Ryota the Kappa

by Yoshiro Takayasu

Translated by Toshiya Kamei

This story first appeared in Delos in May, 2019

Ryota got off the train at a station in a fishing village. As he walked out of the station, a flyer posted on the wall caught his eye: “Apprentice Fisherman Wanted.” It also said, “All You Can Eat Fish.” Ryota had a weakness for fish. That’s because he was actually a kappa, a water goblin. There was a complicated reason why the kappa was in the human world.

Ryota’s village was situated on a sandbank in the Izumi River in northern Japan. As humans continued to destroy nature, however, it became difficult to live there. Many kappa left the familiar river. Some migrated to a poor neighboring village called Tanuki Village while others departed for distant foreign lands.

Kappa can turn themselves into humans quite easily. The shell on a kappa’s back is actually detachable, unlike a turtle shell. The dish on top of its head is merely a bald spot, so you can’t tell kappa apart from humans if they wear hairpieces. You may often come across drawings of pointy-mouthed kappa, but painters tend to exaggerate the facial expressions they make when they happen to be angry.

Before long all the kappa were gone from the village in the Izumi River Basin, and Ryota and his father were the only ones still remaining there.

“I’ve lived all my life as the master of this river. I have no intention of living anywhere else.”

That was what his father had often said. His father’s stubborn determination seemed noble to Ryota, and he wanted to continue living in the Izumi River just like his father, if possible.

His father died at the age of two hundred. His death was a bit premature for a kappa. It’s likely that the subpar living conditions hastened his death. Now all alone, Ryota lived for a while taking care of his father’s tomb, but the winter when he turned fifteen, he finally ran out of food and went to a town where humans lived.

At first, Ryota didn’t know how to live in human society. His understanding of human language was if that of a small child. Hungry and unable to move, he was picked up by the police. A fifteen-year-old kappa looks like a child of five or six years.

“How old are you? What’s your name?” A lot of questions were asked, but he only repeated that he didn’t know. He was placed in an orphanage and lived there for the next ten-odd years. As he ate human food and lived among humans, he aged like a human.

Ten years had passed since he graduated from high school and became independent. He began to think it wasn’t half bad to live as a human. Then he got acquainted with a girl. She was his first love.

However, Ryota had no idea how to nurture his love. He read books on marriage and talked to friends, but his worries only grew. What was he supposed to do with his life? How could they raise a child after they were married? What was a good life? How could he maintain his pride as a kappa, which had made his life worth living? More than anything else, how exactly would being a kappa influence his life?

Perhaps because he held such doubts, their relationship, which had lasted about two years, began to cool down, and she started implying that she wanted to break up with him. One day she handed him a letter, saying “Read this.” Ryota thought it was a goodbye letter.

Ryota quit his job and went on a trip with no destination in mind.

He opened the letter in the train.

“I know your secret. You’re actually a kappa. I, too, have a secret. My ancestors were from Tanuki Village, and I’m a tanuki. Humans keep destroying nature selfishly, but the two of us can find a way to live together even in such a difficult world. I can go anywhere in order to live. We tanuki pride ourselves in surviving. The same goes for the kappa tribe, doesn’t it?”

When Ryota finished reading the letter, he jumped off the train. Then he found himself at a station in Chiba Prefecture, where he spotted the flyer that read “Apprentice Fisherman Wanted.” Ryota called her cell phone in front of the flyer.

“I think I’ll be a fisherman in this town. If you don’t mind being with a kappa, why don’t you join me here? It’s dawned on me that you should pride yourself in living your life to the fullest, whether you’re a kappa or a tanuki.”

Suddenly, someone poked Ryota’s back. It was his girlfriend who secretly followed him on his trip.

“So you’ve finally realized that, Ryota the Kappa,” she said with a smile.

A few years later they were married and a child was born. That child is me, writing down this story.

© Copyright Yoshiro Takayasu and Toshiya Kamei

A retired high school science teacher, Yoshiro Takayasu lives in Togane, Chiba with his wife and fellow poet Mitsuko. He is the author of several poetry collections, including Mukashimukashi (1982) and Jigenkyo (1987), as well as the short story collections Omagatoki (1999) and Yamazakura (2017).

Toshiya Kamei holds an MFA in Literary Translation from the University of Arkansas. His translations have appeared in venues such as Clarkesworld, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and Strange Horizons.

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