“Sorry, I don’t know.”
A response I got used to on the streets of Tokyo. Many times people I approached wouldn’t speak to me at all. They would avert their eyes and dismiss me by waving their hand in front of their face.
Communication was definitely an issue. My Japanese vocabulary did not extend much beyond konnichiwa and sayonara and while people were all very polite and unintrusive, as soon as I came up to them and addressed them in English, they practically ran away.
I spent another useless afternoon downtown. I went to an MMA gym, the third one this week. Same thing as with the previous two. After the initial shock of seeing me, the receptionist frantically searched for somebody that could muster a few words in English. They then explained to me I could join the gym only by recommendation of one of their trainers or members and kindly asked me to leave.
I admit it was very naïve of me to think I’d easily obtain contacts with some fighters or anyone else connected to Yamato Damashi by simply asking around. Perhaps it could work in Europe, but in Japan even the simplest thing always turned out to be extremely complicated.
I put on my earphones and walked towards the metro station, dismissing the outside world with aggressive rhythms of electronic music on full volume. After changing three fully packed trains and accumulating a fair amount of frustration I arrived at my hostel.
Upon entering I spotted Miss Isoyama. The black-haired lady, with an impish smile and a face that looked hundred years old, was the owner of the hostel and possessed the canny ability to appear only when it was time for payment and was nowhere to be found if guests wanted anything else from her.
As soon as she heard me, she hurried with speed and agility of a much younger person down the hallway. I caught up with her and just as I extended my arm towards her small, fragile body, she turned and put on a wide smile.
“Oh, To-ru-sten san, how are you today?” She always pronounced my surname syllable by syllable.
“Fine, thank you, Miss Isoyama. About my request, anything new? ”
“Hai, hai. Yes, I look into it.” She bowed and wanted to leave. I positioned myself in front of her.
“I can’t sleep, the bed is too small. I need another room, with a bigger bed. Please.”
Her black eyes narrowed on me. Even though her English was quite broken she spoke it with the confidence of a fluent speaker: “No place now. All big room full. When guest leave, I keep it for To-ru-sten san. Soon, I promise.” She flashed me another, this time a much thinner smile and walked past me.
Defeated once again by the old fox, I dragged myself up the stairs to the second floor and unlocked the door to my room. Roughly two meters in width and about three in length, the room featured a bed and a sink with a mirror on one side and a closet and a desk with a chair on the other. The most luxurious item in this Spartan setting was a mini fridge under the desk. I admit, when booking the room online, I looked for the cheapest option, but despite having very low expectations, the reality didn’t match even those.
I squeezed through the narrow space between the two lines of furniture and sat on the bed. I took the bento I bought in a convenience store on the way and started eating. Rice and pieces of fried chicken, with some Japanese pickles and cabbage. At least the food, I mean simple food such as bentos or ramen and not some fancy sushi cuisine, was cheap and good. I usually ate outside or bought already made meals to eat in my room. I never cooked, even though there was a common kitchen on the first floor. No matter how much I ate, though, I always ended up feeling hungry. In two weeks I lost quite some weight and my muscle tone diminished. I wasn’t too surprised. Apart from aimless walking on the streets of Tokyo, I didn’t engage in any kind of physical workout.
During the night I woke up several times trying to find a suitable position. If I extended my legs fully they hit the wooden frame. I then usually turned on the side, assuming an extreme embryo position. My body naturally unfolded from it in the sleep and my legs hit the frame again, which consequently woke me up. I would have slept on the floor, but the space was barely wide enough for me to pass through the room. So I went through the night from one awkward position to another, settling for sleep in intervals.
Another pressing issue began to trouble me. I realized I was spending my money much faster than planned. I thought I had enough savings for at least three months, but just after three weeks, with all additional expenses for towels, sheets, shower, key money, metro tickets, and extra food, it became clear they would last much less than that. I needed to find a job, and I needed to find it fast.
As I lay in bed, with my eyes closed and my feet dangling over the edge of the bed, frustration gnawed at me. Japan, the kingdom of fighters. I thought I’d navigate through it with ease, but days, weeks past and I got nowhere with my ridiculous plan that somehow I shall find here my place as a fighter.