(I am so busy preparing videos and articles for magazines, I was having trouble finding a way to put content on the blog. To keep it simple, I’m just going to put some short pieces up of things that happened in Japan.)
Tokyo, September 2010
I’m still jetlagged to hell, having come straight from London to Fukuoka and bounced back to Tokyo in the space of 36 hours. I wanted to sleep on the short flight from Fukuoka to Tokyo, but the guy next to me started talking to me. Volunteered for a Japanese charity in Namibia for two years. Incredible story. Said the first thing the Namibians asked him is “How high can you jump?”
They asked him “How fast can you run?”
They think Japanese people are ninjas. “Like Jackie Chan.” I laugh loud on the quiet plane.
Turns out he is going to Shinjuku, my destination too, for eye surgery. Coincidence.
He’s starting a new job as a nuclear engineer in a couple of months. Charity worker, nuclear engineer, fluent English, able to jump really high… this guy puts most of the population to shame. We get off the plane, pick up our gear, and ride the train together and I tell him what I’m doing in Tokyo.
Interviewing kakutouka. Japanese martial artists. Trying to create something.
“For my blog,” I say. “For magazines. Maybe something bigger, I’m not sure yet…”
He’s heard some of the names I mention, but he’s not a big fan of martial arts. He knows the Gracies though. I use that to explain who Yuki Nakai is.
“He fought Rickson Gracie,” I say. His eyes widen.
Like a good Japanese, he takes me all the way to where I needed to go. We say goodbye and I think, I hope I see that guy again.
I put my bags on the floor at the west exit of Shinjuku station. I stand like a rock in a river, with people streaming past me left and right. Soon I spot Dean and Dan, my partners in crime for this little adventure.
I’ve come to accept the surreality of my life now. I embrace it. I greet Dean (photographer and student from California) and Dan (MMA journalist, Australian, living in Tokyo) as if we are old friends, although it’s the first time we’ve met outside of Twitter and Facebook. Dean has a deep, gravelly voice which really takes me aback. Dan moves with the practiced ease of a city dweller through the crowds. Shorts, t-shirt, sunnies. Cool as anything. As usual, I’m humping far too much baggage and sweating buckets in the intense heat.
The heat is something else. Sun that you can feel prickling every part of exposed skin. Thick, hot air that catches in your throat. Burning up from the ground, beating down from above. A giant digital thermometer on the side of a building says “38 degress.”
We talk excitedly as we walk through Shinjuku. I pictured Shinjuku as a quaint, artsy part of Tokyo full of ramshackle noodle houses and crumbling convenience stores. I have no idea where I picked up this misconception. Shinjuku is a forest of skyscrapers, gleaming buildings that catch and magnify the sun. I seek the shade as we wait for traffic lights to change. Well dressed salarimen and office ladies mop their brows with hand towels. I feel the intense weight of the city pressing down on me, exhausted already.
Dan and Dean have small bicycles, the kind I used to own when I cycled to work every day in Fukuoka. Small wheels, built for the city. We balance my bags on the saddle and walk alongside it. Dean stops at the vending machine and buys something in a cold metal can. The sun beats down.
Shinjuku changes into West Shinjuku and eventually we get to a river. Like most of the rivers in Japan, the banks have been sculpted from concrete. It looks a little forlorn. Dan tells me that five minutes in either direction, the river is a like something out of a Japanese postcard with gently swaying cherry blossom trees.
Dan’s apartment reminds me of when I was a student. Art and photography on the walls. Everything is comfortable, well used, relaxed. His flatmate Duncan greets us in a southern American drawl. Another cool customer.
The shower room has a small window that opens onto the backs of other apartment buildings and the street below. I shower while looking out at Tokyo. It’s pretty surreal. Even before the shower is over, I’m sweating again. (Later on, Dan lets me in on how to turn the gas off and have a cold shower, for which I am eternally grateful.)
We pack up the equipment we will need for the night. Ask Duncan if he wants to tag along – “Sure, why not” – and head to Akihibara to make some last minute purchases from probably the largest electrical goods area in the world. Tonight, we are interviewing Megumi Fujii, pound for pound one of the best female fighters in the world, with an incredible perfect record of 21 fights and no losses.
On the way, we stop for milk at the Milk Shop Luck. I curse my lactose intolerance and look on wistfully as Duncan and Dan enjoy their fresh, flavoured milk.