Author Interview: John Paul Catton




Interviewed by Cody L. Martin and Jacob Smith.

Could you tell us a little about yourself and your background?

There’s not much to say! I’m British by birth, and I have a background in journalism. I left the UK to go traveling and ended up here in Japan. I’ve been here for about twenty years now, and I’m an assistant professor in Communication and Media Studies at the Kanda Institute, central Tokyo.

What genre are your books?

The “Sword Mirror Jewel” series is Young Adult Urban Fantasy. The “Futurist Manifesto” series is Retropunk, but I’ll go into that another time. Urban Fantasy is a genre that specializes in placing fantastic creatures, heroes, and demons in the modern world that we inhabit. This means that in the SMJ series, we see a war between the Tengu and the Kappa take place, but in locations familiar to any visitor to Tokyo; the Tengu claim the sky and the rooftops of the skyscrapers, the Tokyo Tower, the Sky Tree, whereas the Kappa lurk in the rivers, the sewers, and subway tunnels.

What was the main inspiration for Sword, Mirror, Jewel?

I saw a gap that existed in the fantasy genre. The universe of Japanese Mythology is fascinating, mysterious and complex, and I realized that no non-Japanese writer had ever employed it as the basis for a long literary work. The comic world had used it; both Marvel and DC had featured Japanese Kamisama in their titles, most notably Neil Gaiman in the “Sandman” series. Nevertheless, I wanted to create something like what Rick Riordan had done with “Percy Jackson and the Olympians”, because I thought it had never been done before. Why use the tired old cliches of vampires, werewolves, and shape-shifters, when you have no end of weird Japanese legendary creatures to play with – the Tanuki, the Kitsune, the Nopperaboh and so many more!

What’s it like being a non-Japanese author living and writing in Japan?

It’s home to me now. Japan and I have a mutual love-hate relationship with each other, but I have done well here, I have absolutely no complaints regarding the Japanese people, and I have no plans to live anywhere else. One regret, however, is that these is no Japanese language version of Sword, Mirror, Jewel. Excalibur Books just doesn’t have the funds for it. If any kind patron reading this might be interested, please get in touch!

What are the advantages and disadvantages of writing about a culture that isn’t your own?

The advantage is that my viewpoint would be slightly different from that of someone born in that culture. In ancient times in many countries, the shaman used to live in a hut on the edge of the village. He or she existed simultaneously in two worlds; the world of everyday society, and the world of the spirits. I think of myself (maybe pretentiously) as living on the border between cultures, and seeing those cultures under a different light, a light that illuminates reality’s everyday facade and the shadows behind it.

Why did you decide to make the central character, Reiko Bergman, half-American and half-Japanese?

Two reasons: I wanted the main character to be accessible to Western audiences. Japanese high schools can be bizarre, obscure, frustrating places, with their cloistered pressure-cooker environments and arcane rules. If you’re not familiar with them, you might think – “Why the heck are these kids behaving like this?” So I wanted Reiko to be an audience surrogate. She has mixed parents and has returned to Tokyo after spending most of her childhood in the USA, so her thought-processes would be familiar to anyone reading the book.

The second reason is, I wanted to demonstrate that Japanese society itself had changed. I worked for a couple of years at Shibuya Makuhari High School just outside Tokyo, which had a Global Studies Department full of returnees like Reiko. These teenagers spoke fluent English and sometimes felt lost and alienated within Japan, even though they are Japanese citizens. I wanted to show that these kids are the future; in fact, they have got to be the future.


Welcome to the “Voice of the Jewel” Paperback Launch Contest!


IMG_9339 (more…)

Prologue Two: “The Ghosts of Gunkanjima”


The following events took place 14 years before the beginning of the “Sword, Mirror, Jewel” trilogy. 

This novelette will be available for reading only during the competition period. 

















Prologue One: “The Sakura Strategy”



he following events took place 202 years before the beginning of the  “Sword, Mirror, Jewel” trilogy. 

This novelette will be available for reading only during the competition period. 


















“Sanshu no Jingi”: Japan’s Three Mystic Treasures


ABOVE: Artist's impression ... definitely NOT the real objects. 

In today's blog post ... Why is the trilogy titled "Sword Mirror Jewel"? 


The Imperial Regalia of Japan (AKA the Three Sacred Treasures of Japan, Sanshu no Jingi in Japanese) are three mysterious and extremely powerful objects, each in their own right, and each with a long history. They each represent the three primary virtues: valor (the sword), wisdom (the mirror) and benevolence (the jewels).

The Kusanagi (the sword) was given as a peace offering to Amaterasu, and later given by the Sun Goddess to the warrior Yamato Takeru, to help him subdue the warlords and bandits plaguing the land. Its current resting place is Atsuta Shrine, in Nagoya city.

The Yata no Kagami is the mirror, forged by the Kami, that the Sun Goddess looked into when she opened the door of the cave that she had hid herself in. The Yasakani no Magatama were the jewels placed on the sasaki tree behind the mirror. The mirror is currently housed at the Ise Shrine complex in Mie prefecture, and the jewels are located in the Imperial Palace, in the center of Tokyo.

Are these treasures the genuine articles, you may ask? Is the Japanese Royal Family really in possession of super-weapons forged by gods (or aliens with superior intelligence masquerading as gods)?

It’s impossible to tell, as these treasures are kept in secret inner sanctums, off limits to the public. Since the year 690, an important part of the Imperial Coronation ceremony has been the presentation of these items to the new emperor by certain elite Shinto priests. The ceremony is not televised, and the identity of the priests is not publicized – so the truth remains a matter of personal belief. One thing we do know is that between 25th and 31st July 1945, when Japan was on the verge of being invaded by Allied forces, the Emperor Showa issued a declaration to his closest advisor, Koichi Kido (Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal 1940-1945) ordering the protection of the Sanshu no Jingi – “at all costs”.











Third Prize: “Sword, Mirror, Jewel” Trilogy – 3 Ebooks


Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000027_00013]

The third prize in the “Voice of the Jewel” Paperback launch Competition is the entire “Sword, Mirror, Jewel” series in ebook form!

Seventeen-year-old Reiko Bergman just wants to fit in. Being half-Japanese and half-American is challenging enough in modern Tokyo, a city where obscure traditions collide with futuristic technology, and where even the ground beneath your feet can betray you. But then her boyfriend Hideaki undergoes a bizarre personality change and develops supernatural powers; a samurai-sorceress forces her way into the Bergman family’s house as part of a mysterious quest; and Reiko discovers an otherworldly portal in the oldest part of Tokyo – a shattered dimensional gateway, releasing creatures from Japanese mythology into our reality.

Reiko’s world has changed forever, and in the war breaking out in the shadows of Tokyo, she and her friends will have to figure out which side they’re on … before it’s too late!



While I’d been reading this, the display dimmed. I pressed the button to lighten the screen, but it didn’t make any difference. My eyes, I thought, they’re getting tired. I shouldn’t force myself to keep reading. But I still had that homework to do . . .

At the corner of my eyes, the shadows in my bedroom hardened and deepened. I switched on the lamp next to my bed. It didn’t seem to make any difference to the sudden gloom. I rubbed my eyes, sat back in my chair . . .

And that’s when I saw it. Huge, alien, revolting, and in my room. A swirling, undulating, mass of tentacles floating above me, covering the ceiling, its arms writhing and looping around each other and around the central featureless blob that was its head.

It was alive. I knew, somehow, it was alive.

The pane of glass in the bedroom window flashed electric blue and a woman suddenly leaped down onto my carpet, standing right in front of me, a blurred image in a long kimono, a striking and ferocious face, long black hair.

The woman stood over me, holding a long staff upright. A staff tipped with a crystal blade that shone with a deep, smoldering light, slicing through the darkness congesting the bedroom air.

She shouted something, it didn’t even sound like words. I saw the nest of tentacles heave and twist like they were in pain. The woman shouted again, and thrust the staff upwards until it almost touched the ceiling. The creature gave off this hissing sound, and then it began to sink, like water being sucked down a drain, its tentacles writhing faster and faster as it got smaller and smaller. Finally, it shot sideways to a crack in the plaster between the ceiling and the floor, and like a wisp of smoke, it was gone. It left nothing behind but a faint smell like raw garbage.

The light in my bedroom suddenly flicked back to its former brightness. There was an empty, ringing hush, like the sound of someone holding their breath. The disgusting thing had disappeared – but the woman still stood, solid and real, in the middle of my bedroom.

“Wh-wh-what was that?” I finally stammered.

“It is one of a race of beings known as the Tenjoname.” The woman’s voice was cool, clear and assured. The voice of someone who knew what they were talking about. Even floating octopus things that crept into a person’s house at night.

“And who are you?” was my next question.

“I am Gyouten Sama-no-kami Sasaki-no-Ason Chiyoko, from the nation of Yamataikoku.”

              “Oh,” I said, trying to process all that.

“And you are?”

“Reiko. You’re in my house, you know. Well, my grandparent’s house. What are you doing here?”

“Looking for that. I followed it across this city.”

I swallowed. I felt faint as I lowered myself into my chair. “So what was that – thing – doing in my room?”

“It is an assassin. It drains the light from an area and uses the darkness to strangle its victim.”

“Oh, I see,” I said lamely. I was trying to speak in a normal voice, but everything came out creaky and high-pitched.

“I have not much time,” she said. “Tell me exactly what you were doing when the Tenjoname attacked.”

“Reading this.” I turned the computer screen around so she could read it.

“Tengoku-Kui,” I heard her mutter to herself. “Of course.” She turned her attention to me again. “The Tenjoname followed you home. Where had you been before this?”

“A f-friend’s house,” I stammered.

“Did anything happen at your friend’s house? Anything unusual?”

So I told her what had happened to Hideaki. Then I suddenly realized what she reminded me of. She was dressed like a Miko, one of the ladies who sell charms and talismans in the shrines. She wasn’t wearing a kimono, but a quilted green and black robe over black pants, sandals on her feet. The robe was covered with a design of highly detailed interlocking wheels. A chain of gold and silver amulets glittered at her neck.

After my explanation stammered to a halt, she bowed, nodded and turned towards the window. “I must leave. The Tenjoname will not trouble you again, do not fear.”

“Wait!” I called. “What’s going on? You break in to our house looking like some kind of cosplay fanatic and just interrogate me, I mean, who are you? Where are you from?”

“At the moment, I am the only one who can help your friend Hideaki,” she said in a voice that made me shut up and sit down again. “Now go back to your textbooks, forget about me and forget about the Tenjoname. Tell no one what you saw.”

Something in the back of my mind registered the sound of a door sliding open on its runners downstairs. “Reiko?” Sure enough, here came Grandma’s voice.“ Reiko, have you got a friend up there?”

The woman coiled herself to spring, like a cat, and jumped up towards the window. Her body, with the hair and the dress flowing behind her, made contact with the glass and went through it, like it was water, and she disappeared, ripples trembling out to the edges of the windowpane.

“You can’t do that,” I remember saying to myself. That’s just … wrong.”

My hands were shaking. Maybe I’d fallen asleep browsing the net: I pinched myself. Sure enough, it hurt, and the room stayed the way it was, the weird shimmering on the windowpane slowly fading away.

“Reiko!” came the voice again, up a few degrees of petulance.

I ran over to the door and pulled it open. “Sorry,” I yelled downstairs. “Did I disturb you?”

“I thought I heard two voices,” Grandma called, sounding a bit puzzled.

So the woman wasn’t a hallucination! “No, just me. I was listening to … a voice memo. I recorded myself dictating the term papers, you see. It’s a new smartphone feature. For students.”

“You can use cell phones for anything these days,” she chuckled, and then I heard the door slide shut again.

Yeah, right, I thought. What I should use the cell phone for is to call the hospital for the terminally whacko and ask them to come and take me away.




A Personal Story: The Great Storm of 1987





How many people reading this remember the Great Storm of 15th October 1987, that battered southern England? 

If you said yes, was it because of the notorious broadcast of BBC TV weatherman Michael Fish saying, “Earlier in the evening a woman rang the BBC to ask if there’s a hurricane on the way. Well if you’re watching, don’t worry – there isn’t.”


The funny thing, he was right. He was actually referring to a different storm system over the western part of the North Atlantic Ocean that day. This storm, he said, would not reach the British Isles – and it didn’t. It was the rapidly deepening depression from the Bay of Biscay which struck. This storm wasn’t officially a hurricane, as it did not originate in the tropics – but it was certainly exceptional.

With winds gusting at up to 100mph, there was massive devastation across the country and 18 people were killed. About 15 million trees were blown down. Many fell on to roads and railways, causing major transport delays. Others took down electricity and telephone lines, leaving thousands of homes without power for more than 24 hours.


Buildings were damaged by winds or falling trees. Numerous small boats were wrecked or blown away, with one ship at Dover being blown over and a Channel ferry was blown ashore near Folkestone.

During the evening of 15 October, radio and TV forecasts mentioned strong winds but indicated heavy rain would be the main feature, rather than strong wind. By the time most people went to bed, exceptionally strong winds hadn’t been mentioned in national radio and TV weather broadcasts. Warnings of severe weather had been issued, however, to various agencies and emergency authorities, including the London Fire Brigade. Perhaps the most important warning was issued by the Met Office to the Ministry of Defence at 0135 UTC, 16 October. It warned that the anticipated consequences of the storm were such that civil authorities might need to call on assistance from the military.

In south-east England, where the greatest damage occurred, gusts of 70 knots or more were recorded continually for three or four consecutive hours. Even the oldest residents of the worst affected areas couldn’t recall winds so strong, or destruction on so great a scale.


My parents used to have a giant conifer tree in their back garden in Norwich. It was planted in 1956, the year I was born, and it towered above the neighboring trees. On that night, it was blown down, smashing my dad’s greenhouse as well.

I wasn’t there at the time, because I was in London, working for the NME. What do I remember of the storm itself? Nothing! I was sleeping off a drinking binge. Was the destruction of the tree in any way symbolic, because we were the same age? Did anything weird happen to me at around the same time?

Well now, there’s a question … stay tuned for the answer!







Fourth Prize: “Voice of the Sword” – Paperback


Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000027_00013]

The fourth prize in the “Voice of the Jewel” Paperback Launch Competition is a signed paperback copy of Book One in the trilogy – “Voice of the Sword”!

Seventeen-year-old Reiko Bergman just wants to fit in. Being half-Japanese and half-American is challenging enough in modern Tokyo, a city where obscure traditions collide with futuristic technology, and where even the ground beneath your feet can betray you. But then her boyfriend Hideaki undergoes a bizarre personality change and develops supernatural powers; a samurai-sorceress forces her way into the Bergman family’s house as part of a mysterious quest; and Reiko discovers an otherworldly portal in the oldest part of Tokyo – a shattered dimensional gateway, releasing creatures from Japanese mythology into our reality.

         Reiko’s world has changed forever, and in the war breaking out in the shadows of Tokyo, she and her friends will have to figure out which side they’re on … before it’s too late.


I have to write it down. If I record what happened, the story becomes history, something safe, something we can learn from, and above all, something to remind me I’m still alive. The only question is where and when to start. Should it be when Susanoo killed the monster Orochi, at the beginning of time? When They-Who-Are-Hidden-By-The–Flames drew up their plans for the future of Japan? Or should it be with … Hideaki?

Yes, I think it should start with my boyfriend, Hideaki. Or maybe ex-boyfriend. And my name is Reiko, though the kids at school call me Rekijo. The History Girl.

So let’s start the story with Hideaki and I having a not-exactly-hot-date at Yanaka Cemetery, Tokyo.

Yanaka Cemetery has been a strange place for generations. It rests on a hill between Nishi-Nippori station and Ueno Park, a silent maze of ancient trees, stone lanterns, and wooden prayer sticks. In the summer, it’s more of a forest than a graveyard. Dragonflies hover above statues of Buddhist monks, pathways turn into leafy tunnels beneath thick elm branches, and the hypnotic drone of the cicadas shivers through the incense-heavy air from dawn to nightfall.

On that day, August 20th, Hideaki and I stood at the cemetery gates, working up the courage to go inside.

“Ready?” I asked.

Hideaki’s voice was flat but there was a weird look on his face. “Can’t you feel it?”

I hesitated. “What? No. I don’t feel anything. Let’s just get it over with.”

Thinking about it now, everything came from that moment. The moment I lied to my boyfriend. Hideaki was right – there was an unpleasant, unreal edge to the stillness and quietness on the other side of the gates, but I refused to admit it. The Japanese name ‘Yanaka’ means ‘middle of the valley’, which is a good name for that place. The mid-point, where the world of concrete meets the world of the spirits. Where the neon meets the shadows. Where the livingA meet the dead. That day, we were already in the middle of the valley, even though we didn’t know what that meant, and the only thing to do was go forward.

Hideaki checked his mail one last time and put his smartphone back in his pocket. He looked fresh, even in the stifling, humid heat of mid-August Tokyo. His dyed spiky hair was even blonder in the bleaching sunlight, above his pale, compact face. He wore the baggy Tanizaki Twins T-shirt I liked, but I could have done without the tartan pants that clashed with everything else. My friends say he only wears things like that to see how far he can go. Maybe they’re right. There was something oversimplified about Hideaki, and that was something else I liked; when he made jokes in class, people thought he must be secretly clever, because only a clever kid could make jokes that stupid.

“Why did we have to get the spooky graveyard for summer homework?” he asked.

I shrugged and tried to look bored. “Mr. Akanuma said it was something to do with Tokyo’s cultural heritage. Pair up, go to the sites you’re given and make notes on what you find.”

“Yeah, but why did he give the Asakusa assignment to Chiaki? You can buy ice cream and hang out at Asakusa. It’s got …” he sniffed and looked around disdainfully. “Life.”

   I gave him a smile and shrugged. He nudged me and pointed to the English-language signboards over to the left.


Every act that damages the sacredness of this cemetery is not allowed.

Do not enter another’s tomb without special permission.

Do not stay overnight in this cemetery.

Hideaki was like, “Oh no! Reiko, we can’t stay overnight in the cemetery. We’ll have to party somewhere else.”

I smiled and joined in the joke. “Yup, we can’t go knocking on doors from tomb to tomb either. Where do you think we get that special permission from, anyway?”

He swept his stiff blond fringe over his eyes and hunched over, holding his arms out straight, shuffling his feet. “You must … ask… the dead…” he said in a deep, croaky voice. I hit him lightly with my tote bag.

We started walking. To the left and right graves stretched away, a man-made petrified forest beneath the boughs of elm, oak and cherry trees. Freshly cut flowers and half-burnt incense sticks stood in metal holders in front of some of the tombstones, but there was no sign of the people who left them there. Beyond the trees and the brick cemetery walls we could see the sloped roofs of cheap-looking two-storey houses. The residents had hung their futons out of the windows to air in the sunshine, the mattresses dangling limply like tongues lolling out of open mouths.


“You know how some kids dare each other to walk through a graveyard at night?” I said. “They’re all scared, but they’re trying to show they’re cool? Well, maybe it’s like that. Mr. Akanuma’s testing us to see how brave we are.”

Hideaki hid his smile but I could hear it in his voice. “Yeah, I wish they gave marks for bravery in the exam grades. He said there are over seven thousand graves in here – he could have given us a map.”

Mr. Akanuma had assigned a different site for each group to research for the summer homework – a Shinto shrine, a Buddhist temple, a hanging scroll in one of the museums – but for lucky Hideaki and I, it had been the tomb of Shinkai Kanemune, a sword-smith from Japan’s civil war period.

“The legends say that every Kanemune sword has an evil spirit inside it,” Mr. Akanuma had said with relish. “I’m not saying I believe in that, of course, but … it could make the homework more interesting. Part of your assignment is to go to the Kanemune tomb in Yanaka cemetery, and make notes of the inscriptions you find on the stones. I think you’ll find them fascinating.”

“Oh, a cemetery, gross,” Hideaki had whispered to me in class. “What do we know about swords? Cursed or otherwise?”

“I know my grandpa likes falling asleep in front of the TV samurai dramas,” I whispered back. “Maybe I should ask him.”

“Not much point if he sleeps through them.” Then he turned and looked at me again, his eyes wide. “Oh, I get it! We got this because you’re the class Rekijo!”

I just shrugged. Yes, the Rekijo, the History Girl, a contraction of the Japanese words Rekishi (history) and Joshi (young girl) to make Rekijo. A young lady who’s a maniac for Japanese warlords, samurai, stories of bravery. Or that’s what the trendy magazines say; the truth is, the girls who call themselves Rekijo just watch the TV historical dramas to see which hot idol is playing the young Tokugawa or whatever. As for me? I just have a good memory for dates and names and places, I like a good story, and I’m kind of interested in the difference between life now and life then. It’s no big deal. I’m only half-Japanese, and I haven’t even been in Japan for most of my life. Some History Girl.

And here in the cemetery, we had more history than we could deal with.

Gravestones with the names of the dead in ancient Kanji lettering. Buddhist saints with stone faces blackened with age and licked by moss. Modern Tokyo, our families, our school seemed to belong to a separate world, a world that we had forfeited by walking through the gates. Cemeteries weren’t exactly new to me; every year, for the three years I’d been back in Tokyo, I would visit the family plot in Iriya with Mom and Dad to clean the gravesite, offer fresh flowers, light incense, and say prayers for our ancestors. Japanese graveyards weren’t supposed to be scary, but even so …


Nope. I’m sorry, but every graveyard is scary.

Hideaki fidgeted with his hair and then suddenly grabbed me round the shoulders. He’s done that kind of thing before, but still – I couldn’t help flinching. “When I go,” he said, “I don’t want to go like this.”

“Like what.”

“Put in a jar and stuck underground. When I go, I want someone to take my ashes to the top of Mount Fuji, and scatter them from the top. My ashes will drift across the Pacific Ocean for, you know, forever.”

“Mount Fuji is nowhere near the ocean,” I told him.

“Yeah, well, some other mountain near the sea.” He gave me a weird look. “You’re not very romantic, you know that?”

“It’s kind of hard to be romantic when you’re standing in the middle of a cemetery.”

It wasn’t his fault. I was getting fed up with the heat, the unforgiving sunlight, the endless graves that stretched away in all directions with nothing to show who was buried where, and the headache-inducing drone of the cicadas.

“I got a mail from Shunsuke this morning,” I said, trying to change the subject. “The class council wants to put on a play for the School Festival. A new version of Cinderella.”

“What’s new about it?”
“They’re going to call it Junkorella.”

“After Junko the head girl? Oh, please.”

“Junko says it wasn’t her idea and she hates it, but nobody believes her. See, the story is that Junkorella lives in this big Tokyo housing complex with her …”

“Look, whatever. Let’s talk about something else. Junko will be going on

about this all the time when term starts again, so … yeah.”

We walked up to an intersection of paths that crossed each other beneath a massive paulownia tree, and Hideaki stopped, mopping his face down with the towel-hanky slung around his neck. He waved at me to stop.

“Listen, Reiko” he said, “maybe it’s best if we split up.”
I nearly jumped out of my skin. “What?”
“No, sorry, I mean … go our separate ways. No, wait! Don’t hit me! I mean, search in different directions. You go that way and look for the tomb, I’ll go this way, and we meet up again in an hour!”

“You did that deliberately, didn’t you?” Despite myself, I was starting to laugh. That’s the thing about Hideaki; you couldn’t get angry with him. Not for long.

“It’s too hot to walk around here all day,” Hideaki said, “and we’ve got more chance of finding this thing if we go in different directions. So let’s scoot through the place as quick as we can, then go shopping in Shibuya.”

I looked around. I wasn’t too happy about it, but I knew he was right. “Okay. But I can’t take an hour of this.”

“Forty-five minutes?”

“Forty minutes. And the ice creams are on you.”


Walking away, I looked over my shoulder and saw him under the trees, giving me a broad smile. He waved and turned away into the undergrowth.

That was the last time I saw the Hideaki I used to know.




5th Prize: “The Unofficial Guide to Japanese Mythology” ebook


d049c7184a1b3e8ee7a455490b3a3b65ABOVE: One of the Kappa statues from the streets of Kappabashi.

The fifth prize in the “Voice of the Jewel” Paperback Launch Competition is a copy of the “Unofficial Guide to Japanese Mythology” ebook!

What do J. K. Rowling, Stephen King, Marvel Comics, D.C. Comics, and “Pacific Rim” have in common? Would you believe … Japanese Mythology?
“Unofficial Guide” is a short illustrated book that offers an accessible, non-academic examination of one of the most fascinating pantheons in world mythology. Find out how films, books, comics and TV shows around the world have been influenced by the gods and demons of Japanese folklore … find out which images of strange, other-worldy creatures still decorate Japan’s shops and city streets today … and also find out why the Japanese consider some of their own legends too dangerous to be made known to the general public. 


After the Tengu, the other well-known mythical creature would be the Kappa. It has a style of sushi named after it (Kappa-maki – a kind of cucumber and rice roll), it has a street named after it in Asakusa (Kappabashi), it is a staple in anime and manga, and was the subject of the classic Swiftian parody Kappa by Ryunosoke Akutagawa. There is a popular saying – Kappa no kawa nagare – literally, even a Kappa can drown in a river, meaning even an expert can make mistakes. In Western fiction, they have appeared in works as diverse as Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo, Mike Mignola’s Hellboy: The Sword of Storms, and have also entered the pantheon created by J K Rowling (see quote from this book’s

But what kind of creatures are they? And where do they come from?

The Kanji for Kappa means ‘river-child’. These creatures are humanoid, roughly five feet tall, have beaked faces and have their bodies enclosed by shells, like turtles. They have green scaly skin, and webbed fingers and toes. They can survive both on land and in water, but make their homes in rivers, and are extremely good swimmers.

Their distinctive feature is a water-filled depression on top of the skull surrounded by straggly hair. Legend states that this depression is filled with a magic fluid that is the Kappa’s ‘life-force’. If you wish to subdue a Kappa, then you should bow to it. It is compelled to return the bow, causing the liquid to spill out of the bowl-shape in the skull and the Kappa will lose consciousness.

Why would you want to subdue a Kappa? Because they do have a nasty, almost vampiric side to them. Some folktales state that Kappa prey on humans, attacking swimmers and sucking out the entrails, blood, or liver, through the anus. In the Edo period, wooden signs warning against Kappa were put up on riverbanks across Japan.

There are other sources, however, that say Kappa are simply mischievous and curious, and can be befriended. If you gave it its favorite food, cucumbers, it would help you with farming, engage in friendly bouts of sumo, or even teach you bone-setting.

Kappabashi – a small area west of Asakusa station, in the old Shitamachi part of Tokyo – owes its existence to these water-living goblins. The legend says that this part of the Shinhorikawa river was prone to flooding during the Edo period, causing great problems to the local residents and pilgrims to nearby Sensoji Temple. A local raincoat merchant decided to start a riverside fortification project, and when he began construction a group of Kappa emerged from the river to help him with the building. After the merchant’ death, his neighbors erected a shrine inside a temple housing the man’s tomb – and this shrine, can still be seen today, a short walk from the main Kappabashi street, at Sogenji Temple (or as the locals call it, Kappa-dera).

But could they exist? Read on …



Jimmy Diamond and the Girl from Venus



venus-510-72FREE DOWNLOAD this weekend! An Atompunk novelette taken from the collection “Tales From Beyond Tomorrow” Volume 1!

SYNOPSIS: London, 1965. The city is a swinging, futuristic metropolis filled with Mods, Rockers, robots, moon rockets, laser pistols and flying scooters. Jimmy Diamond is a young Private Investigator struggling to make ends meet; when a gorgeous dolly bird walks into his office, asking him to find her missing scientist father, he jumps at the chance to take the case. He doesn’t know that soon he’ll be on the run from MI5 agents, British Venusian Society cult members, and a gang of killer robots.
Things they do look awful cold … Jimmy might die before he gets old!

Cover Illustration: Dean Kingston.




Jimmy Diamond leaped onto his Vespa GX2000 scooter, kicked the antigrav engine into life, and rose into the skies above Hammersmith. He straightened his skinny tie, wiped the last remnants of egg and bacon from his chin, and pushed in the punch-card that gave him access to the DAIR (Driver and Aid Information and Routing) master computer. A light flashed above the slot, and the Vespa ascended, easing into the traffic of the main airlane.

He picked up speed and turned onto the Central airline that took him cruising over the Bayswater Road. Soon, through the clear morning air, he saw the aerocabs and buses zipping about high above the rooftops, around the Churchill Monument, the Monico Tower with its rooftop crane that reminded everyone of a huge propeller, and the municipal airship moored to the Post Office Tower. Jimmy’s parka fluttered in the breeze, and the muted sun glimmered though his Wayfarer sunglasses.

It was a great day to be a Mod.

He’d bought the Vespa earlier that year, and it was his most prized possession. Italian-made, a light but sturdy frame of pressed steel painted in red and white, the front shield curving up to the headlamp and handlebars. It could drive conventionally on the ground with the two wheels and newly purchased Dunlop tires at a top speed of 45mph, but airborne it could fly at 75 mph – the speed limit decided not by wind resistance, but the DAIR regulations hardwired into every metropolitan vehicle. The anti-grav generator was directly underneath the leather seat, and controlled by the tiny dashboard just under the handlebars. Jimmy’s pride and joy, customized by the dozen or so mirrors fastened to the handlebars and the Union Jack he hung from the back aerial when he flew down to Brighton on weekends.

The scooter dropped out of the fast lane into the transition zone as Jimmy neared Tottenham Court Road and his awaiting office. He flicked the butt of his Woodbine away, and took a big lungful of fresh air before he kicked the Vespa into parking mode. Below him, on the rooftop aeropad, the cars of the building’s occupants were neatly parked inside the painted white lines, and Jimmy lowered his Vespa skillfully into the space reserved for scooters.

As he was switching off the engine, the door to the main stairwell opened and a short figure rushed onto the roof, clad in a silver jumpsuit and goldfish-bowl helmet, pointing his toy ray-pistol right at Jimmy. “You’re a goddamn Commie!” the figure shouted. “Zap! Zap! Zap!”

Jimmy reeled back and clutched his heart. “Nyet! Nyet! Dosvedanya Vodka Sputnik!” he yelled in fake agony.

Right behind the boy was Mr. Gill, the building’s landlord, looking natty in his two-tone Nehru jacket and matching turban. He ushered his boy back down the stairs and smiled an apology.

“Now then Mr. Jimmy, if I could have a word about the office rent …”

Sure enough, every Monday, regular as clockwork. Jimmy had the bees-and-honey ready this time. He peeled a roll of notes out of his wallet and handed over a Lady Godiva. “I’ll have the rest by the end of the week, Mr. Gill, I promise.”

“Well, it would be nice if you didn’t have to leave everything until the last minute, isn’t it? I have overheads, Mr. Jimmy. I have a business and a family. Overheads.”


Finally getting away, Jimmy ran down the two flights of stairs and paused outside his office door to unlock it. He looked again at the sign stenciled on the vitrolite window:




Then he was inside.

This was Jimmy’s office, crammed in on the fifth floor between an insurance investigator and an employment agency. Two green filing cabinets on the back wall on either side of a wall-mounted TV screen (for the Satnews channels), two white metal cupboards on the left side, a second-hand desk of genuine wood facing the door, and his Elektra espresso maker next to the window and the Venetian blinds.

Plus the bottle of Jameson’s and the jazz mags in the bottom drawer.

He crossed the short space to the back wall, moved around his small second-hand desk, and opened the windows, letting the fusty weekend air out and the city summer smells in. He switched on the espresso maker and it started bubbling away to itself. He put two packets of Embassy Filters and a copy of the Daily Express on the desk, and stared out through the open window. It was that sort of July morning that made the aluminum parts of his coffee machine glow like they were alive.

He was just sipping the second espresso of the day when a shadow fell upon the window. A distinctly feminine shadow, followed by a knock.

Usually, Jimmy’s clients were old geezers in tweed jackets and balding hair pasted across their bony skulls with smelly Brylcreem, or frustrated housewives in frumpy John Lewis coats. Evidence of infidelity and serving divorce papers, that was Jimmy’s bread and butter. He kept telling himself that one day, he’d have some gorgeous bit of stuff come in with a handbag full of cash and a mysterious mission. Especially now, because he’d run out of active cases at the end of last week.

Today was his lucky day.

She wore an Op Art print linen dress from Tuffin and Foale, the sort of thing every dolly bird on the King’s Road was sporting this summer. A really sweet face with the latest Mary Quant sheen, fake lashes making her eyes look huge. Dark hair cut in a shiny Sasson bob. In a word: fraggin’ gorgeous.

Jimmy hurriedly took his Chelsea boots off the desk and stood up. “Do take a seat, Miss …?”

“Radcliffe. Georgina Radcliffe.” She stood in the middle of the office, gazing around nervously. “Are you Jimmy Diamond?” she said, in a tone of vague disappointment.

“That’s what it says on the door,” he said with a cocky grin. Easy on the jokes, he told himself. The married birds like to have a laugh to relax them but the younger ones – you have to fight to get them to take you seriously.

“I heard about you from my uncle, Victor. He said you helped him out in Blackpool last year.”

“Oh yeah, I remember him! Come in and make yourself comfortable.”

“You look a bit young to run a detective agency,” she said, fluttering her eyelashes like an Italian starlet. She might have looked Kensington, but her accent was pure Wembley. “How old are you? Twenty-one?”

“Yeah,” said Jimmy defensively, trying to keep his posh voice from slipping. “Well, no. I’m twenty, actually. A little bit older than you, by the looks of it. And it doesn’t matter how old I am because I’ve got the experience and I’ve got the brains, haven’t I? I’ve got it up ‘ere.”

And you’ve got it down there, he thought, looking at the nice pair of Eartha Kitts filling out the top of her minidress.

“Have you got references, or something?”

Jimmy pointed to the framed licensing certificates on the walls.

“Well, that’s all right, I suppose, but I don’t know anything about private eyes. What are your charges like?”

“Well, as they say – I’m not free, but I’m cheap! It sort of depends what I’m employed to do, innit? Listen, er, why don’t you sit down, Miss Radcliffe?”

“You can call me Georgie if you like.” She lowered herself into the second-hand Magistretti chair and fidgeted with her handbag. “Your name isn’t really Diamond, is it?”

“No.” Jimmy loosened his collar, and quickly changed the subject. “If I could haver some specifics, erm … Georgie?”

“Missing persons.”

Jimmy nodded in sympathy. “Have you contacted the police?”

“Yes, and they said it’s too soon to do anything. They said I should …”

“Wait for twenty-four hours before filing a crime report, yeah, I know. That’s what they always say, but I can appreciate you don’t want to wait. Okay, it’s two pounds a day, plus expenses, and I’ll get to work on your case right away.”

“Well, that’s a bit steep, innit! You must be raking it in.”

“Oh no I ain’t, doll – er, Georgie,” Jimmy said, trying to get back on the right foot. “I got overheads, see? And this is how I make a living.”

“Are you the only person who works here?”

“Yeah. That’s me, all on me Jack Jones. I employ other people – experts, like – on what you might call a freelance basis.”

“Oh, freelance basis! You do sound la-de-da, don’t you? How much do you want up front?”

“Well …” Jimmy gave her the nicest smile he could manage. “Look, just tell me what it’s all about, yeah? We can work out the small print later.”

She tightened her grip on her handbag, hesitating, a catch in her throat. “My father didn’t come home last night,” she said.

Jimmy sat back and breathed out. He was most likely looking at marital infidelity. The poor girl’s dad had run off to Torquay with his secretary or some other bit on the side, so he was in for a week of taking dirty pictures on the pier. Well, at least the weather was nice.

“Tell me more,” Jimmy said, reaching over to switch on the reel-to-reel autorecorder.

Georgie turned the handbag over in her lap with her long-fingernailed hands and looked at him with a gleam in her eyes. “Mum passed away a few years ago, so it’s just the three of us, me, Dad and my younger sister Rita. Dad’s been a real brick, he takes care of us, and he’s so dedicated to his work. He wouldn’t just go off somewhere without telling us first.”

“What does he do?”

“He’s a scientist. He’s doing research over at the Docklands Science Park.”

That made Jimmy sit up and take notice. The DSP was an exclusive place, full of Oxbridge boffins and public school throbbing skulls. Dr. Radcliffe was either a genius or loaded – probably both.

“You leave it to me,” Jimmy said, looking as businesslike as he could. “I’ll bring your father back to you, no problem.”


Airlanes PRINT

Illustration: Terry Lim Diefenbach.



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