リーフノベル 「河童の亮太」「春の香り」 （2019年）
Two Leaf Novels
Translated from Japanese by Toshiya Kamei
Ryota the Kappa
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 compli-
cated 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
Kappa can turn themselves into humans quite easily. The shell on a kap-
pa's back is actually detachable, unlike a turtle shell. The dish on top
head is merely a bald spot, so you can't tell kappa apart from humans if
wear hairpieces. You may often come across drawings of pointy-mouthed
kappa, but painters tend to exaggerate the facial expressions they make
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
ing anywhere else."
That was what his father had often said. His father's stubborn determina-
tion 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
Now all alone, Ryota lived for a while taking care of his father's tomb,
winter when he turned fifteen, he finally ran out of food and went to a
where humans lived.
At first, Ryota didn't know how to live in hitman society. His understand-
ing of human language was 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
five or six years.
"How old are you? What's your name?" A lot of questions were
he only repeated that he didn't know. He was placed in an orphanage and
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
got acquainted with a girl. She was his first love.
However, Ryota had no idea how to nurture his love. He read books on mar-
riage and talked to friends, but his worries only grew. What was he supposed
to do to 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 felt such doubts, their relationship, which had lasted
about two years, began to cool down, and she started implying that she
to break up with him. One day she handed him a letter, saying "Read
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.
uo "I know your secret. You're actually a kappa. I, too, have a secret.
tors 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
a difficult world. I can go anywhere in order to live. We tanuki pride
selves 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
read "Apprentice Fisherman Wanted." Ryota called her cell phone
in front of
"I think I'll be a fisherman in this town. If you don't mind being
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
Suddenly, someone poked Ryota's back. It was his girlfriend who had
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.
Scent of Spring
Katsumi, whose hobby was collecting butterflies, went to Gifu, the Gifu
terfly's habitat. It was the home of Tomoko, who had left him half a year
When he arrived in a small town in that mountainous area, he was overcome
by the illusion that Tomoko was waiting for him there. He was grateful
for having lived with him, a man old enough to be her father, even for
period of time.
"You said 1 could leave you whenever I wanted. So this is goodbye."
sumi could still picture in his mind Tomoko waving mischievously. About
three months later a letter arrived from her. "I thought you would
try to stop
me, so I was a littfe sad that you didn't. But now I am living happily
younger man," she wrote.
Katsumi rode a bus for about thirty minutes, walked for an hour from the
trailhead, until he was halfway up a small mountain. A valley lay below
rocky mountain, and a resting place was perched above the valley floor.
apparently open only during the summer climbing season, and the door of
shop was shut tightly. After putting down his bag on a nearby bench, he
to eat his late lunch. Then a butterfly flew by right in front of him.
assembled his butterfly net in a hurry, checked the triangular insect case
attached to his belt, and waited for the butterfly to come back. When he
ished eating, he saw the butterfly in flight again. It was a Gifu butterfly.
Katsumi held out the butterfly net and tried to capture the butterfly,
it flew up
toward the sky and disappeared.
After a while Katsumi thought about going down to the valley river. He
decided to look for a Gifu butterfly among the insects near the water.
thought he could somehow manage to climb down one side of the cliff over-
looking the valley river. Katsumi went down the slope, straight through
brush where there was no path. While grabbing vines and twigs, he waved
the butterfly net to block the flight paths of butterflies that flew toward
occasionally. Wild gingers were beginning to bud at his feet. The breath
spring wrapped itself around Katsumi's whole body, and a scent that reminded
him of a freshly split bamboo wafted toward him.
After Katsumi walked for about an hour, the sound of the valley river began
to echo delightfully. A big rock came into view. Suddenly, he saw a white
shifting its shape like a cloud of dust. As he stared, he soon realized
was a myriad of butterflies. Tens of thousands of butterflies stood up
human figure, reminding him of a goddess. "Is it a swarm of Gifu butterflies?"
he wondered. Just as he leaned forward for a closer look, the vine he held
his hand snapped, and he fell straight into the valley river.
Katsumi, who had been lying with one leg soaked in the cold water, even-
tually regained his senses, looking around while dragging his aching feet.
could hear the stream babbling, his eyes blinded by the glitter of the
as he desperately tried to reach for the butterfly net lying on the ground,
he heard a faint voice. "Get me out of here." He glanced inside
the net and
spotted a little girl about the size of his little finger with translucent
"This must be a butterfly fairy." Katsumi's intuition told him
him speechless. The fairy was calling out to him, not bothering to hide
naked body. Suddenly, he remembered Tomoko's fresh white skin. The fairy's
face was an exact copy of Tomoko's, sorrowful on the day they broke up.
"Let me go. I'll give you anything you want." The fairy said
turn stones in the riverbed into gems. She could also give him eternal
"If you don't like that, I'll dance for you all day. You'll be the
first human to
watch us dance."
Katsumi still remained silent. When he regained his composure, he mut-
tered, "I want you to be mine forever." He couldn't have borne
to go through
the same pain again.
"I can't do that. My breath will kill you."
Katsumi didn't need anything. He desperately hauled in the butterfly net
gently pinched the base of the fairy's wings. The fairy let out a scream.
scream sounded like the cry of the lesser cuckoo. The scent of spring filled
"I didn't know the scent of spring was the sigh of a fairy."
his eyes, intoxicated with bliss.
Two days later, the local paper ran an article about a man who had fallen
into the valley river and died in a hospital.
A retired high school science teacher, Yoshiro Takayasu was born in 1946
Togane, Chiba, where he still lives today with his wife and fellow poet
suko. His books include several poetry collections such as Mukashi mukashi
(1982) and Jigenkyo (1987), as well as the short story collections Omagatoki
(1999) and Yamazakura (2017). English translations of his fiction and poetry
have appeared in various journals, including The Broken Plate, The Dirty
Goat, Gargoyle Magazine, Metamorphoses, Nebo, and Visions International.
Takayasu is a literary innovator in his own unique way, experimenting with
variety of forms, genres, and traditions. As the poet Hosho Arakawa indicates
in the preface to Takayasu's 1982 poetry collection Mukashi mukashi (Once
upon a time), whose title evokes the fairy tale tradition, Takayasu attempts
to fuse modern poetry and folklore, creating what he calls "story
which contain elements of epic poetry and may be rendered as narrative
poetry in English. As he does with his "leaf novel" pieces presented
too he taps into the tradition of "mukashibanashi," or, tales
of long ago, a
genre that encompasses myths, folk tales, fairy tales, and legends while
ing emotions and the place humans occupy in the universe.
After devoting himself to writing poetry for more than three decades,
Yoshiro Takayasu started writing what he calls "leaf novels"
in 1992, when
he was a science teacher at Kujukuri High School. According to Takayasu,
"leaf novel" is a story short enough to be written on a leaf.
Also, he points out
that "kotoba," "word" in Japanese is a compound word
made up of koto, which
means "talk," and "ba," which means "leaf' as
well as "fragment." His "leaf
novel" consists of approximately 1,600 characters (roughly 800 words
translated into English), and, in the author's words, "invites the
reader to the
world of deep psychological insight, desires, departed souls, and irony."1
Today, the Internet is swarming with sites specializing in flash fiction.
Japan, millions of cellphone users consume and produce "tsuinobe,"
ter novels, written within the 140-character constraint. Well before the
of the Internet, though, Japan has a long tradition of very short forms
narrative. Among modern Japanese writers, Nobel Prize laureate Yasunari
Kawabata (1899-1972) was a life-long practitioner of short fiction, which
dubbed "tanagokoro no shosetsu" (palm-of-the-hand stories). He
that those prose pieces, many of which are vignettes or short-shorts no
than a few pages long, captured the essence of his work.
1 The "leaf novels" (リーフノベル）have been published online by Takayasu
wwwl.odn.ne.jp/~aap60600/yoshirou/l.html. "Ryota the Kappa"（河童の亮太）
8/5/18, is posted at http://wwwl.odn.ne.jp/~aap60600/yoshirou/kappanoryouta.html.
"Scent of Spring" (春の香り） is at http://wwwl.odn.ne.jp/~aap60600/yoshirou/haruno.html;
it appears to date from 2003.
The Kappa and the Tanuki. Similar to a water goblin in the West, the kappa
(pi. kappa), whose literal meaning is "river-child," is a popular
trickster in Japan. Traditionally, parents used kappa to scare their children
away from rivers by way of precaution against accidental drowning. A kappa
is usually depicted as a green scaly creature with webbed feet and hands.
addition, the kappa has a beak, a turtle-like shell on his back, and a
cavity on his head, which is said to be the source of his power and must
kept moist at all times. Aside from many reincarnations in fairy tales,
important work of modern Japanese literature featuring kappa is Ryunosuke
Akutagawa's novella Kappa, which was originally published in the literary
journal Kaizo shortly before he died by his own hand in 1927. The story
first-person narrative account of a psychiatric patient who has visited
try of the kappa. Like Takayasu's short stories presented here, it falls
category of fantasy fiction, more specifically in the vein of Swift's Gulliver's
Unlike the kappa, but like the fox, the tanuki (pi. tanuki) can be identified
with a real wild animal. The kitsune (fox) and the tanuki (raccoon dog)
perhaps the most popular were creatures in Japan. In contrast to kitsune,
seem serious in their approach to trickery, tanuki usually serve as comic
whose deception frequently fails. In Japanese folklore, where humanity
acts with nature, the tanuki repeatedly appears as an outsider living on
margin of human society. The tanuki is a shapeshifter who comes down to
the village and plays tricks on the villagers. Tanuki are usually represented
as male, with hypertrophied testicles, which makes the female tanuki in
Takayasu's story all the more intriguing.
Delos Vol. 34, No. 1, pp. 15-20. Copyright c 2019 University of Florida
16 Yoshiro Takayasu