My memoir-in-essays THE NIGHT PARADE will be published in 2023 by Custom House/HarperCollins in the United States and by Scribe in the United Kingdom. This illustrated speculative work draws on the Japanese myth of the hyakki-yagyo—the Night Parade of One Hundred Demons—to tell the braided stories of 1) my grief after my father’s illness/death and 2) my experience with bipolar disorder, driven by the question: how do we live beside the things that haunt us? These linked essays also reflect on other haunted topics: miscarriage, coronavirus, racism, and Japanese American incarceration, in order to investigate how what we fear shapes who we are.
My book uses yōkai (the supernatural monsters, creatures, and spirits of Japanese myth and folklore) as an organizational framework. For four months, I followed the trail of these creatures in Japan. Here are some of my favorites. All artwork by Cori.
The ghost whale
Sometimes, on rainy nights, a glowing whale will appear close to the shores of fishing villages. Everyone will gather for the hunt, for a whale can feed the entire village for many moons. But the whale will escape all the harpoons, because it is not true whale but a bakekujira, a ghost whale. The ghost whale’s enormous floating skeleton glides through the waves, surrounded by schools of spectral fish and flocks of unearthly birds. The villagers know that the bakekujira is a soul of a whale they have previously killed–and they know that they will soon be plagued by disease. The whale’s revenge.
The pulley-necked woman
During the day, they look like normal women: hair black and sleek, bodies hidden behind the folds of their kimono. But at night their necks stretch until they are as long and curling as tentacles. While the women’s bodies stay motionless in bed, their heads roam in search of lamp oil to drink. They need the oil the same way vampires need blood.
Rokurokubi are formerly human women who have been transformed by a curse into this yokai form. Often, the curse is the result of the woman’s husband’s or father’s misdeed. Of course it is the woman who bears the punishment for eternity.
People plagued by nightmares search for the holy baku, the chimera that live deep in the forest. Though their appearance is odd–they are formed from parts of the elephant, the bear, the tiger, and other animals–they are symbols of good luck. The baku feed on bad dreams and keep evil at bay. It is said that the baku were created out of all the leftover parts when the gods were creating animals. The modern tapir, with its similar appearance, is also called baku in Japan.
The trickster fox
These wild foxes possess a fearsome magic, whose strength is matched by cunning and intelligence. Some kitsune are faithful and good, protecting humans and serving the god Inari. Others love mischief and guile; they can shape-shift into any form, including human. The number of tails on a kitsune signifies its age, and how much strength and wisdom it possesses. Many humans have been tricked into marrying kitsune.