When I told Mrs Yamamoto with the short brown hair about the two old drunks who stumbled in to Seifu Massage the other day she said, It used to be a lot worse. The afternoon of the drunks, Mrs Anai was massaging my forearm, pinching the flesh through my sleeve. Face-down, looking through the donut of the table, I couldn’t see the men. I was drifting.
But I’m not dreaming as I write now that Seifu Massage suddenly shut down. I’ll miss that place; Mrs Anai and Mrs Yamamoto and their diligence and how they made me walk lighter with their 10-minute, 1000-yen massages that would stretch to 40 minutes. I’ll miss its reassuring sameness, the constantly playing radio and the location at the end of the train platforms in the Ekichika mall, Tokyo’s oldest subway arcade, with its ceiling of tangled cables, brownish light and sour smell of rainwater.
The other tenants carry on. The matronly fortune-teller Maya, fried noodles at Fukuchan, the coin dealer, the name card maker, the bargain DVD shop, the 700-yen barber, the US flag-adorned American Steak Diner whose operator and staff Anai told me are from Pakistan. At the one-cup sake bar opposite Seifu, the master dresses as a ninja to entertain patrons, black all over including face mask and hood and fake sword slung over his back. Some tourists sit on the high stools and sing bits of 80s songs and shout English.
The Ninja bar was not the best neighbour for Seifu. The two massage tables were in full view, and with tourists occasionally taking photos, one could get self-conscious. Plus the racket could be annoying. But then again, on the massage table, anyone you can’t see…you don’t really care about. And you’re fully clothed.
The Ninja bar was not the best neighbour for Seifu. The two massage tables were in full view, and with tourists occasionally taking photos, one could get self-conscious.
So the drunks were uncoordinated and one of them asked in his deep slurred voice whether they could both have massages, and before Anai could say anything Mr Okano, the male masseur who was also working that day, unusually as most days the store had just one member, said Yes, and Anai said, Come back in 15 minutes or so. The man repeated, Uh huh, 15 minutes, and the two of them went out before one returned to ask if he could use the toilet. Okano gave him the key. About five minutes later he suddenly exclaimed, They’re walking away! and rushed outside to grab the key. He was greatly put out. Just think! he said when he came back. They could have taken that key the whole time they were gone! What if someone else wanted to use the toilet!? He resumed his chatter and went back to his client. The radio gurgled, high school baseball, the breathless announcer and clink of metal hitting the ball.
The episode seemed to make straight-talking Mrs Anai a bit irritated. She muttered under her breath as she continued to knead me, Drunks are such a pain. We wouldn’t have got stuck with ’em if there had only been one of us. She continued pressing my body in the Chinese method passed on by the teacher and shop owner, who opened the store about 20 years ago. Anai had worked there since then; Mrs Yamamoto for about 16 years.
Mrs Yamamoto told me later some people would get out of control in the arcade, when there were more bars and Asakusa was rougher, and the police would be called. She was the person I saw most of at Seifu, and she talked about everything from haiku to ceramics to her pet shrimp. I would sometimes doze off and once asked her to make sure she did my other leg, and she said she already had.
It felt like a blow when she told me in the middle of March they were closing in two weeks. I have some bad news, she said. She had told me previously the owner was unwell, and said he had died last year and his family had sold the shop. It was tough to think of the three of them losing their jobs, though Yamamoto only worked two days a week, and it’s not as if she’d especially miss the cash, as the staff kept only half what they took in. That’s not much out of 1,000 yen and despite the extended sessions, they most often refused to take more.
The drunks came back and Okano told them they could wait on the chairs against the back wall. Anai warned them to be careful of the floor, which had missing floorboards in places under the grey carpet.
I wondered what they would do with their time. Mrs Yamamoto said she might take up tea ceremony, the sort you can do standing up, so it’s easy on your knees. Mrs Anai, in her starched pink uniform and perfect coiffure, laughed off the looming change. She said, I’m completely busy anyway doing my cosmetics sales from home.
The drunks came back and Okano told them they could wait on the chairs against the back wall. Anai warned them to be careful of the floor, which had missing floorboards in places under the grey carpet. Okano who had finished with his customer said he could start on one of them, and I heard a fellow flop down on the table. He seemed to fall promptly to sleep.
Mrs Anai has strong fingers. When she finished with me, pinching me on the cheeks and between the eyes, I sat up as she rapped my shoulders and my back, and looked over at the drunks. They seemed harmless, with the air of a couple of old school buddies who had shared a few under the Asakusa cherry blossoms.