Beer with the Ninjas

When I’m half way through my rice and just picking up a slice of radish, the boss appears, Bruce Lee written across his chest, looking like a good-natured old boy who likes his beer and his baseball. He walks up to the counter to fetch a tray full of food and comes to our table taking S-san’s place.

“So, Anna, he says, “How do you want to go about things?”

“I don’t know. I can stay longer if you want. I have a friend in Nara, so you don’t have to put me up, and I won’t cause you any more trouble. I could stay there tomorrow night and then come back the day after.”

“Cause us trouble?” he finishes chewing his beef and washes it down with a sip of miso soup, screwing his face slightly. “Stop thinking along those lines right now,” he waves me off. “That’s not the spirit of our group. We provide all you need, food, shelter, insurance. Don’t worry about it. We’ll take care of it.” He looks me in the eyes to make a point. “You pay with effort.”

“Insurance?” I say.

“Yes,” says the boss. “If you are a ninja in training, you will get injured.” A u-tube “Ask a Ninja” quote pops up in my mind. “Nobody has ever survived a ninternship,” and I swallow my last bite of rice.

“No Japanese insurance company will insure a ninja. The job is too dangerous. We need to get a foreign insurance to cover our needs. Anyway. No worries. We make the environment for you to train in, you make your body. Turn it into a ninja’s body with a ninja’s skills.

You do the small jobs first. Clean, give out tickets, handle the money, do the sound effects, interpret for foreign visitors. Just like a part time job. What you get paid depends on how much effort you make. If you’re lazy you don’t get paid. If you work hard, you could get a better life out of this than have now.”

Money or no money, I’m sure I will get a better life out of this than I have now. At least concerning job satisfaction. My present job satisfaction goes as far as taking home a paycheque at the end of the month. I’m not using my head or my skills, I’m working 20 hours of unpaid overtime, and I am expected to be a sales shark. Luckily, my students are nice people, and the time I get to spend with them brings the odd highlight into my days down under, toiling at the GEOS mines.

“But,” says the boss, “I meant, when do you want to start?”

I have a quick think. “Maybe I could quit GEOS by the end of June.” Starting training near my birthday seems like a nice and motivating birthday present to myself. Also, becoming a ninja usually takes about three years. And I like the thought of setting myself that all-important goal people set themselves. That all-important goal you need to have reached by the time you’re thirty, or else, you’re past it, and it’ll never happen. So what’s your goal, Anna Sanner? House? Husband? Kids? Ph.D.? Stable job? No. By the time I’m thirty I want to be a ninja. That sounds like something to look forward to. I smile to myself.

“OK,” says the boss. Then I remember my summer plans. “O, but my friend is getting married in August. And my dad is planning to come over to visit me in Japan after that.” “O, don’t worry,” says the boss.” “We’re not uptight about things here. My heart is wider than the sun!” he makes a big gesture with his big arms.

“On the twentieth of every month we decide the next month’s schedule, so if you tell us by 20th July when you will be in Germany and showing your dad around Japan, we’ll put that into our schedule.” He eats another bite.

“You have to know, we are a good group! Our line of work is full of Yakuza. We have nothing to do with them. We are a good group, and there are no strange people in our group. Apart from him.” He points across the table to the third ninja, the young stuntman with the golden teeth who is silently eating his dinner next to Tomonosuke. “What?” He makes a shocked face. “This here,” says the boss, “is Hentai (=Weirdo).” “What kind of impression is she going to get of me?!” Hentai’s somewhat handsome face takes on a deeply disturbed expression. U-san and the sons laugh silently. “Yes, he stutters,” says the boss. “And sometimes he mumbles away and says things to himself that nobody else understands.” Hentai turns red. “And today, he’s especially shy because we have a beautiful woman at our table.” “What kind of impression are you giving her?!” Hentai repeats looking helpless. “Don’t worry,” I reassure him, “It’s quite an impression, I won’t forget about you too soon.”

Besides Hentai, the boss’s two sons and wife, there is also a three-year-old ninja in the family. He is just starting his katana training, and I’m looking forward to meeting him next time. The boss’s wife used to be a school teacher and is good at English.

“But I want you to teach my Tomo English conversation. If you teach him, it’ll take care of your rent. There’s a little apartment in our house, but you have to tell us in advance so we can get it ready.” “Teaching him English takes care of my rent?” I ask, shocked. “Sure,” says the boss and keeps eating.

“We’ve just lost a kunoichi. She lost her will to be a ninja. I could see it in her eyes. I have taught so many people. I know. The fact that you came in right now is fate..”

U-san tells the boss about my mum’s late career change. “Wow,” says the boss. “So her mum is clever. This child is clever, too. It’s worth gold that you speak Japanese and English, that’s exactly what we were looking for.”

Somehow, a big bottle of Asahi beer makes it to our table. I feel no need or urge to drink. The boss himself says he can only have one glass, everything else is too much for him. Hentai and the sons are drinking. The boss urges me to have one glass. Luckily the glass is small, and I keep nursing it to prevent being offered more. As promised, after one beer, the boss turns red and cannot drink another. The sons and Hentai keep refilling their glasses, and while I am not keen about beer tonight, I am enjoying the idea of having a beer with the ninjas.

“Ninjas,” says the boss, “are specialists. If there is something you are bad at, leave it. If there’s something you are good at, polish it, and make it perfect. If you have one or two things you’re really good at, it’s enough to be able to do all the other ninja things just well enough. My Tomo over there, he will have enough to eat for the rest of his days because he can make a coin roll on top of an umbrella.”

I have no doubt about that. It is one of the most impressive stunts I have seen, and the boss claims, nobody else in the world can do it.

“So you have to find out what you’re good at. The only thing I insist on is sword fighting. If you make it until we start proper training, I will teach you how to use a sword. But first, you will have to do the little things. I’m good at training people. Trust me. I know what I’m doing.” He chuckles over a sip of tea. He has cleared his tray. And an additional bowl of yaki-soba fried noodles. I’m impressed at the amount he has managed to eat while telling me so many things. “We have to eat a lot,” he says. “During Golden Week, we use a lot of energy.”

And at that, he silently hits the table with the palms of his hands and gets up from the table. “Time to go to bed. We need enough rest, as well. Never forget that. Enough rest is just as important as enough effort. Good night.”

And another one disappears. Just as professionally.

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