Excerpt from How Kyoto Breaks Your Heart, an essay collection proposal by Florentyna Leow

Over the next few months we will be celebrating the work of the shortlisted authors from our 2021 call for essay collections. Excerpts from their proposals will be showcased here on our blog. Excerpts have been left largely unedited, aside from minor changes to formatting and typos. This is to give a sense of the wide variety of writing that engaged us during the reading of submissions. All of the entries were unique, and interested us for different reasons.

Photo supplied by the author.

Florentyna Leow is a writer based in Japan. Her work is mostly on food and craft, with a particular emphasis on unusual, under-reported, or obscure stories from rural Japan, but she’ll happily dive into any subject that takes her interest. Her work has appeared in Gastro Obscura, Roads & Kingdoms, and the Japan Times. She can be found @furochan_eats on Instagram, or at www.florentynaleow.com.  


Persimmon blossoms emerge in June, petite and cream-coloured, as though clusters of buttery pursed lips have sprouted all over the tree––or so I’m told. I can’t recall the persimmon tree in that garden ever flowering. Bright green leaves one day, fruit the next––they seem to blink into being overnight as June’s rainy season subsides, oval lumps swelling over the summer months until blushing orange in autumn, as though a thousand little suns festoon the tree. Visiting crows peck away at persimmons on the highest branches. Some ripen all too quickly, landing in fragrant, messy puddles of split fruit in the undergrowth, a feast for wasps and songbirds alike. 

It is early October, a warm, sunny afternoon with a dreamlike cast, and we’re harvesting persimmons. The tree is still lush and green; in a few weeks it will lay bare, scattering leaves in a brilliant carpet of mottled tangerine and vermillion. She shimmies up the ladder and snips away at the fruit-laden boughs with red-handled shears. I catch them––mostly––and prise the persimmons by their calyxes from the branches. If I close my eyes I can still hear peals of laughter, high and clear as bell, her yelps and curses as some fruit falls into the roof gutters. Oh fuck! I can feel my past self shaking with laughter. I look up. Her hair glints in the sun.

When we have harvested close to three-quarters of the tree we call it a day. The persimmons spill out across the veranda by the hundreds, far more than we can reasonably eat by ourselves. We’ll pile them up in a corner, but for now, we make persimmon angels: arms spread, surrounded by abundance. Autumn sunshine streams in through the glass of the sliding doors. My heart catches a little, as though there’s a glass splinter inside. I’m already weeping for the moment as it slips away. I’m happy. It hurts. I think this is where I’m supposed to be. 

This is how I remember her still: luminous, laughing, haloed by sunlight and sunset-coloured fruit.

Florentyna Leow is a writer and translator. Born in Malaysia, she lived in London and Kyoto before moving to Tokyo. Really, though, she lives on the internet. Her work focuses on food and craft, with an emphasis on under-reported stories from rural Japan, like English Toast (neither English nor toast), a shrine dedicated to ice, and Japan's rarest citrus. She cannot go five minutes without thinking about food. How Kyoto Breaks Your Heart is her first book. She can be found @furochan_eats on Instagram and Twitter, or at www.florentynaleow.com

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