Bloodsucking Freaks

Bloodsucking Freaks
Vampire of the Rising Sun

Fintan Monaghan | 15 Feb 2011 12:50
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As a shady interloper from across the sea, the vampire took Japan by storm in the 1930s and his popularity endures to this day. From Castlevania to Vampire Hunter D to Hellsing, the shadowy bloodsuckers show no sign of disappearing from downtown Tokyo. Yet how did Dracula and his ilk, unfamiliar foreign imports as they were, so capture the national imagination? Japanese legend boasts a rich menagerie of homegrown beasts and bloodsuckers; why were they so displaced by the vampire?

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Had the Japanese been seeking a mere bloodsucking beast, they needn't have looked further than the monstrous Kappa. Resembling a scaly cross between a monkey and a turtle, the river-dwelling Kappa is a staple of Japan's traditional folk tales. The creature is widely believed to have inspired the creation of Mario's constant enemy, the rather unthreatening Koopa Troopa ('Koopa' being a wordplay on 'Kappa'), but the Kappa of yore was not to be taken so lightly. The beastly river fiend is known and feared for luring unfortunate townsfolk to a watery grave and extracting their blood via the anus. Though, like many legendary monsters, the Kappa has a weakness: its unerring politeness! The source of the creature's power is the water it holds in a dish-shaped curve on top of their heads. Like the human inhabitants of Japan, the Kappa is generally polite to a fault, so when faced with the beast, you are advised to bow to them in greeting. The Kappa will reflexively bow in return, spilling the water and rendering him powerless.

If it was a shape-shifting, seductive blood sucker they wanted, the old tale of The Cat of Nabeshima provides some juicy material. The story tells of a demonic cat that kills a Prince's beloved concubine with a bite to the neck. Having buried the body, the cat assumes the young maiden's form. The Prince, knowing nothing of this, is seduced by the changeling and is, night by night, drained of his vitality. As is the convention in most of these folktales, everything is set right by the timely intervention of a wandering priest. The story later inspired the wonderfully eerie 1968 movie, Yabu no naka no kuroneko (The Black Cat from the Grove). This time, the cats in question are the vengeful ghosts of two women, killed by a roving band of warriors. The pair are cursed to feed on the blood of samurai, luring them from the forest path on lonely nights.

Yet, despite all these homegrown creatures, there was something about the vampire, that shady yet charismatic European aristocrat, which captured the public imagination. As it turns out, the very fact that the vampire was a foreign import was the key to its original surge in popularity.

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