Bakamonotako translates roughly into ‘The Stupid Little Octopus Girl’. She’s a character in an old Japanese folk tale. I read her story on a plaque outside the Little Sea Monster Museum Sculpture Garden. I thought she was a lot like me.

From a good family of upstanding octopuses, Bakamonotako felt she didn’t need all eight of her appendages. Four would do. Two to wash and work and two to walk and wander. To the embarrassment and horror of her family, she let her other four limbs fall into such disuse that they withered and fell away. So she resembled a human being, with two arms and two legs, except that her mouth and her genitalia were the same orifice.

Like all stupid little girls who believe they can best become themselves by becoming unlike themselves, she eventually came to miss her lost limbs. At times, fully tattooed people feel so about their lost original skin. But B’s sense of regret ran deeper.

When she matured and tried to have sexual relations as an adult octopus, the limbs she cast off with her mind wrapped around her and bound her, keeping her from any feeling. The phantom tentacles were strong, adult-sized ghosts and angry about losing their body.

Embittered and maddened, Bakamonotako consulted a wise starfish about her future. The starfish said, ‘You must find the other half of yourself, of your deepest and most private feeling, and you might have to double yourself to do it.’

The starfish asked Bakamonotako for twice her usual fee for this advice and the stupid little octopus girl paid half in sand dollars and half in sand dollars she hoped to collect in the future. With only half her limbs, she would need to spend twice as much time scrambling in the sand, so fleshy and vulnerable on the ocean floor, to find these dollars. She could see already how her existence of constantly halving and doubling was playing itself out. Once she’d started this math, she saw she’d never be whole, clear, even.

She had spent her future already, searching for sand dollars to pay the starfish for advice about her future, which had already been determined by her past.


Photograph by lecates.

Eight Trains
Ruth Ozeki | Podcast