One of the classic stories in Japanese literature, simulaneously a charming fable, and a brusing satire on Japan--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
Kappa is a satire of Japanese society and will probably remind readers of Sir Thomas More's 'Utopia', which satirised English society in the early sixteenth century. The tale is recounted by a doctor in a mental asylum, whose patient claims to have visited Kappaland and lived there for several years. In Kappaland, many things are very different from Japan; it is almost an inversion. Sexual and societal norms are turned on their heads, so that it is the women who voraciously pursue the men, for instance. Militarism is not eschewed in Kappaland as in Japan, but rather favoured as a method of population control. Abortion is not an issue, since children are asked, before emerging from the womb, if they wish to be born; if they do not, they are not, and instead shrivel away. Capitalism in particular comes under a particularly savage critique, with unemployed workers being eaten as a matter of course by the others. When the protagonist challenges this apparently barbaric practice, he is told that the practice of selling daughters into prostitution and capitalism's other deprevating effects as prevailing in Japan are far more barbaric.Read more ›
In the tradition of "Gulliver's Travels," inside Kappaland, Akutagawa, author of "Rashomon" and "In the Grove," has created a twisted reflection of both his contemporary Japanese society and his own self-loathing. It has been a difficult tale to interpret in Japan, being hailed as either a children's story, a social satire or simply weird. Akutagawa himself feared insanity due to his mother's mental deterioration during his youth, and his own justified fear of the taint of madness in his blood.
Akutagawa's mental state when writing "Kappa" is important background, and the paperback edition comes with an extensive mini-biography of the famous author that is almost the size of the story itself. Akutagawa never wrote novels, and it is strange to see a single story packaged in one book. The introduction/biography is well written as well, and helps to reveal the story.
The writing in "Kappa" is sharp and quick-witted. The satire is equal parts clever and odd. Religion, marriage, arts and entertainment, all are in part skewered and skewed. The book is an incredibly fast read, and one that you will want to pass to your friends to read as well, so that you can see what someone else makes of it.
What still amazes me about this book (and other Akutagawa's works as well) is how the writer manages to develop characters (and in this case an entire imaginary culture) to such fullness, given the rather (spatially) limited medium of a novella.
Highly recommended reading.
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