At 7.30, I make my way down to the dining room where I find S-san and U-san sitting at one of the clean, plain white, cloth-less cafeteria style tables with trays full of Japanese food. There is a big bowl of rice, a smaller one with miso soup, a tiny plate with yellow slices of pickled yellow daikon radish, a plate full of a beef and vegetable casserole with sticky sauce. The casserole does not look especially Japanese, it could be served anywhere in the world, but everybody, including the oji-san at the neighbouring table, is worried whether I can eat it. I assure them I have no problem eating whatever it is, and sighs of relief fill the dining room.
I go to the window to the kitchen where the trays of food are filled and handed out and get a load of food and a glass of green tea. Then I join S-san and U-san at the table and sit down opposite S-san who has come to eat early because she wants to do her washing after dinner and is planning to leave us soon tonight. S-san has finished eating and launches into a speech. A very long, very useful speech. She speaks very fast, with an accent I’m not used to, so I have to concentrate hard to catch what she is saying to me, but what I am hoping to do soon, she has already done, so I need her words. Every single one of them might be a paving stone on my way to becoming a kunoichi. The boss has expressed his admiration for her skills today. “This one has mastered it all. She’s a martial arts ace, and she’s an ace at doing every other kind of job in this place. Watch her sell tickets today, and learn how it’s done!”
So I sit and listen to S-san, who reminds me of a fairy with her round short hair, pretty protruding upper lip and wide open eyes. A somewhat strict, awe-inspiring fairy, but a pretty one, and lucky, methinks. I hardly manage to swallow in between because I’m so intent on listening to her.
“First of all, never think you’re too good for any job. You have to do them all, and you have to get good at them all, whether that is throwing a ninja star or sweeping the passenger seats. Never be lazy, and never be proud. Be humble and work hard. First, you’ll have to do a lot of annoying, lowly work. The martial arts training starts after that. And while you’re training, you’ll still have to do the lowly jobs. Everybody does everything here. We have a saying in Japanese that goes, if you don’t get the first thing right, you will never reach step number ten. Do you see what I mean? Get the first step right.
The most important thing to become a quick learner is to be able to read the boss’s mind. Once you realise what he wants, once you can read him, you will learn how to do things much more easily, so try to get to know him. He is very strict. He’s told me I was just a stupid woman several times during sword practice, when I couldn’t get the technique right. I spent lots of training sessions crying over my sword, unable to see the blade. It happens. In karate, everything ends at the length of a punch. With weapons, it’s different. You have to get used to the different distances between you and your partner. That all depends on the range of the weapon. It’ll take you about a year to get used to it. You have to understand that people come to see our show because we’re doing something dangerous. If it wasn’t dangerous, nobody would come to see us. So you have to be careful. And you have to train hard. But if you train, you can learn it. Watch things. And notice things.”
At this moment I notice that Tomonosuke has come down to join us. The umbrella man is wearing orange pyjamas and looks very young. It is difficult to make a connection between this pyjama-clad youth and the person that was rolling a coin round an umbrella and somersaulting across a sandy stage defeating his tough, stick twirling foe with a ninja sword just a few hours ago.
Shortly after, we are also joined by Masanosuke, and the third young ninja whose name I haven’t heard yet. They get their trays and sit down at the adjoining table to our left. S-san’s speech ends, she gives me a short smile, and excuses herself. She needs to do her washing. Good night S-san. Thank you! I will not forget. I’m writing it all down in my head as I eat. Each grain of rice I eat forms a letter inside my body. The ninjas knew many ways to encrypt and decode messages. One of them involved different coloured grains of rice. These grains of rice are all white when I eat them, but I assign them different colours in my head. And write S-sans words with them as she disappears. Professionally.