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Monday, Aug.

25, 1947

Gulliver in a Kimono
In the days of the late Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, the "banzais" of
sword-shaking Japanese drowned out their more intelligent countrymen. The
world of the '305 and the '405 had no chance to learn that modern Japan has also
produced a fair quota of writers, thinkers and even humorists. Last month the
work of one of them, a 2O-year-old novelette called Kappa, was first published in
English translation. To American readers, Ryunosuke Akutagawa's satire seemed
almost too good to have been written by a Japanese.

Akutagawa's kappa are a race of Oriental leprechauns, seldom over three feet tall,
with short, ugly faces and webbed hands and feet. Like chameleons, they can
change the color of their skins at will. Other kappa marks are large beaks and
kangaroo pouches.

Eve Came First. The only known visitor to the kappa country is Patient No. 23 in
an insane asylum near Tokyo, who claims to have lived for months in the land of
the kappa. No. 23 found the kappa pleasant, if unpredictable people, with their
traditions often the reverse of human customs. They believe, for example, that the
first kappa was a woman, who could not abide living alone. God pitied her and,
taking her brain, created a male companion. His only instructions to the new
couple were to eat, multiply and live as expansively as possible.

For later kappa women, a good man was harder to find. Under a firm system of
courtship in reverse, she-kappa had to chase and capture their husbands. In these
efforts they were often assisted by parents, brothers and sisters. ("Oh, how
miserable the he-kappa is!")

The only uncaptured kappa man was Mag, the philosopher, who was too ugly and
stayed inside his house almost all the time reading books in a dusky room lighted
by a seven-color glass lantern. When No. 23 congratulated him on his
bachelorhood, Mag sighed, said wistfully: "It's quite natural that you don't see
how we feel, because you are not a kappa. But occasionally I myself desire those
dreadful she-kappa to run after me."

Among kappa families, birth control has been greatly refined and democratized.
Just before birth the father calls in a loud voice to his unborn child to see if it
wishes to enter the world. If the answer is no, the midwife injects some liquid into
the mother's abdomen, which promptly shrinks to normal size.
Workers Come Cheap. Parts of Akutagawa's book might have come from Dean
Swift. Accompanied by Gael, "a capitalist of capitalists," No. 23 visited some
kappa factories. His guide told him that each month the kappa invent seven or
eight hundred new machines which throw 40 or 50,000 kappa out of work. When
No. 23 wondered about the absence of labor trouble, his kappa friends explained
nonchalantly: "They are all eaten up. We kill all those workers and eat their flesh.
This month 64,769 workers have been dismissed and the price of meat has
dropped."

"Do they meekly consent to be killed?" asked No. 23.

"It's no use making a fuss," said Pep (the kappa judge), who sat frowning in front
of a wild peach in a pot, "we've got the workers' Butchery Law."

The kappa thought No. 23's horror at eating kappa meat pure sentimentality,
since everyone knew that in Japan girls from poor families were regularly sold to
brothels.*

Kappa books are manufactured by throwing paper, ink and a mysterious grey
powder into the funnel-shaped mouths of giant machines. In less than five
minutes' time the machines can produce a flood of different volumesseven
million each year. The powder is "just rubbishbrains of asses dried and ground."

Death Came Early. One day, No. 23 left the kappa and returned to Japan. He
could never again discover the entrance to their country, was finally confined by
skeptical authorities. He regarded his stay in the asylum with resignation,
remembering the words of Mag, the kappa philosopher: "The wisest way of life is
to look with contempt at the customs of an age, but nonetheless to live so as not
in the least to destroy them."

Author Akutagawa, at 35, found it impossible to take Mag's advice. Shortly after
Kappa was published, he killed himself.

* The problem of machines and employment has long been a favorite topic of satirists. In A Modest Proposal Swift similarly suggested that

poor Irish mothers be permitted to sell their year-old offspring for 10 shillings. The babies could then be slaughtered, sold as edible meat.

This would limit excessive population, furnish a new source of food supply. Clarence Day's Animals in a Machine Age advocated training

squirrels to operate textile bobbins, raccoons to run railways. While they worked it would be in the employer's best interest to keep them

healthy and fat; when business slackened, the meat of those laid off could be sold at a discount. Citizens of Samuel Butler's mythical Erewhon

outlawed and destroyed all but the most primitive mechanisms. Scraps of the forbidden machines were kept as museum pieces to warn

Erewhonians what not to invent.