Telegram from Tokyo: The beauty of living in a small poem of a room

TOKYO – For over a week in Tokyo I have been channelling my inner Indiana Jones. I am constantly knocking on the walls of room 619 in Hotel Apa. I am not calling for help via morse code, merely looking for secret latches and invisible levers.

You see, there is no cupboard in Room 619. Hidden, perhaps?

It leads to a vexing question: Where precisely do Japanese travellers store their clothes? There are a few hooks on the wall but one has my hat and another my Olympic pass. Evidently this is a fuss-free, live-from-a-valise, finish-meeting and take-the-train-home hotel.

My room reminds me of a bonsai plant, for it is a residence in miniature. This is not a complaint but a compliment, for the Japanese do beautiful things in very little space. The haiku is merely 17 syllables arranged in three lines and as the Olympics head into the long, final straight, one of the poet Matsuo Basho’s works will suffice:

The summer grasses.

All that remains

Of warriors’ dreams.

Room 619 has everything, just that it is neatly packaged. The tub is small and the kettle hidden. Every day there is discovery. I have found a shoehorn dangling under the desk, a table which slides out and a nightlight hidden below the bed. It is a room which should come with a map.

Rooms for journalists at a Games are the equivalent of an oasis. A refuge amidst a hectic day. A refuelling station. You sleep, rise, type, run. Occasionally company arrives. At the Jakarta Asian Games in 2018, a tiny fellow emerged near my desk. A mouse, who eyed me gravely and gave no trouble, but sadly I had him removed by a four-person search party. In time, I suspected, he might have brought his pals over to party.

For 20 days the room is home, a piece of a country you carry with you forever. In Incheon, at the 2014 Asian Games, the room had a jacuzzi, stuff for adults on the TV and things in the toiletry kit best not revealed in a family paper. My colleague had a mirror on the ceiling. Quickly we deduced the rooms were for activities we were not there for.

The thrill lies in the unknown. Either luck gives you the cold shoulder or a kiss. At the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou, a painful tooth meant a delayed departure from Singapore. When I arrived in China a day later, a lady apologetically told me: “Sir, we had to give your room away.”

Room 619 has everything, just that it is neatly packaged, and on Rohit’s window sill is a smiling picture of his seven-year-old granddaughter. ST PHOTOS: ROHIT BRIJNATH

This did not sound adequately welcoming, but all she meant was that no rooms remained on the same floor as my colleagues. So she shifted me – God bless her generous heart – a few floors up to something comparatively palatial. Two large rooms with two bathrooms. It was, one might say, a suite ending to a root canal.

Life on tour is essential to the adventure. You find a local eatery or bar and you adopt it. In Incheon, two smiling ladies who ran a barbecue place where the No Smoking signs were a suggestion not a rule, and where the menus also came in Mandarin, fed us every night at midnight for two weeks. By the time we left, we were in love.

I have a similar affection for room 619 where guests are welcome but must stand in the doorway. The architect had my colleague David Lee (65kg, 1.68cm) in mind when he built it, but I am from another weight division: 93kg and 182cm. It only means all turning must be done carefully else knees hit corners and arms collide with bathroom walls.

A yellow paper from Rohit’s colleague’s daughter. ST PHOTO: ROHIT BRIJNATH

I will miss this piece of Japanese real estate where a river gently flows outside. On my window sill is a smiling picture of my seven-year-old granddaughter. Draped on my TV is a piece of yellow paper on which my colleague Sazali Abdul Aziz’s three-year-old daughter has written me a message:

“Dear Uncle Rohit, please take care. Arisa.”

Little people in a little room are helping me get through a big Games.

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