(Being an Excerpt from the Japan Diaries of Richard Gordon Smith, 1898
)Sunday December 25 Xmas Day: Nagasaki
Slept decently last night despite the cold.
My guides barely noticed it.
Their winters all must be like this: severe, solid, and austere
as they themselves are (though they submit
to such curious customs: my own servant worships foxes!
What would an old shire fox think!).
The city seems too delicate for this weather --
all wood and paper, lit by ten hundred coloured lanterns --
like a spider-city woven with gossamer walls, or a fairieland
replete with geisha
fairies in their charming obi
Snow falls on their fair skin but cannot make it any paler. These women
care no more for the cold than roses in a hothouse.Wednesday January 4: Lake Biwa
Came back to my room hungry: dinner was koi-no-ikizukuri
an ancient, honourable dish. The cook remarked
that I must have once been a samurai
when I asked for it.
The fish was served to me still gasping, not a cut nor drop of blood
visible, bedded in mountains of rice,
for luck. It sat, swimming futilely before me,
while the cook poured soy sauce in its eyes and mouth.
A full two minutes later, the fish convulsed in a great sigh,
flicked its tail, and flipped its skin -- scales and all --
over its finned back as though throwing off a blanket,
exposing its flesh, cut into pieces a quarter-inch square,
ready to be plucked out with chopsticks.
My servant is of a delicate stomach
and could not eat it -- nor could I. I severed its head, though,
much to the confusion and disgust of the cook, and asked for more sake
~1/6/2003Previously published in Departure:GNV Issue 15/16, Spring 2003.