|Netsuke of a seated Kappa, signed Hokushō|
or Kitamasa. Late 1700s. (British Museum)
|Kappamaki -- cucumber sushi rolls. I generally prefer|
my sushi to have more fillings than just cucumbers.
Maybe kappas, who are sometimes green, resemble cucumbers. Or maybe kappas like to eat cucumbers. I'm not going to try to understand the connection, just to report a few things about kappas that I checked because I was intrigued by the Netsuke in the British Museum last week.
|"Illustrated Guide to 12 types of Kappa," Japan, mid-19th century. (Wikipedia)|
In the past, reports of kappa sightings might have been due to actual encounters with a really nasty Japanese giant salamander that did attack people, or might have been responses to dimly-seen river otters standing on their back legs, I read. Or maybe kappas really did exist -- Japan was full of mysterious things back then. The Daily Mail newspaper in England in 2014 reported a finding of "real" kappa bones.
|Ryunosuke Akutagawa's "Kappa,"|
cover illustration by the author.
Akutagawa's tale begins in a "lunatic asylum." Patient No. 23 repeats his story over and over "his hands clasped all the time round his knees, and his eyes looking now and then out of the iron bars of the window." (p. 27)
Three years earlier, the patient tells, he was walking in a foggy valley when he encountered a kappa, chased it, and fell down into the underground habitat of all the kappas. It was a topsy-turvy land where the values, the customs, the politics, and the relations between the sexes were all bizarrely different from those in Japan. Women chased after men, babies were asked before birth if they really wanted to live, and kappas ate kappa flesh cannibalistically. The lunatic patient described talking to a number of different leading kappa personalities, from whom he learned about their art, music, poetry, manufacturing, military exploits, and lifestyles, which all highlighted aspects of his native Japanese culture.
Here's a description of kappa political behavior from a conversation he has with Gael, a kappa industrialist and very influential man:
"'Quorax' is only a meaningless interjection like 'Oh.' But it was the name of a political party whose primary concern was supposed to be the promotion of the welfare of the kappa race.
"'The Quorax Party is under the control of Loppé,' said Gael. 'As you know, he is a famoous kappa statesman. Bismarck said that honesty is the best diplomacy, but Loppé is honest not only in his diplomacy but also in his management of home affairs.....'"
"'But that speech of Loppé's --'
"'Come now, just listen. That speech of his is of course a lie, every bit of it. But as everybody knows that it is a lie, it is an honest speech after all, isn't it? No one but you and your countrymen will call it a lie simply because it is a lie. We kappas do not -- well, it doesn't matter.'" (p. 70)Other kappa behavior and attitudes were just as unlike human behavior and attitudes as this. Unlike human behavior? Well, sometimes too much like human behavior, just different in detail. Akutagawa creates an imaginary kappa world that remains pretty intriguing nearly a century later, though I would not say the story is completely successful as satire -- I'm not sure why. Maybe it cuts too close to the bone.