Once upon a time, a beautiful princess lived in the magical kingdom of Los Angeles. Always alone, she belonged to no one—and no one belonged to her. She dreamed of one day finding someone who shared her passions, a handsome prince obsessed with monstrous mythical creatures and exploring all the weirdest corners of her kingdom. Or alternately, she dreamed of kicking ass and winning the regional judo championship, which came with a really awesome trophy. Neither of these things happened, so she revealed herself to be a nure-onna (an actual monstrous mythical creature), transformed into a snake, and ate everyone’s faces off. The end.
Never argue with the Nikkei Week Queen of Little Tokyo.
Auntie Suzy gifted me with this advice when I was six, and I probably should’ve taken it to heart. But “never” sounds like a long time when you’re six, and I must have known deep down that there would be so many things I’d want to argue about.
“Ugh, Rika-chan, why won’t you just stop fighting with me!” My sister Belle—the current Nikkei Week Queen of Little Tokyo—gives me an impressively regal glower. “You have the worst temper in the whole entire world.”
“False,” I say, even though it’s kind of true. “I’m actually suppressing my kaiju-temper extra hard because I’m trying not to fight with you. Even though you’re the one who’s blocking my bedroom door and waving random bits of fabric in my face.”
“It’s a scarf!” she retorts, flapping the floaty bit of cloth she’s been trying to tie around my neck for the last five minutes. “And you need it.”
“I do not need a scarf,” I retort, batting her hands away. “We live in LA—no one ever needs a scarf.”
“It’s decorative,” she insists, her face screwing into that look that means I’m being a total pain the ass.
I would argue—see, again with the arguing—that she’s the one being the pain in the ass, since she’s keeping me from what I actually need to do. I have to get over to the dojo, where my fellow judoka are preparing for our big martial arts demonstration today. We always put on a show at the parade that kicks off Nikkei Week, the annual festival in Los Angeles’s downtown neighborhood of Little Tokyo celebrating all things Japanese and Japanese American.
I’m really trying not to deploy my temper—Auntie Och calls it “Rika-chan’s kaiju,” or giant monster, after all the Japanese creature movies she watches on “the YouTube,” holding her phone screen way too close to her face. I’d swear her tone sounds almost . . . admiring? But the truth is, my temper always gets me in trouble. It’s somehow even more monstrous than Godzilla or Mothra or any of the titans rampaging across Auntie Och’s screen, destroying entire miniature cities. It’s one of the snarling beasts in the Japanese folklore stories I’ve been obsessed with since I was a kid, clawing through my blood and rattling against my rib cage, dying to escape and gobble up those who insist on provoking it.
Like the guy who thought it would be funny to “pretend choke” me after I tapped out during a sparring session in judo. I was only eight, so I bit him—and almost got kicked out of the dojo over it. Or the anime-obsessed white girls who frequent my Aunties’ katsu restaurant and order me to speak to them in “an authentic Japanese accent.” I once dumped a full can of Coke on Queen Becky, the Ultimate White Girl Who Just, Like, Loves Asian Culture, and it felt so good
—until that particular Becky’s mother started an online petition to shut down the restaurant, and Auntie Suzy wearily explained to me the need for our family to appear “respectable.” (That one . . . did not happen when I was eight, by the way. That was last week.)
I don’t want to be in trouble all the time, so I try to keep my kaiju-temper leashed.
But my kaiju-temper doesn’t care about what I want.
Copyright © 2021 by Sarah Kuhn. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.