Myths were—are—created to explain the unknown, like natural disasters, like death, like the unknowable bodies of water.
uses mythical and legendary monsters from East Asian traditions as a lens to interrogate our fears.
Just to be safe, don’t go too near the shoreline
If you behave, nothing bad will happen. If you are good, then—
When I am with my father, he is alive. When we sit around the fire, he is there and I am there and it is now. But when I am not physically with him, I see him turning into something that once was, a ghost of a living man. I do not want my father as myth. I want my father as father.
Because in this story, when the young man sailed out of the Dragon King’s lair and returned to his village, everything was unrecognizable. His home was decrepit, his parents were in the ground, marked by a moss-covered gravestone. He realized that every day in the underwater kingdom was one hundred years in the world above. He tried to go back into the water, but the Dragon King would no longer have him.
This is the kind of ending many Japanese fairy tales have. No hero slaughters the evil Dragon King, who is not that evil, anyway. There is no triumphant hero’s return.
Many Japanese fairy tales are hard for me to remember because their plot structures wobble in the middle, fracture, do not go where I expect them to go. They do not reach climax. They do not have catharsis. Or rather, they do, but not in the ways I am used to. As a Japanese Taiwanese American, I want the happy ending wrapped up in a bow. I want Hansel to trick the witch into the oven. I want the woodcutter to kill the wolf.
But in this fairy tale that has no villain, there is just a young man living out his days in a world to which he no longer belongs. This is not an inverted checkmark.
In my story, there is only dread, the kind that rises like a flood. They tell us months, then they tell us years, then they tell us weeks. My father’s hair turns white, then falls out. His skin becomes like rice paper. In this flood, I do not stand at the shore watching a dramatic wave, a crashing tsunami, swell over me. In this flood, I am in my basement, watching the water slowly seep into all my stored belongings—the cardboard boxes of memory, the empty plastic boxes yet to be filled. In this flood, the only thing that will fill them is terror. And that terror is a god.
Jami Nakamura Lin is the author of THE NIGHT PARADE (Mariner Books/HarperCollins and Scribe UK 2023), an illustrated memoir that uses yokai & other Japanese , Taiwanese, & Okinawan folklore to investigate what haunts us. A former Catapult columnist, she's written for the New York Times, Electric Literature, and other publications.
Jami has received support from the National Endowment for the Arts/Japan-US Friendship Commission, Yaddo, Sewanee, and We Need Diverse Books.