A Discourse on Mythology: The Inspirations of Oki and the Seashell Man (2024)

Author’s Note: These were once a well-informed, multi-media take on my inspirations for the creation of Oki and the Seashell Man. Now, perhaps, they look like a bunch of ramblings. However, they are my ramblings, and this seems like an appropriate place to shelve them as any.

Enjoy this unedited, unfiltered rendition of the beginnings of Oki and the Seashell Man.

Spirited Away by Hayao Miyazaki is a world-renowned, Japanese animated film that explores the connection between the spirit world and the real world by placing a modern, human girl in the spirit’s bathhouse. Miyasaki combines elements of Shintoism with modern architecture and social structure in order to convey the destructiveness of industrialisation on nature, particularly in the scene where the river spirit is ‘cleaned’ by Chihiro. This movie is an inspiration for students like me, who have an interest in religious/cultural analysis, because it encourages us to identify and understand the connections between behaviour and beliefs. The next part of my developing story “Oki to Kaigara no Otoko” is going to explore similar themes such as how the spirit/real worlds interact, the link between the Shinto kami and nature, and the mortal response to spiritual occurrences. Unlike Spirited Away though, I want to focus on the historical context of this cultural identity. Therefore, I’m switching the typical role of the ‘misplaced human (in the spirit world)’ with the ‘misplaced kami (in the real world)’ in the setting of Ryukyu after the initial Japanese occupation, which occurred in the early 1600s. Oki, being the kami of the story, is exploring the typical day-at-work for a maritime Ryukyuan merchant and envoys to China. Like Chihiro working in the bathhouse with the other spirit maidens, Oki is going to attempt to partake in working like a regular human. The issue that he encounters parallels the issues Chihiro encounters as a human in the spirit world. While she cannot perform as efficiently as the other spirits she works with and continues to violate spirit world norms, Oki is unable to blend in with the type of responses humans would have while working. He responds to hardships using magic to perform miracle work, which is too abnormal for humans to understand in this setting, and creates the main point of conflict in the story: the fact that he cannot remain in the human world with his abilities without creating chaos among the people who don’t understand them. His inability to adjust to social norms is a dangerous reality that he and Kaigara will attempt to resolve throughout the story.
There are specific details I picked up from Shintoism that I wanted to explore further as well, including the symbolism behind blood and water. Media tends to project blood in a negative way, as noted in Avatar: The Last Airbender and Sen to Chihiro.
Avatar: The Last Airbender is an American animated television series that combines religious and cultural elements from various Chinese dynasties, and Korean and Japanese Imperial reigns. In the episode, “The Puppetmaster”, a waterbender named Katara learns how to manipulate blood with her skills because it contains water. The development of this skill for both her and her mentor were the results of serious traumas that forced them to depend on it for survival (“The Puppet Master”). A waterbender in the series is essentially a human that has the ability to manipulate specific (or all) elements in nature by mastering ancient tai chi techniques. As a kami, Oki will not have to master tai-chi or be designated to a specific element in order to manipulate it, he will simply have the power ingrained in him due to his status and role in the story. The concept of manipulating, or “bending” water, is an adaptation of Avatar: The Last Airbender’s interpretation of this power. Likewise, the ability to manipulate blood will be the result of the last resort to survive.
Water, on the other hand, is often used as a purifier throughout the series. The ‘healer’s in the series are all water benders because water has the ability to seal wounds over time. The process is completed by wrapping the user’s hands in water and placing them on the wound. The chi then flows from their hands, into the wound, as indicated by a faint glow (“The Waterbending Master”). I adapted this by removing the attachment to Chinese tai-chi and replacing it with Shintoism origins. Oki can perform miracles because he is a kami, an all-powerful being of his nature, which is water. Shintoism also shares the concept of water purification as rituals call for water as a physical cleanser before performances or temple entry. The difference I wanted to note in my story is that water does not maintain its purity after passing through injuries or other dirty objects and surfaces.
Sen to Chihiro touches on the idea of taintedness transferring between elements of nature through contamination in this way. The bathhouse scene, with the river spirit, demonstrates that water can purify by transferring the dirty substance from the being to itself, thus the river spirit is cleansed when his pollution is removed by the bath. The pollution is then left behind in the bathtub and dirties the water that was used to cleanse the spirit (Spirited Away). The connection to this Shinto belief is shown through Oki’s ability to transfer taintedness from surfaces/people to himself. When he heals, he gains the injury himself. When he cleans, he becomes coated in the dirt or grime as if it had been poured directly onto his body. His water purifies through contamination. However, blood is almost viewed as a disease in Sen to Chihiro. When Chihiro has blood on her hands, she does not think it is important, but the spirits are completely hysterical about it (Spirited Away). They are not accustomed to blood because spirits do not bleed. Blood is a strictly human trait, and therefore viewed as a result of sin, acting as a barrier between the divine from the rest. It is as if blood is the only defining factor of imperfection, which horrifies the spirits who consider themselves perfect. Oki does not go to the extreme by becoming hysterical about encountering blood, but he does show a constant curiosity for the substance, as well as recognises what it does to the human body. He becomes better adjusted to it once he realises how it can benefit him when he is desperate. The perception of blood does not stray from this originally Shinto view though, because they continue to believe that blood is a sinful part of humans that places them into a lesser hierarchical rank than spirits.
The setting of the story also incorporates elements from the political, social and economic tension between Japan, Okinawa and China that unfolded at this time.
The main artefacts and rituals in the story are based on Ryukyu’s involvement in international trade/commerce, such as the maritime industries and mythologies that have arisen from frequent interactions between Japan, China, Korea and Ryukyu. Seashells, rice and sugar, for example, were staples of Ryukyuan trade during this time period because of their high demand. Items like these would have been offered as tributes to the Chinese Emperor and as taxes to the Japanese Shogunate.
Geographically, Ryukyu was in an optimal location for transporting resources through maritime trade. Shannon McCune, a civil ambassador of Okinawa, observes that during this time, “Naha was developed to become an important entrepot, a place of exchange of products from throughout the Far East.” (McCune 42). Trade was filtered through Naha and the cultural development of Ryukyu flourished there. He also indicates that “close ties were maintained with Imperial China (during this time) and with Chinese merchants who had moved into Southeast Asia.” (McCune 42). This maritime trade relationship with China was their main source of income up until the mid-1600s. Leading up to the 1600s, the 1500s era is coined as the ‘golden age’ of Okinawan history because of the cultural prosperity that developed from extensive trading with China, Japan, Korea and many other South Pacific Islands. McCune notes that products like “silk, metal wares, medicines, swords, armor, gold, spices, wood (for dyes), cotton prints and muslins” are often exchanged through ports in Ryukyu and part of the monopolised trade established by Ryukyuan courts (McCune 42). Ryukyu played a dominant role in transporting resources between more powerful civilisations and, by accepting the tributary system in China, they were able to maintain healthy professional relationships with many of their traders. In the story, Kaigara’s work and the activity of the other merchants reflect the importance of these trade goods (specifically sugar and seashells). There are a few portions that elaborate on the goals of the merchants on the trade ship within the story.
By the 1600s, the political turmoil that had struck two of the main contributors to Ryukyuan trade, China and Japan, had a direct impact on the Ryukyu Islands. Without help from the Chinese (who were likely not notified about the struggle), the newly unified Japanese court sent military units into Ryukyu and demanded recognition of power. McCune describes Ryukyuan disposition as “peace-loving, unarmed and untrained”, therefore, the Tokugawa Shogunate was met with little resistance and quickly captured the kingdom, officially integrating them into their political system. This successful invasion left Ryukyu economically devastated. Their exports were taxed by the Japanese, especially sugar, which was a popular item on the Japanese mainland. McCune notes that “The profits from the sugar exports went to the court officials, the Satsuma feudal lords and increasingly to the Japanese merchants in Kagoshima and Osaka, where the sugar was sold.” (McCune 45). On top of export taxes, Japanese courts required tributes as well and, in order to meet those expectations, Ryukyu decreased the number of tributary visits to China. Another modern contributor who analysed this economic shift in Ryukyuan history is George H. Kerr. Kerr was an international diplomat for the United States whose work revolved around understanding the political climate of Taiwan and later, Ryukyu. He has helped determine that Naha provided great economical support to Satsuma and the Japanese used its location and political relationship with China to their advantage. He states that “Both the Satsuma clan government and the merchants of Kagoshima invested capital in the China trade, entrusting it to Naha middlemen in order to preserve the elaborate pretense required to satisfy Chinese sensibilities.” (Kerr 182). The sensibilities he describes are the tributary exchanges that were performed by Chinese and Okinawan envoys from Ryukyu in the official Chinese court. These tributes were stalled and became less frequent with the emergence of the Japanese governmental control over Ryukyu. Although these tensions, and the political conflicts surging through China, were straining the relationship between China and Ryukyu, Japan continued to give support to maintain this relationship for economic benefit, since they were not on favourable terms with China at the time. Kerr also presents crucial information on the dangers of trade throughout the region including being “lost in storms at sea; occasionally (being) overtaken and looted by pirates.” (Karr 180). These dangers escalated as many Okinawans were unsettled by Japan’s puppeteering over their tributary relationship with China.
Pirates had been known to attack vessels within the South Pacific regions between Korea, Japan and Ryukyu, particularly during the 1600s. There are controversial views on where these pirates or wakou (in Japanese) originated, but they are recognised in all of the surrounding regions of these trade routes and often discovered as part of those region’s own inhabitants. Pirating damaged the economic system created between Ryukyu, Japan and China because it was employed as an act of defiance against the Tokugawa Shogunate. Japanologist Professor, Gregory Smits, called it the “Chatan-Eso affair”, in which a Ryukyuan envoy ship was attacked by pirates (later to be discovered as Ryukyuans disguised as Chinese) and the gold wine jar offered by Satsuma for China was stolen and never recovered (Smits 24). The uncharacteristic aggression displayed by the Ryukyuan pirates is a demonstration of how damaging the trade policies on Ryukyu, by the Japanese, could be. This can be seen as an act of deliberate disobedience in protest against Japanese control over Ryukyuan trade with China. Pirating by Ryukyuan inhabitants was not as common as pirating performed by other regions. Kris E. Lane, Kris Land and Robert M. Levine collaborated on a historical book called “Pillaging the Empire: Global Piracy on the High Seas, 1500-1750”, which takes place during the time period my story is set. They discuss the various forms of piracy in the East Chinese Sea, as well as the influence of European weaponry trade throughout major routes in the area. They also note, like Gregory Smits, that:

“the principal victims of this wave of raids (late 1400s) were Chinese and Korean shippers and coastal residents, and the main perpetrators were a mix of seafaring folk whom the Chinese claimed were Japanese, the famous wako or ‘dwarf pirates.’ Many wako, or kaizoku, as they were known in Japan, used small islands off of Kyushu as bases, and some were sponsored by daimyo, or local lords.” (Lane, Levine 163)

The name wako continued to take various dialect forms as it travelled between China, Korea and Japan. Whether the wako were Japanese remains a strong debate today, as evidence discovered from written documents claims that the wako resembled the characteristics of those that wrote it. Similarly to the example above in Ryukyu, the wako were often natives of their own regions, stationed near ports on their homeland, and raided these areas themselves, rather than attack other countries. Therefore, historians are not certain if these wako were strictly Japanese, but the term is and has been associated with the Japanese pirates throughout all three nations today. The pirates in my story will be the Japanese pirates located on the Kyushu mainland and supported by their own daimyo (although this is not addressed). The merchants are Chinese and Ryukyuan, working in Ryukyu during the beginnings of Japanese oppression, and thus their perception of the wako and the Japanese will reflect the negative connotation attached to the name wako and the violence they conducted throughout the 1500-1700s.

Okinawa and the Seashell Man: Sea Bound

Below the swirl of dark clouds, the long, slender bodies of the Chinese junks jumped through the choppy sea, their sails fanned on the masts like wide, tan fins. Altogether, they looked like a school of giant fish, their ropes snapping against the spines of their sails like thick whiskers. They were carried by the wind which the merchants described as “fierce” and “unforgiving” that day. It blew salt in their faces, as though it wanted to protect them from some great force of evil, like the turbulent waves. The ocean opened its gaping mouth as the waves rose from the deep and snarled at the merchants on board the ship. They curled, presenting a set of rabid, white teeth before they clamped down against the sides of the boat like a hungry shark. Foam collected in their wake and trailed behind the ships like a string of bubbling spit.
The waves acted as though they were possessed by spirits with nothing better to do than play nasty tricks, trying to tip the ships or make the merchants perform a drunken dance across the deck. The merchants refused to let those spirits make them look like fools. They used the extra length of the ropes for balance as they performed their normal routine, managing the ship’s course and checking the goods. Their ability to work like they did on land was the reason they were called the “ocean tamers” and Kaigara no Otoko, the most fearless of them all, wore that title with pride. He ordered the new merchants to secure the barrels under the net on the port side, and despite their pale, seasick faces, they rushed to complete the job without complaint. They were earning the honour to their new title, battling the sound of the roaring waves with the sound of Kaigara’s voice from the other end of the deck. Everyone seemed to have a role to fulfil or train for, except Oki, who was too nervous about disrupting the order of things to move away from the barrels of goods. At the same time, he grew more anxious the more useless he felt and began to sway on his feet in the same direction as the boat when the waves rocked it.
Kaigara passed by him several times, often glancing at him to ensure that he was still standing idle by the ledge of the ship, near the barrels. Oki had never been on a ship before, he didn’t know how to turn the sails or tie the nets. He felt like the barrels beside him, a heavy burden that he’d forced Kaigara to carry since he’d washed up on the beach a couple of months ago. Just like he did when he passed by, Kaigara had been keeping a watchful eye on Oki, making sure he was fed, dressed and bathed regularly. He gave him a mat to sleep on in his section of the longhouse that he shared with the other merchants. He paid extra for him to stay, so long as he helped cook and clean when asked, and usually, they didn’t have to. Oki was more than ready to work, in fact, he was itching to help. He hated feeling like extra weight they had to haul. He didn’t want to be a barrel.
“Kaigara!” Oki cried for attention.
The waves jumped at the sides of the ship as if they were responding to the sound of his voice. They tipped the junk and threw Kaigara toward him. He stumbled across the deck, tripped over his feet and crashed into the barrels. Had he not hooked one of his hands in the net, he would have been thrown over the ledge and eaten by the angry waves. Oki was at his side, helping him stand once the junk stopped rocking violently.
Blood dripped from the rope when Kaigara unwrapped it from his hand. There was a long, deep gash that split Kaigara’s palm into two perfect halves. Oki grabbed his wrist to see the wound but when the wind blew, Kaigara curled his hand into a fist to protect it from the salt.
“I’m sorry.” Oki knew his apology would be a waste because Kaigara had heard it before. He heard it when Oki accidentally broke their dishes back home or when he tripped and fell on their rock garden and uprooted the bonsai tree.
“At least let me fix it,” Oki pressed as Kaigara freed his wrist and turned to ignore him. “Please! I think I can help.”
“Fine.” Kaigara relented with a sigh. He didn’t turn back around though. He didn’t want Oki to see how easily he caved when he heard him whine like that. The sound was too pitiful to ignore, like the sound of the waves that now tenderly brushed the sides of the ship in a gentle caress.
The ocean is tempermental today, Kaigara noted to himself as he let Oki drag him inside the ship.
Oki sat him down inside of their shared cabin room. There were two beds attached to the walls and a narrow inlet between them with a desk where they kept their journals or personal supplies, like gauze. There were no windows for light, so Oki lit a candle to see as he cleaned the cut with alcohol and wrapped it in gauze. Oki snipped the gauze from the role and tied it before pressing his hand over Kaigara’s palm.
“There,” he hummed. “That should help.”
Oki stood with him, his hands still cupped around Kaigara’s bandaged palm.
“Can I trust you to clean this mess?” Kaigara asked as he freed his hand to point at the loose roll of gauze beside the candle. Oki folded his hands behind his back politely and gave him an affirmative bow. Kaigara grabbed the door handle and used it as a brace when the ship lurched unexpectedly. He never realised that he was using his wounded hand as he regained his balance, yanked the door open and left.

Oki waited until he heard Kaigara’s voice from the ship’s deck before holding his hands out in front of him. On his right hand, there was a long, deep gash stretching from his last finger to his thumb. It was crusted in dried blood, swollen and sore to touch. He tried to close his hand and winced.
It hurts, he thought. How strange.
Oki tilted his wounded palm near the open candle flame and the cut began to heal. Starting from his thumb, at the tip of the flame, the folds of skin melted together. He turned his hand, running the cut across the flame as though it were sealing it shut. He made a fist when it was finished and didn’t flinch. The swelling faded and the flakes of blood turned to ashes that crumbled onto the desk. He carefully swept the ashes onto the floor and put the gauze away, like Kaigara would have wanted. He lifted the candle holder and with one last illuminated smile, blew it a deadly kiss.

Kaigara didn’t question it at first as he travelled across the deck, giving out orders to the other merchants and double-checking the sails after sudden, unexpected jerks. He thought it was normal to check the gauze for stains from time to time, but it started to become an obsession. He had a constant urge to stare at the white gauze as though his will to see it change would draw the blood straight out of the wound. Something about it filled him with a nauseating unease that he hadn’t felt since his first ocean voyage. The gauze was too clean and too comfortably soft. He knew what a wound was supposed to feel like; being a merchant involved physical risk when they spent most of the day loading and unloading sharp, heavy equipment. The cuts he had before would have stung because of the sweat and salt that seeped through the gauze. He would have felt it burn every time he tightened his grip around one of the ropes he needed to tie, but he was already tying the third rope that had come undone during the rough water and he felt nothing. Most importantly, there wasn’t a single drop of blood that leaked through the thin layers of gauze.
I shouldn’t be thinking about it, he reasoned. The less pain he felt, the more he could focus on work. That was how it should be, but if there was one thing he noticed about dealing with Oki, it was that things were never as they should be. It was Oki that had bandaged him, and this odd uncertainty that clumped in his stomach like a knot was because of him too. He frequently had the same feeling at home, near the marketplace built by the shore, where local merchants and traders conducted their business on land.
The first strange event occured when he let Oki wash their old clothes. As they were drying on the line, Kaigara saw something different in them. Without knowing what it was, he took the clothes down to examine them more closely. He thought that it had been the sun that made them look brighter, but when he stretched the fabric out between his hands, he realised that their original, bright blue colour had somehow been restored. Another strange thing occurred when Oki knocked the bonsai tree from its spot in the rock garden. He swore to him that he would fix it and Kaigara gave him the chance to prove it while he let his frustration out elsewhere. Kaigara returned from the market that night to his bonsai tree standing upright, its roots planted firmly beneath the swirling rocks as though the incident had never happened. No one else could have planted a tree in a single day like that. He didn’t know how or why, but he swore it was because of Oki.
He thought that he left those strange feelings behind when they boarded the trade ship to sail to China. The doubt that he was free of this feeling dropped in his stomach like a wad of unchewed rice as he continued staring at his hand. He curled his fingers, hoping that he would feel the cut pulse from the pain that should have been there.

He decided he would confront Oki about it later, after they collected their dinner and retired to their cabin for rest. He might have forgotten about it too, had he not been holding the hot soup cup in the hand he’d been questioning all day. He set the cup down on the nightstand and unravelled the gauze slowly, half expecting it to stick to the wound like it normally would. The last layer floated onto the pile at his feet, as cleanly as the first, but he was too busy staring into his palm to notice. There wasn’t a single scratch to show. The shock made Kaigara so stiff that he nearly missed grabbing Oki’s arm to stop him from blowing the candle out.
“How did you do that?” he finally asked without looking up from his palm to register Oki’s clear confusion.
“You said I could help you—” Oki mumbled shyly, worried that he had upset his friend more than he had when he uprooted the bonsai. The only reassurance he received was the colour of Kaigara’s face. It wasn’t turning red, it was turning white.
“No, no— what exactly did you do?” Kaigara pressed, his grip tightening around Oki’s wrist, making the candle wobble and flicker at them.
“You did something,” he added. “You always do something! I was hurt! I should be hurting! Why does it not hurt? Where did it go!”
Kaigara released him suddenly and exposed his palm to the light. He drew a line across the skin where his cut should have been and Oki stared at it as though he were trying to process some invisible picture that Kaigara didn’t know how to draw.
“I fixed it for you,” Oki answered as he set the candle down on the nightstand. Their faces grew darker, but Kaigara could still see Oki’s eyes fall toward the palm of his own hand.
“You’re not telling me something,” Kaigara hissed, grabbing Oki’s hand to present it under the light. There was nothing questionable about it, yet Oki held his breath and Kaigara could feel it through his slowing pulse.
“I can’t tell you,” Oki admitted, plunging his eyes into the darkness as he hung his head. They started to glow and the ship suddenly stopped rocking. Kaigara used his arm to brace himself. Even after spending years on the ocean, familiarising himself with its movements and its unique sound, Kaigara was taken aback by the abrupt changes he’d experienced that day. He was starting to think that the ocean was betraying him as his friend because he couldn’t recognise these changes. He no longer felt like he was standing in a ship cabin on the ocean. He felt as though he were floating instead. He was confused and dizzy.
“You have to tell me. Weird things are happening and I think it’s because of you. Imagine if other people started noticing these weird things. They would blame you and they would come after you. They would kill you,” Kaigara explained. He had seen it happen before, but he wasn’t about to scare Oki with a bunch of old stories, not when he wasn’t quite sure what Oki was capable of. The uncertainty about these strange powers was what really scared him.
“Oki, look at me,” Kaigara commanded. Oki lifted his eyes and Kaigara saw pink rings shining around each pupil through the dark. He realised that the pulse that he thought he felt in Oki’s wrist was through his own fingertips, growing slower and slower the longer he held his breath. Oki didn’t have a pulse at all.
“You’re not human, are you?” Kaigara asked, though he didn’t need to see Oki nod to believe it. He already believed it. He believed it from the moment he rescued him from the beach. What he didn’t believe though, was that Oki couldn’t remember who he was or where he came from. Oki knew more than he was letting on and Kaigara was not going to let him keep these secrets any longer, not on his ship, not at the risk of their lives.
“What are you?” Kaigara repeated as he let him go.
Oki rubbed the bruise from Kaigara’s fingers and his skin gradually returned to its normal colour.
“A kami,” Oki muttered.
Kaigara opened his mouth to respond but sighed instead, accidentally blowing the candle out.

A kami, Kaigara thought to himself as he leaned on the ship ledge and gazed at the horizon. He couldn’t say it out loud because he would sound crazy to the two young boys behind him who were quietly cleaning the deck from yesterday’s residue.

Unlike yesterday, the ocean had been calm all morning while Oki slept. The waves cradled the ship gently during the sluggish morning. The merchants hobbled through the lower compartments like drifting spirits as they checked the storage containers for any damages after yesterday’s rough waters. Aside from a few cracks in the barrel lids, there were no real concerns to address, which meant Kaigara that could stay at the ledge with his mind wandering for solutions to the most important issue at hand:
What was he going to do with the all-powerful god sleeping downstairs?

The sound no longer comforted him like it used to. The waves were trickling as they followed beside the ship like rain chasing a thundercloud, eery as though they were anticipating a crack of lightning. Kaigara gripped the ledge as an extra precaution, even though the sky was clear and the waves were calm. The tension made his arms tremble.

A kami, he repeated the word in his head in disbelief. Kaigara, the lonely merchant from town, happened to stumble across a god, lying on a bed of seashells on the shore. He thought it was odd back then to find something that wasn’t a dead fish or a piece of driftwood washed up on the beach. It was odd that he could spend hours combing the sand for just one perfect seashells when Oki could be surrounded by hundreds of them. He should have heeded the strange signs when nature presented them to him and sent Oki to one of the specialists in town. They would have taken him off his hands, and then he wouldn’t be burdened by hiding a man that was followed by strange occurrences and called himself a god.
If Oki was telling the truth though, then everything he had known about the kami would crumble like sand between his fingers.
Kaigara folded his arms across the ledge of the ship and rested his head on top of them, letting the sun kiss the back of his neck while he drowned out the eery trickling sound with the voices of a fuzzy memory:
“Do you two remember what I told you?” The voice belonged to a woman who’s face Kaigara couldn’t recall clearly. He remembered that her hands looked like they were part of a doll as they reached to touch his face through the thick layers of red kimono. She cupped his face to bring it toward her.
“I remember,” said the boy sitting on his knees beside him. He recognised the boy as his brother because of the tight bun on the top of his head and the little scar above his eyebrow. “There are kami watching us.”
Kami?” Kaigara asked. “What are those?”
“They’re spirits,” the woman’s voice came across muffled from her blurry face as she returned her attention to the young boy that was once Kaigara.
“The kami live in nature,” she explained, her hand stroking a blade of grass at their knees. “They’re the remains of our ancestors, talking to us in the wind and walking beside in the grass. They’re very powerful too. They can play tricks on little boys that ruin their homes, so you have to promise that you’ll be careful when you go outside.”
“If they’re so powerful, then why don’t they show us what they look like? Why do they hide in nature?” asked his fidgeting brother. Kaigara thought that his brother seemed uncomfortable with the thought of invisible beings spying on him and causing him trouble. He had plenty of memories to spare about his younger brother getting caught for his bad behaviour.
“Because they have a duty to protect our world,” the woman answered kindly, “but they can’t do that if people bother them for their powers. They have to stay hidden or the world would fall apart. It would be chaos. You do understand, don’t you?”

Kaigara bumped his head on the ledge of the ship when he nodded in response to the voice in his memory. He lifted his head to rub the bruise starting to form on his hairline. The fading voice was replaced by the two young boys giggling at him from behind. They were like little trickster kami, he thought, teasing him as he suspected the kami in the ocean were doing as they tipped the boat to make him stumble too. The kami seemed to be everywhere he turned.

The kami were the shadows of the dead that lingered at the base of the trees and crept across the ground at sunset. They were the force behind the tide and the warmth in the sunlight. The kami were a source of life. People presented them with offerings at shrines. The offerings were made in exchange for blessings, and those blessings could range from good health to plentiful food or multiple children. Kaigara recalled the shrine that he and his brother used to bring offerings to when they were little. They would leave a nice box of sake for the spirit of their old home, wrapped in fine cloth and sealed with a handmade rope. Once their gift was set, they would clap their hands to pray for blessings, though he couldn’t remember what those blessings were for. When he was a child, he thought that there was only one shrine to pay offerings to and naively believed that it was also the only entrance for the spirits to return to their world.
As he grew older and moved to his new home, he realised that there were shrines built in various hidden locations on the island, within groves and caves; places that were left untouched by the thriving villagers that lived near the marketplace. Some of the villagers build shrines inside their homes too, small ones, that their ancestors could visit during the festivals. Kaigara had no ancestors on the island, so he never built a personal shrine, which meant he had to receive blessings elsewhere. As far as he knew, he was the only merchant that offered tribute to the little stone pagoda in the cave on the far side of the shore. Before his last trip to China, he left a couple of seashells and prayed for a safe passage. He forgot to do it for this one. He had been a bit…distracted lately.

All the other merchants he knew believed in the kami. It was impossible not to. The kami lived inside the ocean, which was why it moved as if it were alive. Kaigara used to imagine the ocean kami cupping its watery hand around the ship as though it were a child’s toy. They were always in the hands of the kami, at their mercy, and yet there Kaigara stood, at the ledge, remembering how the kami’s hand had been in his the night before, healing his wounds.
He simply couldn’t wrap his head around it.
Why would the kami expose himself so carelessly?
There had to be a reason or a disturbance in nature. Maybe, Kaigara had been killed during their last trip and this was his escort to Nirai Kanai, the spirit world. No, he reasoned. The water that pelted his face as the waves burst against the ship tasted as salty as normal and stung his eyes.

Was babysitting the kami some form of punishment? Oki didn’t mention the incident from years ago but maybe he knew and he was seeking revenge for Kaigara’s wrong doings. No, no, no, Kaigara pleaded to his thoughts. He rested his elbows on the ledge of the ship and put his face in his hands, which was why he didn’t see Oki step out of the cabin and approach the two young boys on deck.
“Why do I have to clean all morning? I want to help in the storage compartments,” one of the cabin boys complained. Oki watched as the other boy stopped scrubbing the deck to give his arms a break and reply.
“I want to steer the ship,” the other groaned. “They never let us do anything fun. There’s always something to clean.”
“Well, they said I could help if I finished early,” explained the first. “Maybe you could come with me.”
“Let’s try our best!”
Both boys had tied the sleeves of their kimono with their belts to keep them dry as they dunked their arms into the buckets of dirty water. They wrung the excess water out, snapped the clothes open and began to scrub harder than before. The first boy stopped to wipe his brow and sit back on his bare heels. Oki noticed that the soles of the boys’ feet were red from walking on the hot deck without sandals. Most of the merchants had one pair of sandals that smacked against the floor boards as they marched from one side of the deck to the other, going about their regular morning business. They walked around the two boys, careful not to slip on the water as they carried equipment to and from the main cabin.
One of the boys lifted the cloth from the bucket. He meant to wring it next, but his elbow bumped into the bucket and tripped it over. Murky water spilled across the deck. The smell made their faces twist in disgust as if they swallowed a mouthful of the salty air.
“Ugh, look what you’ve done! At this rate, the ship will never get clean!” the first boy cried, whimpering as he threw himself onto the deck. His friend quickly tried to mop the water up with his rag. Oki rushed in to help, not knowing that the two boys would be horrified by a strange merchant kneeling beside them and setting his bare palm in the puddle of water. They scrambled from the scene at first, but stopped in time to stare in awe at the water bubbling around Oki’s hand. They’re eyes grew wider as the water rose from the puddle looped around his arm like a rope.

Oki removed the water from the rags too, pinching his fingers on the cloth as if he were pulling on a loose string. He pulled the water toward him and the rag gradually faded from brown to white. He added the strings of water on his fingertips to the collection continuously swirling around his arm. With his other hand hovered over his arm, he magically unwrapped the water strung it between both of his palms instead. It looked like a thick, blue tinted rope, stretched as tight as it would go. The boys’ jaws dropped.
Oki released the water into the bucket, his hands hovering over the rope to bend and twist it as he needed. Then, he plunged both hands in the bucket to clean the water and the boys flinched back from the splash. They came closer to see what was happening this time, their faces bright with interest. They wanted to ask questions but they bit their tongues down when they noticed Oki’s face grow numb in deep concentration. The brown in his eyes began to glow pink around their small, black centres. Dirt stains grew like patches of freckles out of his smooth skin as the water cleared. The boys were either too scared or too amazed to move away again. They clutched each other’s clothes, their eyes bulging.
“There,” Oki announced happily after removing his hands from the bucket. The boys crawled over the bucket together and peered inside as the ripples settled. The water was so clear that they could see every scratch at the bottom of the bucket.
“Now that the cleaning is finished, you two can help the merchants like you said!” Oki explained, gesturing to the cabin where the merchants were filling their bowls for breakfast.
The boys nodded their heads obediently and scrambled to collect their fresh bucket of water. They whispered and glanced back at the weird merchant as they hurried into the cabin with their supplies. Oki stood, covered in dirt and dust, admiring their energy.
“Oki!” Kaigara called from where he stood at the ledge. All he had seen were two boys run to the cabin like a couple of spooked cats and knew enough to intervene. His arms were crossed, which told Oki that he had done something wrong…again. Oki lowered his head in shame.
“What did I tell you?” he asked sharply. “People will kill you if you’re caught changing reality!”
Kaigara marched across the desk to fetch him by the wrist.
“I thought I was clear about that! Why don’t you ever listen to me?”
“They looked like they needed help,” Oki protested. “They looked so tired and they were leaking water too. Did you know that humans leak water like that? I thought I could–”
“Yes, Oki, it’s called sweat. It happens when you’re doing your job!” Kaigara pressed, tightening his grip around Oki’s wrist. He let him go when he saw him wince and rubbed his chin with his fingers instead. He even pinched himself, hoping this was some sun-baked delusion.
“What exactly did you do?” he asked.
“I cleaned the deck! And the clothes, the bucket…the water in the bucket.”
Of course you’re a water kami, Kaigara thought as he gathered a view of the entire ship, checking for anything else out of the ordinary. Those two boys though…where had they gone and who were they going to talk to next?
“I told you to–”
Oki bowed in apology before he finished.
“I really thought I could help! They said they would have been cleaning all day.”
“That’s their job!” Kaigara informed him through a growl. “That’s what they’re supposed to do! Clean!”
Just like how you are supposed to be using your powers for nature, not throwing them away! Kaigara thought in frustration before he continued to scold his friend, “You can’t just do someone else’s job for them, Oki. You can’t go around doing– doing– this!”
He gestured to the cabin. “You can’t scare the kids! They don’t know when to shut up!”
Oki lowered his head while Kaigara muttered to himself about how he would explain this if someone happened to ask.
“I’m really sorry,” Oki finally admitted, catching Kaigara off-guard with the sound of his tears dripping onto the deck at their feet. Kaigara sighed. As much as he didn’t want to hear another empty apology, his ears were open and he hated listening to him cry.
“Come on, we should head inside. We’ll talk there.”
Kaigara brought him through the cabin, downstairs, and to their room in the back of the lower deck. As they passed through the storage compartment, Kaigara could hear the other merchants whisper at them from behind.
Those stupid boys, he thought as he shoved Oki into their shared room. He lit their lanturn for extra light.
“No more…magic,” Kaigara hissed. “Not around anyone but me. People don’t like that here. You’ll scare them and then we’ll both be killed. Do you understand that?”
Oki nodded, though it was a lie. He wasn’t entirely sure what it meant to ‘kill’, but he had already burdened Kaigara with enough problems, so he didn’t ask. Kaigara was finished with the discussion anyway.
“We need a plan,” Kaigara finally muttered after pacing through the inlet between their beds. Oki sat on his bed with his legs crossed, watching the candle flicker, not really listening to Kaigara talk to himself. It was a strange thing to do, even a kami could sense that.
“We can’t keep you here and we can’t take you to China,” Kaigara considered aloud.
Oki heard the word ‘China’ tossed around between the merchants, so he assumed that it must be important. The crates that they carried were marked with the name China and when they spoke, they often used a language that Oki failed to recognise. Was that China, he wondered.
Hai!” Oki called to catch Kaigara’s attention. He swivelled around to glare at him like a teacher would to a disruptive student.
“What’s a China?” asked Oki.
“It’s where we’re going,” Kaigara informed him. “It’s a big country. We’re bringing their emperor our yearly tribute. It’s how we show our gratitude. Even if they haven’t quite returned it ….”
He muttered that last part with a bitter tone. Oki tilted his head to the side.
“Are they our friends?”
“Are we playing a question game?” Kaigara mocked, sighing when that confused the poor guy more. “Nevermind. All I can say is that maybe we can get their help. We’re delivering an important document to them this time. It’s in my basket.”
Oki fell on his side to see under the bed where Kaigara stored their personal baskets, which were filled with clothes, food and tributes. Kaigara’s basket was tied loosely to the bed by the straps they used to carry them on their backs. Their straw bellies creaked as it rolled with the ship.
“What’s in the document?”
“A solution to all of our problems…well, most of them,” he recalled after glancing at the wide eyes of their biggest problem yet. “It’s our only way to fight back against the Japanese,” Kaigara explained as he sat down on his bed and braced his heels against the basket. It stopped rolling.
“If the crew already have a reason to kill you, they’ll find one soon. Tensions are high because of the document,” he added grimly, folding his hands between his knees. “So, the first thing we need to do is take care of you and your powers. No one can find out that you’re a kami.”
Oki sat up and folded his hands thoughtfully, as if it would help him feel as focused as Kaigara seemed to be. He still couldn’t think of a plan though. His head was filled with the sound of the waves pounding urgently against the side of the ship. It started to give him a headache.
“I was always told that the kami were supposed to stay hidden because they were using their powers to keep nature in balance. If you’re here with us then something is wrong, right? I’ve been thinking about it all day. I’m worried about the state of things. It’s not just about your powers being used on kids and bonsai trees, the ocean has been acting strange too. It’s as if the ocean is responding to you and your emotions. I didn’t believe you at first about being a kami but after you handled the boys earlier, I realised that…there might be some truth to it. Regardless if you are a real kami or not, I don’t want to put anyone on board at risk, including you. We have to get you home before that happens,” Kaigara concluded. “You need to go back to–”
Nirai Kanai,” Oki moaned, grabbing at the far wall of their room for stability when he started to sway with the ship.
“Nir–Oki?” Kaigara reached across the gap to shake him by the shoulder when he noticed his hand glowing blue where it was planted against the wall.
“Oki!” he shouted desperately as Oki’s eyes started to glow too.
“Hey! Look at me! What’s going on? What did I say about the magic!”
Oki snapped from his trance but the ship continued to toss. His eyes returned to their natural colour and the blue glow faded into his fingers. He removed his hand from the wall and studied his fingertips, as though he were searching for the light that had been sucked into them. Kaigara looked down at them as well, from where he hovered over his side as though he were about to tackle him from his seat. He would have done it too, if it was necessary. There were certain, unspoken rules that Kaigara believed magic followed: lanterns and candles can glow; fingers should not.
“Don’t– try to lie to me,” Kaigara started with a warning, although his voice nearly slipped into another pitch while he spoke. “I can tell when you lie, because you look at the floor. Look me in the eye and tell me what that was.”
“I think it was a message,” Oki explained calmly, touching the wall again to see if he could bring the light back. His fingertips didn’t change to anything but white as he pressed them against the cold board.
“From Nirai Kanai. I–I’m not sure what it means, but–” Oki paused to look up at Kaigara with the most serious expression he’d ever seen him wear.
“I think you’re right, Kaigara. I need to get back home.”

The ship rocked steadily as Kaigara lay on his bed at night, scanning the document over and over, memorising it’s lines. Oki slept beside him, having fallen asleep before reading it to the end himself. He was exhausted from chasing Kaigara around on deck, under the deck, and between cabins as he checked the other merchant’s reports. Kaigara was strict too. He insisted that Oki stay by his side, where he could keep a close eye on him at all times. He couldn’t risk another incident. The other merchants were already asking questions because of those two boys and Kaigara was not entirely sure how much longer he could brush them off with the excuse that those boys were ‘seasick’ or ‘not drinking enough water’.
When he said that he wanted him close though, he didn’t mean attached to his side while he slept. The cabins were stuffy from the heat and humidity, and even if Oki’s body didn’t produce heat like a normal human, he was still too hot to sleep beside. Kaigara was soaked with sweat. He had to lift the document over his head to keep it dry.
Nirai Kanai,” Kaigara whispered to the paper, unable to focus on the words as their candle grew weaker. He thought the word sounded familiar when Oki said it the first time, but until today, he never gave it much more than a simple shrug. That prickle of unease in his stomach lingered after work that day when he heard another merchant mention the name under their breath in passing. What did they know?
Kaigara slipped out of bed and met with a group of merchants sitting together around a small table in the cabin next door. They were busy consulting with their maps and their price tickets, muttering numbers all the same as Kaigara sat down among them. They lifted their heads to crack a gentle smile at their merchant friend.
“Strange guy on your trail,” one of them joked as he folded a map and tied it with string.
“Is he new? I haven’t seen him before.”
“He works hard. He must. You’re a tough guy to keep up with.”
Kaigara let them talk in circles about their opinions of Oki and cut in only after he realised they were done and on the next topic of conversation: food.
“Do you know anything about Nirai Kanai?” Kaigara asked, measuring the surprise on their faces. They almost laughed at him.
“It’s a legend,” answered the one that tapped his rolled map. He was across from Kaigara and leaned in to study him as he continued, “We’ve heard about it since we started on the ocean. It’s like heaven on earth from what I’ve heard. Some say that it’s an actual place, somewhere you can sail to, but I’ve never heard of anyone who was dumb enough to try.”
“What makes it so dumb?” The merchant beside Kaigara took a drink to clear his throat. “I would rather live in paradise than deal with another tax on sugar. I can barely make it by. Why are we following those rules anyway? Where did they come from?”
“Setsuma,” the last one added as he swirled his finger across the rim of his cup, mindlessly drawn to the motion as though he were tracing a whirlpool.
“Setsuma,” the other two echoed in disharmonious grief.
Kaigara was offered a cup to drink from but politely refused. He sought what they had to say about the ‘legend’ and already came to his own conclusion. These men were not willing to search for a mystical island paradise when they were desperate to reach China. A modern legend formed between them that involved Ryukyu’s future liberation from Japan with China’s support and the document that Kaigara kept tucked in his basket was the proof of its existence. The document would fulfill the restless dreams that the merchants wanted to tell their children when they returned. Their freedom from Setsuma came first.
The kami would have to wait. The longer they sat around waiting though, the more the ocean would howl and rage in distress as though it were fighting to save its captive kami. In a sense, the ocean and Ryukyu were after the same goal. They wanted to restore the physical identity that they had lost. Kaigara could feel it like Oki had through the wall last night, except it was an ache in his heart. He knew that Ryukyu had no chance if the kami was not returned to his rightful place, where he could heal the wound that opened when he was torn from his home.
Kaigara couldn’t accept that the merchants would refuse his ‘dumb’ request to search for Nirai Kanai. He had to take responsibility for this matter, as a liberator of nature from the hands of human greed.
After a drink or two, the other merchants excused Kaigara from the table when he stood and made his exit known. He stepped out into the main hall, checked on Oki quickly, then crept to the main deck where a group of night merchants were eyeing the empty ocean for signs of danger. Kaigara’s stomach rolled with the waves when he noticed that the clouds were flashing with lightning.
He caught himself on the shoulder of another merchant walking by when the ship tipped under him.
“Orders from the captain (who was asleep in his private cabin),” Kaigara whispered in the merchant’s ear, “we’re changing course. The new coordinates are–”
The aggressive nodding from his fellow merchant was enough to reassure him that his plan would be set in motion that night. By the next morning, no one else would know the difference.

Oki and Kaigara were both tossed from their beds when the ship jerked from one side to the other. They blindly searched for something to hold onto as they scrambled to their feet and stumbled for the door. The nightstand inched toward them as it slid free from where it was wedged between the two beds. The basket under Kaigara’s bed snapped loose and rolled into their ankles, knocking them into the door with enough force to throw it open. They fell through the doorway, into the swarm of merchants that filled the narrow hall, and followed the rings of candle light until they found the stairs.
The deck was less crowded than the compartment below because of the restless wind and the rain. The merchants knew that the captain wanted his best men to face these elements. That included Oki and Kaigara since they were part of the few that could maintain their ground as they crossed the tilted deck.

Water rolled under their feet and spilled over the ledge as though it were jumping overboard for fear of being rocked to death. The ocean opened its mighty jaws to swallow them whole. The boat creaked as though it were crying as the waves bore their white teeth into its sides. Oki covered his ears with both of his hands because he could hear the voice of the earth within the ships wooden panels. They sounded like they were drowning.
He could hear the water too, calling out to him as the ocean’s mouth grew larger and tried to scoop the ship up in the curve of its tongue-like wave. Oki closed his eyes and concentrated on the sound. What were the waves trying so hard to tell him?
Kaigara pulled him from his thoughts as he grabbed him by the shoulders to move him away from the ledge of the ship.
“I thought I told you to stay by me?” he reminded him as he searched him for injuries, despite knowing that Oki couldn’t get hurt like normal humans could. Kaigara reasoned with himself that any normal, concerned friend would check anyway.
“What are you doing so close to the ledge when the ocean is acting like this?” he asked as Oki blinked back to consciousness.
“I-I…I’m not sure. I heard the ocean calling to me. There’s something–!”
The wave rolled into the side of the ship and Kaigara was reminded of how small he really was next to the ocean. He and Oki were tossed into the opposite ledge with a handful of other merchants that hadn’t been holding onto anything. Oki lifted him up as his vision cleared. Kaigara felt jarred by the hit. He coughed out dryly before he caught his breath. Once the prickling numbness in his arm faded, he pushed Oki away.
“Don’t perform any magic on me,” he warned, having noticed the ball of blue light pulsing in the centre of Oki’s palms.
“But–” Oki reached to touch his back where he sustained the most injuries but Kaigara knocked his hands aside once more.
“This is my fault. I’ll take the injury as punishment,” Kaigara told him quietly as if he were trying to keep it secret from the ocean as it swirled around them to listen. Had he not changed their course last night, they might have avoided the storm. He believed he deserved the pain that struck his back as he stood up. At least he was used to it, he reasoned.

Oki joined at his side and held onto a rope for stability while Kaigara examined the state of the ocean.
The waves were broken. They collapsed before they peaked and crashed into each other as though they were two siblings fighting for attention. Thunder cracked above them but they refused to stop slapping their water around in a tantrum. The wind and rain pelted the waves into submission and the mist settled after. The calm, foggy scene resembled many mornings Oki and Kaigara shared on the ship. They stood together in the rain, watching the foggy horizon, and waiting. It was too calm to them, even as the thunder made the water tremble and the flashes of lightning burst through the mist like a dizzy firefly.

That last big wave couldn’t be the end, they thought.
“Captain!” One of the merchants shouted, pointing at the brightest patch of lightning. “It’s the wako!”
wako!” the captain repeated louder for those that didn’t hear. The merchants ran frantically toward the cabin where they could retrieve the guns that they stored in crates below the deck. Kaigara was given his gun to load as the flashing lights became quicker and more frequent, as if the firefly was multiplying by the second. Oki understood what the waves were warning them about now.
They were under attack.
“Don’t get in the way,” Kaigara warned him as a horn blasted from the upper deck to alert the rest of the crew. The horn’s voice started low, then rose like a whispering flute that rose into song. The sound made Oki’s ears ring and he lost track of what the waves were trying to say to him before they were smashed between their ship and the wako pirates.
“How did we sail into Japanese waters?” Oki heard another merchant ask Kaigara, who refused to acknowledge the question as he aimed his gun and fired.
“Protect the goods!”
“Hide the sugar!”
“Where’s the ammo!”
“The documents! Seal the documents!”
Oki had to cover his ears again, just to hear himself think over the chaos. The merchants were ill prepared to fight. They’re fingers were unaccustomed to the triggers and they jerked as they made their shots. The guns had been a trading gift they acquired long ago. The crate they retrieved them from had been coated in a layer of dust, and the guns rattled as though they were wheezing, like an old man in the arms of his young, inexperienced son. The merchants couldn’t be compared to the strength of the wako.
Kaigara had told Oki that the wako were Japanese sea pirates that raided the coasts of the islands in Japan, Korea and China. He sat Oki down one night and showed him the areas marked in red on their map. He warned him that the wako were ruthless. They were masters of the art of maritime war.
“Don’t worry about them though, Oki,” Kaigara had said as he rolled the map. “They won’t bother us on our route. They don’t know about it.”
Then what happened to their route? Oki thought as these Japanese pirates leapt through the mist and boarded the tilted trade ship. They drew their short swords and sliced the life out of the merchants’ necks. Oki took several steps away from the blood that stained the wood and water as it rolled along the deck. He bumped into the ledge where he gripped the wood for stability as the smell of sour metal replaced the bitter salt and made him nauseous.
Kaigara, he thought, he would know what happened. He would know what to do next.
While Oki pinned himself to the ledge, Kaigara was busy aiming his gun at the unwelcome guests aboard their ship. He had shot through the black kimono of several wako, before they landed on their feet, and sent them falling into the waves. The ocean ate them as though they were the fruits of sacrifice and jumped between the two ships, begging for more. Kaigara refused to give them what they begged for as he turned to rescue his crew from the wako that had slipped by him. There were too many for one person to handle. He needed help.
He needed a miracle.
Oki dove into the fray when he saw that Kaigara lunged for a wako in front of him, unaware of the other one that lingered in his blindspot directly behind him with his short sword raised and aimed at the back of his neck.
There was a myth about human blood that Kaigara remembered from his childhood. That woman from his memory told him that human blood was dirty, tainted by all of our wrongdoings. She said that it was a reminder gifted to us from nature. Blood was nature’s way of reminding humans that they were servants to the elements. They would have to eventually give back their loan on the land in full payment, in death. Kaigara saw the man behind him through a reflection in the blood pooled beneath the dead wako at his feet. He decided then that taking care of Oki must have been an omen. He figured that Oki was the kami meant to guide him to the spirit world after he paid his dues to the world with his life.
He really had to stop believing in the most reasonable explanations for things though. He thought the reflection was betraying him. He thought that he might have died already, and the visions written in blood were the remains of his imagination.
He turned around to double-check that what he saw was fake, but Oki truly had the wako suspended in a shell of red water with his head poking out the top. The wako’s short sword had dropped below where his feet dangled in the water. Oki’s hands were raised as though they were supporting the shell from afar. As he brought his hands back, the shell of water floated over the ledge of the ship and hovered over the biting waves. Oki threw his hands forward again and the wako was released into the water. Kaigara was about to scold him but the crack of a stray bullet silenced him. He tasted blood instead of words.
Oki ran to catch Kaigara as he collapsed with a hand over the bullet lodged into his chest. Blood pumped through the fabric of his kimono, staining it red. Oki rested him over his knees and raised his hand as he cried.
“This doesn’t look good,” he muttered to him. “Please let me help you this time!”
He was about to press his glowing palm over the wound but another bullet knocked his hand out of the way. Oki turned his head to face the merchant standing by them. He could tell this one was not a wako pirate because he trembled as he aimed the tip of the gun at Oki’s glowing pink eyes. His little legs were rippling with fear and caused his knees to bang together.
“He changed our course. He led us to them!” the merchant cried. “He did this for you, didn’t he? He thought he could hide you forever if he killed us all off. It’s not going to work. His plan won’t work if you die too!”
Another bullet penetrated Oki’s chest and a glittery gold liquid seeped from the wound as it healed shut. Oki touched the broken fabric and tilted his head down curiously. His glowing eyes lacked focus. The merchant reloaded his gun in a panic and tried again, aiming for those unfocused eyes. Oki flinched at the sound, but the bullet bounced off of his cheek, leaving a sparkly gold scrape that dripped onto Kaigara’s kimono.
“Stop that,” Oki commanded. “You’ll hurt him.”
“Good!” the merchant yelled as he frantically reloaded for his next shot, which he then aimed at Kaigara. “He won’t get away with this mistake.”
While Kaigara couldn’t speak, he could still see as the deck and the frustrated merchant grew smaller beneath him.
I’m going to the spirit world, he thought when Oki nested him in his arms to carry him. My blood was too stained for the spirits to ignore.
He could hear the wako from down below, on the deck, where they were charging at the base of a tall stock of spiralling water. Oki carried him at the top of a long whirlpool that continued to grow as it collected the bloody water from the ocean. The water swirled around Oki’s knees, which helped him keep Kaigara dry. His eyes were still aglow as he gazed down through the mist at the pirates swinging their swords at his whirlpool. He lifted his head to the sky as though he were silently asking the heavens for help.
In response, the sky thundered and sent a raging gust of wind that made the boat rock, causing the wako to stumble. Oki then separated the blood from the water with his magic and used it as ropes that wrapped around the pirates’ necks. They cinched, choking them. The pirates tried to pull on the blood but it only stained their hands as it tightened. Once they were fallen, Oki’s wave started to wobble. The blood was the foundation, the binder that kept his whirlpool in shape. Without it, he was as unsteady as the ocean beneath them. He leaned to maintain his balance in the air but the water started to fall onto the deck, sweeping the bodies off into the ocean. In a final surge, the water pulled them over the ship’s ledge too, and the ocean caught them in its warm, blood stained mouth.

Works Cited

“The Puppet Master”. Avatar: The Last Airbender, Season Three: Book of Fire. Written by Tim

Hedrick, directed by Joaquim Dos Santos. JM Animation. No. 308. October 25, 2007.

“The Waterbending Master”. Avatar: The Last Airbender, Season Three: Book of Fire. Written by

Tim Hedrick, directed by Joaquim Dos Santos. JM Animation. No. 18. November 18,


Kerr, George H. Okinawa: The History of an Island People. First Edition, Charles E. Tuttle

Company, INC., 1958, Tokyo, Japan. 180-184.

Lane, Kris. Lane, Kris E., Levine, Robert M. Pillaging the Empire: Global Piracy on the High

Seas, 1500-1750. 2nd Edition. Routledge, 2015. 252. https://books.google.com/books/about/Pillaging_the_Empire.html?id=DjM-CgAAQBAJ

McCune, Shannon. The Ryukyu Islands. David & Charles (Holdings) Limited Newton Abbot

Devon 1975. Stackpole Books, Harrisburg, PA. 1975. 42-79.

Smits, Gregory. Visions of Ryukyu: Identity and Ideology in Early-Modern Thought and Politics.

University of Hawai’i Press, 1999. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt6wr1xf.

Spirited Away. Directed by Hayao Miyazaki. Studio Ghibli, 2001.

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