I have learnt a lot over the last couple of weeks by telling my story to different audiences, from schools and cycling crowds to Parkinson’s Disease groups. It has been an interesting lesson in storytelling and I’m looking forward to more on the horizon, including a primary school next week (I have bought a giant inflatable globe for the occasion).

On a couple of these occasions I have shared the billing with someone else. In Penzance it was a sea kayaker called Geoff Allen, who has taken on some incredible journeys; he told us about circumnavigating Japan, all four main islands, and a circumnavigation of South Georgia. I have always been fascinated by ocean travel in tiny vessels, from curachs to kayaks, so I was riveted.

One of the stories Geoff told from his Japan expedition was about a young teacher he’d met whose dream had always been to kayak around Japan. This man felt duty bound to stay in his job, as an integral part of the community, and had all but given up on his floating dreams. The character shown above, a Kappa, a Shinto sprite with at least one living in each of Japan’s streams and lakes, finally came to his rescue and gave him the excuse he needed. According to Geoff’s tale this conscientious teacher turned himself into a Kappa, allowing him to be as enigmatic as the Kappas whose ranks he was joining. Not long after his metamorphosis he was bobbing around in the ocean chasing his 4000 mile dream, safe in the knowledge that as a mischievous Kappa, he could pretty much do whatever he wanted.

I spent a little bit of time looking into these miscreant sprites. Being “responsible” and “staying put” seem to be synonymous in most places; that’s an interesting idea, especially in societies that have grown out of planting seeds in one spot and then waiting around for them to grow. I couldn’t find any information that specifically explained the teacher’s morphing trick; probably he just made it up so that he could do what he wanted to. I did find this picture, however (you can tell that my research extended as far as wikipedia and google):

Its a warning sign! My favourite. Its aimed at children I guess and most of the the warnings are reasonable; there are broken bottles and currents in rivers. However, the mean little character grabbing the upset girl in the bottom image is a Kappa! Now I imagine the teacher as a little boy being scared stiff of Kappas from this sort of well-intentioned scaremongering… don’t go near the river, there’s monsters there! Stay here! Be sensible! There are similar stories everywhere that encourage people not to go off on their own, in case the bogeyman gets them. Even if the teacher’s logic is idiosyncratic, its brilliant. He loosened the sprite’s grip by turning himself into one, and away he went.

By James Bowthorpe

My name is James Bowthorpe. On the 29th March 2009 I set out from London to break the round the world cycling record. I am doing this to raise 1.8 million pounds for much needed research into the cause of Parkinson’s Disease. I have been preparing for this challenge for the last 6 months and now I’m on my way! You can follow my progress and see photos, on my blog.

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