Looking through my old edition of Kappa/河童 by Akutagawa Ryunosuke I discovered at the back this book-plate from the publishers; The Hokuseido Press, of the book’s details, underneath the red stamp advertises Perkins Oriental Books, South Pasadena, California. I bought the book, the 1949 edition translated by Shiojiri Seiichi, from a Tokyo book store. Looking at the plate it conjures up images of its journey, not only of being transported across the seas on board cargo ships, but the workers who moved the crates, unconscious of the book and it’s contents, also of the people who have purchased it, read it and sold it on again, or of it sat perhaps in a bookstore in South Pasadena, on the back of the book it proclaims that it was produced in occupied Japan.
I read the novel perhaps two years ago now and have recently contemplated reading it again, randomly opening the book I came across the scene where the narrator, (Patient No: 23), is guided around the Kappa’s enormous book factory, in awe at the machinery involved in the manufacturing process, the engineer guide describes the advancement of the machines and the laying off of tens of thousands of Kappas, the narrator is perplexed why there haven’t been any strikes. Later whilst eating dinner at Gael’s house, (one of the narrator’s kappa friends), he is shocked when informed of the ‘Workers Butchery Law’, which permits the killing and eating of the excess workers. I’d forgotten the allegorical power of this novella, which in reading this scene has reminded me of the cannibalism featured in The Adventures of Sumiyakist Q by Kurahashi Yumiko. Not that I’m on a crusade against ebooks or book files but in this scene I couldn’t help but read into it an allegorical message that could be applied to the new age.