Being the continuing adventures of Scramble co-owner Matt, in Japan.
I arrived at my local airport late due to the annual rainy season causing massive traffic jams, and had about 15 minutes until takeoff when I staggered to the check in area. Spying a large queue, calculating that I would not have time to join it, I engaged gaijin smash mode and stomped to the first vacant desk I saw, waving my passport and ticket around and sweating profusely. It worked – I was greeted with smiles and bows, however, the attendant figured I wouldn’t have time to get on the flight itself. Disaster! Luckily I had bought the tickets using air miles and this allowed them to change the flight easily. Strange as I had thought air milers were the lowest of the low, kind of like gathering up crumbs and smushing them together to make toast. Disaster averted, I was put on the next plane a mere half an hour later. This gave me plenty of time to be frustrated at the huge amount of wi-fi spots available in Japan and the non-existent amount of which are free to use. So that was nice. My Galaxy S2 became a very effective leg warmer, nestled away in my pocket, and not much else.
I’ve been to Tokyo a few times now, making me pretty much an expert, so I knew to get to Shinjuku I would have to get some sort of train type thing to a big station and then change to another big train type thing then walk around a bit. Looking at the spaghetti squiggles on the transport map it all came back to me – Yamanote-line, the ring of rust that encircles the whole city. Pretty soon I was standing next to my suitcase on the train, being aware that it was way too big and that I was sweating way too much and just generally taking up too much space. I pulled out the gigantic Game of Thrones book one and sweated some more to complete the package, ensuring that no Japanese commuter could come within about a metre of me.
I shrewdly calculated that my hotel, in West Shinjuku, could be easily accessed by heading west from Shinjuku station, and I was right. The walk took about half an hour longer than I thought but it was enjoyable. The scale of Shinjuku borders on the ridiculous. You can crane your neck up to the sky and still only take in about a quarter of the skyline, look down and you’ll see tree-lined sub roads and leafy squares nestled beneath the towers of steel and glass. And it’s clean, and quiet. With the size of it, and the amount of people, you’d expect a cacophony, but the overall feeling is one of quiet confidence and strength. Oh, and money. Lots and lots of money. As if these buildings are just a natural extrapolation of the quiet yet hardworking way many Japanese go about their daily lives.
I walked through a park that smelled earthy and moist, the air humid under the broad green leaves. A light rain began to fall. Homeless people living in neat, blue tent-like constructions swept the floor of leaves or inspected bins for leftovers. In a basketball court, two old tramps zinged baseballs at each other and yelled, reliving their high school days. At the far corner of the park is a temple. Incense hung heavy and fragrant in the air, a visible grey mist snaking from the temple doors.
- My last stay in Tokyo had been in an incredibly basic guest house, my room no bigger than my height when lying down on the bare tatami, no TV, shared bathroom and toilet, only a window to keep me entertained, so I was pleasantly surprised when I turned up at the Tokyu Stay. Sleek, modern, air conditioned, heated toilet seats (pretty unnecessary if you ask me, given the heat.) Wow! I thought. I want to take this hotel out for a nice steak dinner and smooch it. Until they refused to let me check in early – bastards. I warned them that, in that case, I would be forced to check in in the middle of the night, most likely drunk, but they didn’t seem phased.
By this time, dragging a 20 kilo suitcase through the streets and subways of Tokyo in the sweltering rainy season, my t-shirt was more sweat than cotton, and I feared if I took it off it would stand up on its own or maybe run off and attack the nearest clean-smelling Japanese person. But, a shower and a change were out of my grasp so I resigned myself to an entire day of stinkiness. It wouldn’t be the first, nor the last. They let me drop off my suitcase though, so 20 kilos lighter I ventured back to Shinjuku. My Tokyo schedule started at 3pm with a meeting with Takehiro Iso, the CEO and Big Cheese of Isami, one of the longest established martial arts supply companies in Japan, and Reversal, its daughter company and the brand at the leading edge of martial arts fashion worldwide. Reversal had also been my inspiration to start Scramble, so to say I was looking forward to the meeting was an understatement.
At Shinjuku station, I walked around for half an hour, looked in some shops, went up some stairs, down some stairs, through a tunnel, up some more stairs and… I was still in Shinjuku station. Few more shops, stairs, a coffee, tunnel and, yep, still in Shinjuku station. That place is massive, I mean really big. At my local train station in England you could pee from one end and hit the other. If you wanted, I mean. At Starbucks I counted 15 wireless spots on my phone, none of which I could connect to. Eventually I found Isami’s store, just east of the station, noted its location in my mind and ventured back into Shinjuku station to kill another hour. I could have visited each of the station’s public toilets and still had some to spare when an hour was up. If I wanted to that is. I’m just trying to convey the scale of the place, I’m not obsessed with toilets or anything. Look can we just forget that I mentioned toilets? Although the toilets in Japan are pretty amazing. Sometimes they have “flushing noise” buttons to cover up any unsavoury sounds you might make – OK enough about toilets.
I knew we would be training tonight and most likely going out after, so I went to Uniqlo and purchased some undies and a new t-shirt as the thought of wearing the same clothes I was wearing now after a heavy BJJ session was about as appealing as kicking myself in the face repeatedly. I might seem obsessed with trying to keep dry and clean, but I used to teach kids English in the sweltering Kyushu summer, and they would not hesitate to tell you that you were stinky or ask you why your clothes were so wet, maybe even make up a little song or chant about the fact, so I would always carry a change of clothes with me.
After an hour had passed, I headed for Isami. Similar to many of the Isami stores in Japan, it was on the fourth floor of a nondescript office building. I rode the small elevator up, spied the entrance and… walked straight into a locked door.
What the! Locked! But… but… I’m supposed to be meeting the manager here! What’s going on?!?!
Find out in the next installment!