a writer based in Tokyo
Soldiers

“Park-like scenery, trees and gardens, neatly-clipped hedges, succeeded each other; and my attendant yakoneens at length announced that we had arrived at the village of Su-mae-yah. The whole country here is covered with nursery-gardens. One straight road, more than a mile in length, is lined with them. I have never seen, in any part of the world, such a large number of plants cultivated for sale. Each nursery covers three or four acres of land, is nicely kept, and contains thousands of plants, both in pots and in the open ground. As these nurseries are generally much alike in their features, a description of one will give a good idea of them all.”

“Chapter VII: Soldiers” from Robert Fortune, Yedo and Peking (London: John Murray, 1863:108)

A view of ‘Yokuhama’ from the hills behind the town
Robert Fortune, Yedo and Peking (London: John Murray, 1863)

They reached the canal along the track leading up from the river, their slingshots drawn for battle and their eyes squinting, almost stitched together, in the midday glare. There were five of them, their ringleader the only one in swimming trunks: red shorts that blazed behind the parched crops of the cane fields, still low in early May. The rest of the troop trailed behind him in their underpants, all four caked in mud up to their shins, all four taking turns to carry the pail of small rocks they’d taken from the river that morning; all four scowling and fierce and so ready to give themselves up for the cause that not even the youngest, bringing up the rear, would have dared admit he was scared, the elastic of his slingshot pulled taut in his hands. the rock snug in the leather pad, primed to strike anything that got in his way at the very first sign of an ambush, be that the caw of the bienteveo, perched unseen like a guard in the trees behind them, the rustle of leaves being thrashed aside, or the whoosh of a rock cleaving the air just beyond their noses, the breeze warm and the almost white sky thick with ethereal birds of prey and a terrible smell that hit them harder than a fistful of sand in the face, s stench that made them want to hawk it up before it reached their guts, that made them want to stop and turn around. But the ringleader pointed to the edge of a cattle track, and all five of them, crawling along the dry grass, all five of them packed together in a single body, all five of them surrounded by blow flies, finally recognized what was peeping out from the yellow foam on the water’s surface: the rotten face of a corpse floating among the rushes and the plastic bags swept in the from the road on the breeze, the dark mask seething under a myriad of black snakes, smiling.

Fernanda Melchor, Hurricane Season, Translated by Sophie Hughes (Fitzcarraldo, 2020)