Dragons haven’t been to the human realm in over 1,000 years. At least that’s what my parents told me. I was a young dragon. Still had one of my baby fangs. Dragons lose their baby fangs between 30-50 years old, and we become adults at about 100 years old. All the other dragons I knew were adults, and aside from Midori (who was 998), most of them were old enough to remember what the human realm was like. I tried asking the other dragons (including my parents and grandparents - especially my parents and grandparents) why we don’t go into the human realm anymore, but they never give a straight answer.
“We just don’t.”
“I stopped going because I was bored there. Can’t speak for the others. We all have our own reasons, I suppose.”
“No reason too.”
What about Midori? Surely she had some curiosities, right? Nope!
I once asked her, “Have you had any desire to see the human realm?”
“Not really,” she said.
“But you were an egg when the dragons stopped going!”
“Maybe that is why, I respect the decisions of the older dragons. Why do you want to go to the human realm so much?”
“I just want to know what it’s like. I hear stories. It sounds fascinating.”
“Stories? From other dragons?”
“From other yōkai children.”
With no dragon children to play with, I often play with the children of other yōkai. Foxes, river otters, tanuki, kappa, etc. Even yōkai that are forever children, like the zashiki-warashi. They all go back and forth between the human realm and the spirit realm. I brought this up to Mother once.
“All the other yōkai go back and forth between realms, why not the dragons?”
“Tengu don’t go into the human realm,” Mother pointed out.
“Well tengu stay in the mountains and meditate all day and night. All they’re about is discipline, discipline, discipline. What, you think they’re cool just because they can summon strong winds with that stupid fan of theirs! Piff.”
“I’d be careful about insulting tengu if I were you.”
“We dragons are more powerful than them anyway.”
“I wouldn’t be too sure about that, Ao.”
It took years of pleading with Mother and Father, but I eventually got my wish. Well, more like a yuki-onna, named Yuko Takaki, convinced them. Mrs. Takaki was married to a human male, and she spent the winters with him and her children. However, since yuki-onna can’t handle summers in the human realm, Mrs. Takaki would leave her husband and children every spring to stay in the spirit realm. It was late autumn, and therefore time for Mrs. Takaki to return to the human realm when she convinced my parents to let me go with her. They, of course, had to set some rules.
“Alright, Ao, we’ll let you go to the human realm, but you can’t go looking like a dragon.”
“But I can’t shape-shift…”
“Which is why we bought you these pills, which have the power of giving you a human appearance. They last a long time, too, but remember, when they effects start to ware off, take another one immediately. Don’t take it too soon, though. Also, if you ever feel queasy, take this ointment, and return to the spirit realm immediately.”
“There’s pills that give human appearance?”
“Yes, and they’re really expensive. Also since you’re posing as a human, you need a human name. Ms. Takaki will help you with that.”
My human name became Ryūsuke Ogawa (“Ryū” as in “dragon”), and I was to pass as a fourth grader. I was to refer to Mrs. and Mr. Takaki as Aunt and Uncle.
“You’ll sleep in Kenji’s room,” said Aunt. “Hana will show you how to get to school tomorrow.”
“If I’m to sleep with Kenji,” I asked. “Won’t it make more since if he were the one to show me to school?”
“Kenji’s in middle school,” explained Aunt. “You and Hana go Hinotori Elementary.”
They go to different schools? “Then why don’t I sleep in Hana’s room?”
Aunt and Uncle looked at each other uncomfortably, before Aunt explained, “I thought it would make more sense to put you and Kenji together because you’re both boys.”
I wondered if this was a normal attitude for humans (and yuki-onna/yuki-otoko). Dragons usually sleep in open nests, so we don’t really worry about separating males from females. Well, sea dragons might. They sleep in deep caves, and the important sea dragons sleep in Ryūjin’s palace. I’m a river dragon, though, and we sleep in open nests. Sometimes we share nests with others, but I’ve never seen a dragon be concerned about the sex of the dragon(s) he/she was sharing his/her nest with.
The inside of Kenji’s room was neat. As I said, I was used to sleeping in a nest, so I’d never seen an inclosed sleeping space. I know that foxes, river otters, and tanuki sleep in dens, but I’ve never seen the inside of their homes before. I’ve been curious about it, but not as curious as I was about the human realm. Besides, I didn’t want to ask my fox friends to ensure I didn’t lose my tanuki friends, and I didn’t want to ask my tanuki friends to ensure I didn’t lose my fox friends. By having both fox and tanuki friends, I’m standing on a very thin line. The rivalry between foxes and tanuki is a strong one. I could’ve asked a sea dragon to see his/her cave, but that would mean insulting my heritage as a river dragon. As for river otters, “Our dens are only for our family units.”
Seeing Kenji’s room made me wonder if it was common for those with inclosed sleeping spaces to have things that aren’t, well, part of the nest. Kenji had a homework desk were he kept his books, on his wall he had a poster of MarineMan (his favorite video game character), and in one corner, he had a game system. He taught me how to play one of his games. I’d never seen, let alone played, a video game, so it took me a while to get the hang of it. We might have them in the spirit realm, but since I’ve never been inside an inn, brothel, house, teahouse, or even den, I wouldn’t know. (Brothels are really popular in the spirit realm for some reason.)
School was interesting. I was assigned to class 4-2, and was told to introduce myself to the class. I accidentally wrote my dragon name on the board, but I quickly erased it and wrote my human name. There were three empty seats, but one of them belonged to a student who was absent that day, so I had to take one of the other two. I chose the one in the back by the window. My parents had taught me to read and write from a young age, so kanji class was pretty easy. Music class could’ve been better. Having only lived in the spirit realm, I was only familiar with traditional instruments, such as shamisen, koto, biwa, and taiko. Heck, I’ve met the living equivalent of these instruments. The instruments I saw in music class weren’t traditional instruments. (Not that I’ve played an instrument anyway, since we dragons have short little legs and sharp claws.) The other kids seemed to think I was joking when I didn’t know what the piano was called, or that the flute-like instrument we were supposed to play was called a recorder. I asked the music teacher, Mr. Kabiki, what type of bone the recorder was carved out of, and he told me it was probably made of hard plastic.
PE was a nightmare. We had to jump a horse. (Which was a log not a horse. I’ve seen a horse before, I know what they look like!) If I were in my dragon form, I would just fly over it (why over it). I don’t know how to jump. I’ve never needed to jump in my life. I’m a dragon; we move by flight. Anyway, I crashed into the horse and fell to the ground.