Once a month I play 5-a-side football. The venue, Futsal Plus in Asagaya, is typical of the claustrophobic capital – a net-covered court on the roof of a 6 storey building.
I go for the social opportunity as much as the football. Finding someone to talk to in the world`s biggest city can be harder than in my home village of 300 back in England.
Hirune is the name of my team; it translates as siesta. Our approach is appropriately laid back, you could probably play between naps. Some teams wear pink, running is optional and tackling frowned upon. If a girl scores it counts double – not that two goals mean anything, nobody keeps score anyway.
Yesterday, after a couple of hours shuffling about, we went for a chinese meal. Number one chuka, our preferred choice, a bright and cheery establishment, was not yet open. We were forced to go to Dainichuka, the second chinese, a musty, dark and decaying diner.
The service is usually dreadful at Dainichuka. The tired old waiter tries his best, but he is tired, and he is old. Shouting sumimasen is not enough, you have to go into the kitchen to track him down.
We fight the morbid atmosphere with cheap fried food and drink. Meeting only once a month, with new and irregular members each time, the conversation rarely flows at first. Yesterday, shy single men in their 30`s were in the majority. The fear of suffocating-silence hovered dangerously, until Tanaka started telling us about his job.
Tanaka, a lifelong basketball-nut, works as an event co-ordinator for a company called Go Field Japan; their events are mostly aimed at single men and wome – a kind of group blind date. Hearing this, Noguchi and Hiro suddenly perked up. Reserved and subdued for most of the afternoon, they now took over the conversation.
“What kind of events?”, they asked in unison.
“Walks, hikes, jogs. The activity usually takes a couple of hours, then we have a drinking party at a bar after. Next week, I am taking a group of 10 single men and women to Kamakura,” he explained.
A stream of questions flowed along with the beers and oolong-hais. Before long, Noguchi and Hiro had tracked down Go Field Japan on their i-Phones and were filling in the application. Their long train trip across Tokyo had been worth it after all. The sun had come out in Dainichuka.