I got to visit my dad for the first time after five years. While Covid is gone for all practical purposes in the western hemisphere, Japan still lives with it, keeping the virus at bay not just with vaccination and face masks but also, in a countryside Japanese care home, with quarantine. I had been calling the home from months in advance to secure my visitation rights but remained unsure whether I’d actually be granted access, right down to the moment when, standing in front of the door to the home with a suitcase full of omiyage gifts from London, I read the notice that clearly stated visitation was prohibited. It was only three and a half hours later, after the four of us had covertly stripped off our face masks and shields so my dad could recognize us – we were booted out.
It was a visit packed with emotion. Every time I go to Japan someone calls me Urashima Taro, the protagonist in a fairy tale about a Japanese Rip Van Winkle, a fisherman who saves a turtle and is then transported to the Dragon Palace to spend three days with a sea princess. Homesick, Urashima Taro returns home with a treasure box the sea princess forbids him to open. But upon return, when he finds that 300 years have passed and everyone he knows is gone, he opens the treasure box. Instantly, he turns old.
I felt like old Urashima Taro visiting the book section of a favorite store, amazingly still there. It was eerily beholden to a reflective book about the fable. Called Takaramono or Treasures, the author and illustrator, Imon Noriko, encourages us to reread fairy tales as adults so we too can ask questions like the ones she asks Taro. Was he sorry he saved the turtle? Went to the Dragon Palace? Opened the treasure box? “No,” he replies to all three questions, saying he was happy to have stood up for the turtle, gone on an adventure, and lived a life full of treasures, however serendipitous.
As my dad pointed to the photos that garnished the corner of his room, he repeated the phrase, Daijobu to say he was okay. Maybe he was telling us that he was okay because he too had lived a fulfilling life as highlighted in the photos. Daijobu can also mean, Don’t worry.
The 26th of February is Tell a Fairy Tale Day. Don’t worry. Don't forget to tell a fairy tale. And don’t forget to reread a few. Fairy tales are surprising in the way they cast light on all the treasures of your life. Being old has its advantages. Enjoy.