Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Out of This World

Kappa seen enjoying a nice hot dip in this sign
advertising a Temple Valley public bath and pool.

Stories of kappas, legendary creatures that inhabit this land's more watery realm, abound here.  In his Myths and Legends of Japan, author David  Hadland describes the kappa as "a river goblin, a hairy creature with the body of a tortoise and scaly limbs." Hadland writes that "his head somewhat resembles that of an ape, in the top of which there is a cavity containing a mysterious fluid, said to be the source of the creature's power."

Kappa occupy a prominent place in the collective Japanese psyche, they are familiar to old and young alike. While stories of cucumber-and-child-devouring (in a really gruesome way)kappa were perhaps once used to frighten young children into being wary of the dangers that lurk in the water world of fast flowing rivers and deep lakes, today you often see them depicted as cute and lovable little mascots, etc.

While the faces of kappas adorn the facades of everything from indoor swimming pools to watering holes and more, I've never seen a real kappa up close. That is not until today perhaps. While riding the Japan Railway's Kehein-Tohoku line, which traverses the shores of a number of waterways, I spied this curious looking gentleman. 

I can't say for sure whether or not he was one of the breed of legendary water people but the resemblance was uncanny. He may have just been an artist though. I followed his trail to the end of the rail car where he approached another somewhat disheveled looking gentleman perusing a book containing the works of some great painter unknown to me. After the two shared a word and a glance at the tome, the kappa alone disembarked from the train at Shinagawa Station - a name that curiously enough contains the word "gawa" meaning river in Japanese.

 Believe It Or Not

The really strange thing is that when I asked my sister-in-law (her name is Happy Child but I call her "Honorable Sister"), who was sitting next to me on the train, if she saw the mysterious passenger illustrated above, she said she hadn't noticed him! You might think I possess some special gift that would allow me to see beyond what the normal human eye can envision but that's not the case. I believe it's a fairly common phenomenon that was perhaps best explained by a wise man I saw on some TV show once. He noted that if you grow up in a "crazy" family, you don't notice that everybody in the family is "crazy" until you move out of the house and observe them from a safe distance. You could probably extend that same logic beyond the family and apply it to your school, your job, your community, your country and finally your world.

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