Kappa by Ryunosuke Akutagawa

kappaA Kappa could be called a demon, or an imp in Japanese folklore. They are described to be a creature with the form of a human, but about the size of a child, ranging from colors of green, yellow and blue. Kappas is said to inhibit the water bodies of Japan. Kappas could resemble a kind of amphibian, with webbed feet and the ability to ‘smell like a fish’ and swim like them. As interesting as a Kappa would sound, there’s one hardcore fact driven down. They do not exist. A Kappa is entirely fictional, and originates from myths. Same goes to every dragons, demons, and imps out there.

This story is supposed to be the past experience of a person who was living in the insane asylum under the title of a madman. The story itself has been told many times throughout the hospital, to the other inmates and interested visitors. The patient was depicted to be very calm, and polite during the story sessions, except at a very certain and touchy part which would cause the mad part of him to surface. The doctors did agree that it was a very interesting story. It could be possible that the patient was having acute schizophrenia, which explained his visions throughout the epilogue about the kappas and his sudden mood swings.

The story starts when the narrator ended up in a place called ‘Kappaland’, after a small misadventure at his hiking journey in which he got lost in the mist and found himself face to face with a Kappa. After chasing a wild Kappa and losing his consciousness, he woke up in a completely new place which was resided by Kappas. The Kappa in this story was described to be cleaner creatures than human, followed by the rest of the common descriptions about the creatures.

‘Kappaland’ was a magical place. It was a land where Kappas rule. The Kappa community was a bit like the human one, although I could describe it as a strange place with many twists in it. In this world, humans were a rare guest, and the narrator himself was treated in a lavish and great way. The Kappas had jobs similar to those of humans: there is a fisher Kappa, a Kappa who recited poems and a Kappa who could play music.

But the Kappa world wasn’t that perfect. The poor and unwanted Kappas who failed in the society would most often end up butchered and killed to be provided as food for the rest of the community. A Kappa could also choose whether to be born in the world, or not. As a Kappa could speak right in the womb, right during labor, the adult Kappas would ask them whether or not they would like to be born in the world. If the baby Kappa refused, then the problems would be solved with a very simple abortion.

The baby Kappas had a choice to either live, or die. Bag’s baby, who didn’t want to be born stated that he didn’t want to be Bag’s son, and the world sounded like a scary place, leading to his abortion, right before birth. If us humans had a choice whether to live or die before we were born, what would we choose? There are many people out there who are not satisfied with their current lives, and would do anything to never be born. To them, the world is a desolate place, and they had been born in the wrong place and the wrong time. Is being born a curse?

The narrator himself was settling down quite well in the Kappa world. An honored guest, he was welcomed and had many Kappa friends including Tock, a poet, Mag the philosopher, Bag the fisherman and Gael the capitalist. He resided in a tiny house, and got to know the Kappa world even more. The Kappas spoke in a different ‘Kappa’ language which he quickly learnt, and he started to learn more and more in the Kappa society.

The concept of this story is somehow similar to the story of Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, where Alice, the main character of the story gets transported into a magical world which defies the rules of science. Alice meets many other characters over her time in wonderland, but it’s never depicted that she missed wonderland at all. Wonderland itself is a ‘wonder’ to her, but Alice wants to go back home. In the end, Wonderland is simply just a dream.

When Tock committed suicide under pressure, the narrator finally decided that he must leave Kappaland. There, he found out that the human world was indeed way different from Kappaland. That was probably the point where he was placed in the asylum. He once said that the Kappas sometimes visit him in the asylum, but the doctors simply just shrug it off as part of his schizophrenic illness.

But can we be sure that Kappaland just a dream? The narrator had obviously disappeared from the real world during his stay at Kappaland, and it’s not like he has been surviving in some random place right? What if the Kappas were real, and nobody else could see them? Sometimes anything is not just a figment of the imagination.

Ryunosuke Akutagawa himself was considered as one of the most famous literature figure in Japan. The Japanese Akutagawa prize was named after him. He has written many short stories in his live which has been translated into many languages. Although he did a suicide at the age of thirty five, his legacy still lives on.


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