It took a few calls, frantic running around and some advanced spatial thinking to find Sunny in Shinjuku station. Setting a meeting point at the biggest and the busiest railway station, not only in Tokyo but very likely in the whole world, wasn’t the brightest idea.
When I finally found her she rushed me into one of the line-ups for the train that was just about to arrive. We managed to squeeze on it and packed like sardines in a can we drove for two more stations before we exited the subway into a quiet residential area. The density of people per square meter was back to normal and I could breathe again.
We proceeded through a network of narrow streets with only houses and eventually entered a small courtyard. Large flowerpots and bushes graced both sides of the short gravel path, which lead to a small, two-level house. Sunny unlocked the door on the ground floor and beckoned me to enter.
“So this is my apartment,” she said, stretching her arm out. “It’s small but it has all I need.”
“Nice,” I replied looking around the big, bright room, cleverly divided into areas for sleeping, studying, cooking, and eating. There was a lot of pink and purple colour, and one could not not notice several plush animals and a large number of books, both scattered over different pieces of furniture.
“The bathroom is at the end of the kitchen, just after the fridge, if you need it,” she said and pointed toward the kitchen niche. “You can sit down here, while I’ll prepare the food.”
I sat on one of the pink pillows spread around a low table. By now I go used to sit on the floor, although I still couldn’t sit properly in the Japanese way. Folding one’s legs underneath one’s thighs, while resting the buttocks on the heels, was way too uncomfortable, and even painful for me, so I settled for the cross-legged position.
“Sunny, do you rent this place?”
“Yes,” she answered with her head inside the fridge. “The owner is living in the house next door.” She took out some bowls with food and placed them on the counter. Then she took out a pot and put it in the microwave oven. “She’s a nice lady, a ballet instructor I think, and has lots of cats.” As the microwave sounded she exchanged the pot with a bowl. “When I first came to Japan I lived in the student dorms. Then my studies became a bit, you know, prolonged, and I lost my student status so I had to leave. I was lucky to find this apartment at such a decent price.”
She came over and brought a few glasses and a big bottle of water. I poured the water while she removed a pile of books from the table, making more space.
“How do you support yourself?” I asked.
“I teach English. It pays quite well and most of the time I earn enough for my monthly expenses. The rent, however, I cover from the money my grandmother sends me.”
“Huh, nice grandmother.”
Sunny smiled. “Well, you see, my grandmother is the owner of a very big shopping center in Seoul.”
“Really? She must be quite well off then.”
“Yes, she is.” She started bringing plates and bowls with food from the kitchen.
“So how come your parents moved to the US?”
“Ah, it’s a long story… let’s just say that grandma didn’t approve of my dad. She wanted my mom, who’s her only daughter, to marry another man. Both of them being stubborn ended with my grandma disinheriting my mom and my mom leaving for the US with my dad.”
“But you kept in touch?”
She shook her head. “No, not really. The relationship between grandma and my parents is still very cold and I’ve never seen or spoke to her until I came to Japan. It was here that I decided to go to Korea and visit her, despite my mom’s protests. Awkward as it was at the beginning, I’m quite glad I did it and I think my grandma was happy to meet me. When I told her I study in Japan she insisted that I come to visit her more often and I did. I go to Seoul at least twice per year. She also insisted to boost my student stipend and now continues to send me regular funds. She says she cannot let her granddaughter live like a poor person, especially in Japan. She sends me more money than I spend, so I saved quite some by now.”
“Are your grandparents still alive?” she asked.
“Nope. I only got to know one grandmother. Other grandparents died before I was born. But my grandma was very cool.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. Well, I knew my grandparents on my father’s side, but they died when I was in my teens, so grandma from Seoul is my only living grandparent now. I must admit she’s actually quite an okay and interesting woman. I have a feeling she has high hopes for me…that I’ll move to Korea after Japan, perhaps help her with her business.”
The table began to fill up with dishes Sunny kept bringing from the kitchen.
“That’s great, Sunny, seems your future is well secured.”
“Only, I don’t think I’ll ever leave Japan.”
“Huh, you like it that much here?”
She giggled and nodded, trying to find the place for three small bottles on the table. “Don’t you?”
“Well…I mean I love the fighting part, the trainings, but…” I leaned back on my arms. “…don’t know…It’s all so contradictory here…including my feelings.”
“I know, that’s what makes it so interesting,” she remarked with a grin that exposed her dimples. With the table being full, she sat down.
I looked over the dishes: soup, pork, rice balls, vegetables, fish - a little bit of everything. “This looks amazing. Did you cook all these? “
She smiled contently. “Yes, it’s a mix of Korean and Japanese dishes, with some American twists.”
“I do eat a lot,” I patted my stomach; “but all this just for the two of us…it’s gonna be a challenge.”
“Three of us.”
Just as she said that somebody knocked on the door and opened it at the same instant. It took me a few seconds to put a name to the face of the person that burst into Sunny’s apartment. The dark, focused eyes were familiar but what distracted me momentarily was that the rest of his face and head were exposed too. No mask or hood this time.