason. In this case, to keep children away from dangerous watery places. This is illustrated in that the Kappa only targets children to drag to their watery graves. Like most folktales, the foundation of the Kappa story derives from some real world embodiment. Jeremy Wade of River Monsters attests that the Kappa bears a resemblance to the now endangered Eastern Hellbender of Japan (AKA the Japanese Giant Salamander). While this is entirely possible, it doesn’t exactly explain how the legends of the Kappa seem to hint that their is one oddly specific food item that could make the Kappa forsake its predatory habits for an alternative. This would be the cucumber. Odd? Yeah, pretty much, so why would the Pokemon company base several of their Pokemon off a vegetable-loving lake monster? Well, that’s exactly it. It’s a vegetable-loving lake monster. Creativity is a commodity in the Pokemon developer’s world. If anything is to be learned from the designs of the first Western Pokemon designer, James Turner, it’s that designing Pokemon isn’t easy. Once you’ve run out of real world influences, you’re left with the ice cream cones and vultures in bone diapers.
So what Pokemon are based off of the Kappa? Distinctly, at least 3, though there are trace suggestions in other designs that at least hint that the Kappa legend was brought into play at least a little bit. The front-runners though, are Golduck, Lombre, and Ludicolo. The latter two couldn’t be more obvious. Lombre’s PokeDex entry even says it likes jumping out of rivers to scare small children. In addition, their special ability in Rain Dish makes it quite clear. In the legend of the Kappa, it’s said that a Kappa will die if it doesn’t keep the circle on top of its head filled with water. One such legend depicts an individual who felt sorry for a Kappa that lost its water, so they refilled the dish. The Kappa was so grateful that it decided to become his servant. The resemblance of Golduck is a bit tougher to make out, but the characteristic beak and the semi-reptilian appearance are a dead giveaway.
Other possible Kappa derivatives in Pokemon would seem to possibly be Carracosta, given that it’s a carnivore with a shell on its back, has a beak, and stands upright. Even the monkey Simipour has the ability to store water in its hair. The references are everywhere. Chances are, in Pokemon, if it stands upright and is a water Pokemon, it’s based on the Kappa.
The Futakuchi-Onna and the Kuchisake-Onna
In Japanese, Futakuchi-Onna translates to two-mouthed woman while the Kuchisake-Onna translates to the slit-mouthed woman. If there’s one thing Generation Three had, it’s a lot of real world references in their Pokemon designs. Perhaps that’s why it’s one of my favorites, heheh.
Moving on, the Futakuchi-Onna story describes of a woman whose husband was a miser who didn’t feed her enough. So, what else could resolve this issue except sprouting a second, more ravenous mouth that eats the penny-pinching husband along with anything else it wants? While there are the typical sexist undertones present here like much of Japanese folklore, I like this one. It’s basically saying, “You best take care of your significant other or they’ll be your biggest enemy.” Can you guess which Pokemon is based off of this one? You got it, it’s Mawile. This little Fairy Pokemon is wholly aware of its devious intentions, however, and actively seeks out prey to bewilder and consume.
On the other hand, we have the Kuchisake-Onna, also known as the slit-mouthed woman. While the comparison here isn’t as direct of a relation as Mawile was, there is certainly a parallel in the narratives. The Kuchisake-Onna is said to wander the streets of the Nagasaki Prefecture wearing a surgical mask. Supposedly, she would ask individuals if they thought she was pretty. If they said no, she killed them. If they said yes, she would remove the mask and reveal her mouth, which would be horribly mutilated. She would then ask again if they thought she was pretty. If no, she’d kill them. If yes, she would use her knife to make their mouth like her’s. The only way out of this situation would be to either say, “You look about average,” or ask in retort, “Am I pretty?” Either way, the monster would be confused, allowing time for escape. The relation here would seem to be closest to the ghost Pokemon, Banette. Banette wander streets in the night looking for the child that abandoned it. The relation here is that Banette was relegated to a position it didn’t want to be in, much like the monster, and consistently seeks to bring down others to its level. In this case, by killing them. Also, Banette has a zipped-up mouth that holds its life-force inside its body. Clearly, the Pokemon company changed the structure a bit, but the similarities are still there for sure.
Whatever the case is with these Pokemon, they’re just a few of the inspirations made incarnate in the Pokemon universe. Check back next week for even more Origins of Pokemon.