hello, i wrote a book
and it comes out tomorrow (23 February)
Last weekend I was in Asahikawa for an old friend’s wedding. It’s a second-tier city in Hokkaido, famous for ramen (we did not eat any), its zoo (we did not go) and the ski resort (we did not ski). We stayed in one of the most mediocre hotels in the city (the light near the front door would not turn off, and J unscrewed it so we could sleep in a dark room), drove an hour into the countryside to see a dear friend marry her partner in an ice bar (literally, yes, made of ice), and drank stupendous hot chocolate three nights in a row (possibly the best thing about this city).
I like Asahikawa — what little I’ve seen of it on short winter trips — and wish I had the wherewithal to spend more time there. Like parts of Sapporo, downtown Asahikawa has a delightful and unapologetic air of sleaze about it, with dozens of snacks and girls bars in between regular izakaya, shops, cafes, and more prosaic billboards for dentists and yoga studios. There’s the occasional wall with photographs of doe-eyed women with obviously false, easy-to-remember names like Juria or Maria or Aya. On the corner of one of the main intersections is a prominent billboard for a private detective agency, and first on the list of services they provide is “infidelity investigations,” among others. Below that is another billboard for “new clubs” — like cabaret clubs but classier — with a smiling young woman saying, 今夜も行っとく? How about going again tonight?
I love that all this is in plain sight, part of the visual fabric of downtown Asahikawa. Maybe all this means is that there’s not much else anyone wants to do in subzero temperatures except drink with other people paid to sit next to you. Mostly, when I say I want to spend some time in Asahikawa, I mean that I’d like to be there long enough to hang out at the bars and listen to what everyone’s grumbling about up north.
As J loves to remind me, a young crow intimidated me into giving up my soft serve the last time we were in Asahikawa over winter two years ago. We’d bought ice cream from a local farmers’ market somewhere in Midorigaoka, walking through suburbs oddly reminiscent of parts of the US, engrossed in our desserts — until I noticed a crow following me. I looked back at it, continued walking. It hopped after me. It flew up to a telephone pole, looking down at me, sizing me up. It swooped down in front of me, all claws and sharp beak, chasing me down the street until I set my paper cup down and backed away. The crow hopped to the cup, removed the plastic spoon with its beak, picked it up and flew away with its creamy bounty.
Where was J in all of this? Standing a few metres down the road, howling with laughter as this bird-human standoff unfolded. Nevertheless, I maintain that crows in winter need ice cream far more than I do, and that’s a little fiction I’ll stand by until the crows come home. (Also, this hasn’t diminished my fondness for crows one bit. Quite the opposite.) I kept the discarded plastic spoon as a souvenir for over a year, until it got lost around the time we moved in together.
Looking at snow always brings this heady rush of joy to my heart. Is it because I grew up in a tropical climate and never had to shovel snow, and I’ve always chosen to experience snowy conditions rather than snow being a condition visited upon wherever I’m living? Regardless, snow is endlessly delightful. Heavy snow falling from an ink-dark sky — when you look up you see this starburst scattershot of snowflakes spiralling down. A fresh trail of tiny prints snaking across a pristine field of snow where some rabbit or fox or deer has ambled. How vending machines up north invariably wear tall mounds of snow, some at absurdly rakish angles.
Maybe I’m thinking about all this now, dreaming about looking out at white-out skies instead of the roofs of too-close apartment buildings in Tokyo, because a tiny part of me wants to be as far away as humanly possible from everyone and everything before tomorrow, which is when my book comes out. Typing those words still feels like a total lie even though I have an entire box of books with my name on them. I’m nervous as all hell that it’s trickling out into the world. I wrote a book and its official birthday is tomorrow.
How Kyoto Breaks Your Heart is a memoir/essay collection set in Kyoto, about the ways in which heartbreak can fill a place and make it impossible to stay. It is about friendship, love, travel, and stumbling through life in a foreign country. It features jazz, persimmons, cats, rivers, rain, moss, and a whole cast of people who left an impact on me. It’s about some of the most formative memories of my twenties, in a city that laid the foundations for much of my life as it looks like today.
I wrote the book over a month in late 2021, glued to my desk at almost all waking hours, fingers cramping from all the words spilling out onto my laptop screen. I’d been toying with the idea of an essay collection for several years before that, returning to a few core themes and ideas time and again, but it wasn’t until The Emma Press put out a call for submissions that I was finally motivated enough to start something and finish it.
I pulled together all the disparate strands of memory and looked at them with fresher, older eyes, wrote down everything I’d been mulling over for years, and committed these experiences to paper. I thought long and hard about what to include and what to cut. About whether this deserved to be out in the world. Whether I was ready to have a piece of myself out there. Even if I hadn’t made the final cut, it would have been fine — I was happy to have finished writing this collection, and it felt like I had finally made some sense of what had happened in those few years in Kyoto. It’s a slim, 136-page volume I wrote mostly in a month, but it took five or six years to live.
As it is publication eve, I am duty-bound to note that if you pre-order How Kyoto Breaks Your Heart directly from The Emma Press before 23 February— yes, I’m cutting it so fine with book promotion — you’ll receive a free, limited, pre-order-only postcard-sized print of a persimmon shaved ice drawn by yours truly. (Stuffed fox not included.) (Explanation here.)
Of course, this is not to say that you can’t order the book anywhere else today, tomorrow and thereafter; you can order through your local independent bookstore, Book Depository, or wherever else you prefer buying your books. But the print comes directly from the publisher. I’m told that the Royal Mail has been hacked, so EP has had to pause sending international orders for a while, but they will be doing their best to figure out a solution for everyone who’s ordered from outside the UK — so please be patient, and if you would like a book sooner, you may wish to order it from a bookstore!
Lastly, there’s an online book launch happening on 24 February at 10am GMT/7pm JST chaired by one of my favourite writers, Polly Barton. It is free to attend, and it is far more than I ever dreamed would happen for this book. Please feel free to sign up for it and I promise to do my very best not to be a massive dork.