Diaries of a Fighter

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There I was, standing in front of one of the highest buildings in Shibuya. I got a sensation of vertigo just by looking up at the tower. It must have been over 200 meters high, its massive rectangular body adorned by a myriad of inside lights. I felt sweat trickling down my back. The concrete monster began to encroach upon my confidence and determination. I was hesitant to proceed. Perhaps I should take another day and come back tomorrow? My name would be on that guestlist for two more days.

A few people brushed against me, one after the other. I realized by standing in one spot I became an obstacle to the smooth current of the crowd, which in the late evening hours flowed through the streets in constant movement.

I cast off my hesitation and strode briskly over the wide, low-rise stairs, leading to the entrance of the tower. Nothing would change from today to tomorrow anyway.

I walked into a reception area, which extended to a small coffee place. It was about 9 pm and there were still guests sitting at the tables. The coffee place merged into a souvenir shop with original Japanese products, and at the end of it, there was a line of elevators.

According to the information sign several lower floors were allocated to various clothing stores, followed by a couple of floors with restaurants, and higher up, as much as I could guess from the few names written in English, were companies’ offices. On the top of these, marking the last floor, was a small drawing of a golden fox -- Emile got that right -- with Japanese letters next to it and the word ‘TENKO’ in brackets at the end.

I pressed the call button and the elevator door to my left opened. It was a spacious elevator with golden interior and a big mirror. I entered and pressed the top button, which had the face of a fox on it. The door promptly closed and the cage slid silently upwards. Almost immediately a gentle female voice made an announcement and the elevator stopped. Two women and a man with several shopping bags came in. Their occasional glances at me, expressing a kind of quiet fascination with the foreigners to which I was already used to, persisted until the voice announced their floor.

After they left, I turned toward the mirror. I opened the buttons of my navy blazer jacket, thinking how different I looked in the suit. Emile practically forced me to buy it. ‘Blue colour goes well with your eyes’, he insisted. It was not bad, and, admittedly, the suit felt comfortable enough, I just wasn’t used seeing myself in one.

I passed my hand over my clean-shaven face and ran my fingers through my hair. Its light blond colour became more obvious as it had grown quite a bit since I came to Japan. I still had what would be considered a pretty short haircut, but definitely looked less intimidating than I did before with my almost shaved head.

My invisible companion made another announcement and the elevator stopped. The button with the fox head glowed. I had arrived on the 40th floor.

From the elevator, I stepped into a small hallway, which widened up towards the end. There was an entrance, marked by golden poles with a red barrier rope. Two men in black suits stood by the front poles with their hands clasped in front of their bodies.

As I approached, one of them blocked my way and said to me something in Japanese. I politely replied with konbanwa, meaning good evening. He eyed me for a moment, then took out a small tablet, and asked me something.

“I’m sorry, I don’t speak Japanese.”

“Your name?” he asked again.

I remembered I never gave my surname to Asami.

“Nik, umm, Niklas maybe?”

The man made a few taps on the tablet screen and pressed his index finger on his ear. Only now I noticed he had an earpiece. He said a few words in Japanese and I overheard my name twice as he spoke. He then unclipped the rope and gestured me to proceed inside.

The place I entered had a retro vibe to it. It was spacious, with a large rounded bar and a wooden counter with stools and small, dim lights on a long cord hanging above it. Behind the counter was a wall of shelves with all kinds of liquor. The floor was covered with colourful carpets. Sitting arrangements with velvet sofas in pastel colours were placed on a slightly elevated area surrounding a central space, which looked like a possible dance floor. Across it, opposite the entrance, was a small stage with a piano, a cello, and a standing microphone on it.

In a warm glow of dimmed lights cigarette smoke twirled up and drifted through the air. Slow, jazzy music played in the background, barely loud enough to be heard through the chatter of the guests. The whole atmosphere was surprisingly informal and cosy for an exclusive club.

Like the place, the people in it were nothing like I expected. Formal clothing was by no means a norm. The dress code varied from business to very stylish suits, from spectacular evening gowns to streetwear, and from casual sporty to rock, Goth, and some other, unusual outfits. I even spotted a few ladies wearing a kimono. I was beginning to regret wearing a suit, seeing how easily I’d fit into this colourful crowd with my jeans and a hoodie.

Nobody approached me upon my entrance so I proceeded over the dancefloor toward the bar. I felt eyes following me and some of those stares projected more than just a mere curiosity. It didn’t escape my notice that certain guests looked a lot like my friends from the gym. They were fighters, some Japanese, or at least Japanese looking, others foreigners like me. Among them I recognised a few faces – they were well-known Yamato Damashi fighters, which reassured me I came to the right place.

Not many people sat at the bar. I found the emptiest spot and sat on the stool. The bartender immediately approached me and inquired in accented English what I would like to drink.

“A beer, please.”

“Which beer?”

“Asahi,” I decided to go with local beer.

I took a look around from the bar and saw some people passing through a transparent, automatic sliding door, which led to an outside terrace. I made a mental note to check it out later because the view from the 40th floor must be spectacular.

The bartender served me the beer and as he was pouring it into a glass, I leaned closer to him.

“Hey, I’m looking for Mr Fujiwara. Fujiwara Kansuke. Would you know, if he is here tonight?”

The bartender assessed me and placed the half-empty bottle next to my glass. He smirked slightly and turned his head, pointing with his chin to his right. His gesture led to one of the sitting corners with a yellow sofa and matching armchairs.

Four Japanese men were sitting there, the most peculiar of them being an older man with grey hair and moustache, dressed in traditional Japanese clothes. He sat immovable, his legs spread beneath his green hakama and his hands crossed in front, with wide sleeves of his grey vest drooping over his elbows. He reminded me of oldsamurai movies.

The three other men at his table were younger and all wore black business suits. With their shoulders hunched they were all leaning toward the old man, and speaking in turns. He was listening, nodding now and then, all the while his eyes retained a piercing focus, which touched upon everything and everybody in the club. I too had the sudden feeling I came under his scrutinizing stare.

Fujiwara, whom Asami mentioned in her letter, was an important man, and the man sitting on the yellow sofa certainly looked like one. I paid for the beer and drank half of the glass. I was hesitating, not having a clear idea of how to approach such a man. Cold drops of sweat slid down my back again. The step I was about to take would tilt my life in a certain direction. I emptied the glass, regretting I didn’t order something stronger.

Courage. Courage and confidence had to be values that men like Fujiwara respected. I adjusted my jacket and refocused myself with a deep breath. I stood from the stool and was about to walk towards my target when a hand gently gripped my elbow.

“Heeey, gaijin!” a lazy, female voice said.

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