Kappa – Ryunosuke Akutagawa

December 13, 2009 § 2 Comments


The Kappa is a creature about whose existence there is still considerable dispute. But surely there can no longer be the slightest room for such doubt now that I have personally lived among them.


[…] there is the same short hair on the head, the same webbed hands and feet. The average height of a Kappa is just over three feet […]


The distinctive feather of the Kappa is the oval-shaped saucer to be found on top of its head. As the Kappa’s age increases, this saucer gradually hardens […]

Kappa is a very amusing book. Right at the beginning, we are introduced to the book by way of an ‘author’s preface’, where the ‘author’ tells us that he is merely writing down the story as narrated by a certain Patient No. 23 in a mental asylum. Patient No. 23 will tell his story, it is said, to anyone who is willing to listen.

His story is about this one time when he was out by himself on a summer’s day. There he had a surprise encounter with an odd creature that had a tiger’s face and a sharp beak. Chasing after this creature (most probably out of curiosity), he managed to land himself into a hole, where he became unconscious.

When he finally came to his senses, he was surrounded by many Kappas, and thus began his story about his time in Kappaland.


I had mainly wanted to read this book because of the name ‘Akutagawa’. Given that there is a Japanese Literary Prize today bearing his name, I thought it necessary to read at least one of his works. I doubt this is going to be my last.

The story is a very short one, a few pages shy of 100. But within the covers I found a tale that was both funny and sad at the same time. It has been described as a ‘brilliant satire’, and I don’t think I would disagree.

There were passages within Kappa that seemed so completely absurd, and yet evoked this feeling of gloom. I could smile and laugh while reading the book, but between the lines, I couldn’t help but wonder at the possible accusations he was making. In one hand, life can be crazy and impossible to comprehend, while on the other hand, the same life could be one of utter misery and completely worthless.


A 40-page introduction preceeds the story proper, where a general outline of Akutagawa’s life is drawn. It appears that Kappa is probably one of his last works before he committed suicide in 1927, at the age of 35. Most of his life, it is said, he was depressed, and most probably suffered from mental illnesses.

I read the introduction only after reading the story proper. This way, I went into the story without any preconceptions of what to expect. It definitely worked for me.


Rating: 4.5

Rashomon is the next Akutagawa book on my list.

Challenges: Lost in Translation Challenge 2009, Japanese Literature Challenge 3


§ 2 Responses to Kappa – Ryunosuke Akutagawa

  • mrdes says:

    Hi, got to your site from Bookie Mee…

    Read this and thought it being avant-garde, considering when it was written…I prefer Akutagawa’s short stories collection though:)

    You seem to like Japanese Literature? Recommend to you my all-time favourite Japanese author: Yasunari Kawabata. Though, I understand it’s not everybody’s cup of tea:)

    • Michelle says:

      Thanks for dropping by mrdes. I’ve read Kawabata before, but I’m not sure yet how I feel about his style. I’ve yet to read Akutagawa’s other works, but I’m really interested.

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