Nishi, Shinjuku, Tokyo.
I am in the office town that has all the skyscrapers.
One winter afternoon, I am sitting down at a cafe.
Well, I could not stand up.
This cafe is one of the famous French cafes. It is modern and clean.
It was full of office workers after work. They were enjoying their coffee, relaxing and having chatting. Until now.
They are looking at us with curiosity, but they also looked scared and looking away at the same time.
It must be the most chaotic moment since this cafe has opened.
Men in black suits with colorful ties. They are scary looking who obviously look like gangsters and are occupying the corner of the cafe with a lot of tables put together.
The man who was surrounded by those thugs...was me, on my own.
The cafe is filled with 10 or more loan sharks asking me for the money.
'Arai! Don't you have anything valuable? We are going to be in trouble if you don't have anything. How about the wrestling ring?'
'It must be quite expensive. Ok, we'll take it."
'Hang on, our company is first! You can't just decide that!'
'You need to sell your wrestling ring. Where is it? Who's looking after it!?'
The loud shouting voices were disturbing the easy-listening background music in the cafe. I felt like I was being strangled.
'No...well...our wrestling ring is....'
It was just like I was being hung. My sweat was dripping from my face and made stains on my trousers. I didn't know it was sweat or tears or a runny nose...
'Sell your wrestling ring.'
For us, wrestlers and people who works for wrestling business, losing the ring means losing "the stage" in the theater. I've been protecting FMW all this time. If I gave up the ring, everything was over.
I was squeezing my voice and bowing to them desperately.
'I am so sorry, I beg you...we have scheduled matches. They have already been booked. We can't do it without our ring.'
The only thing I could do was beg. But why? How did it happen?
February 14, 2002
I'll never forget it until I die.
My company FMW had to declare bankruptcy for the first time.
The loan sharks call bankruptcy "flown".
The bank calls it "one eye blind" because if second time happens it's game over. You can't do anything.
You can't see anything. It'll be completely blind.
Small companies without enough financial support usually bankrupt straight away after the first time (goes blind) and there is no second chance.
The reason for bankruptcy was simple. I issued too many checks.
But I made the agreement with the partners not to cash the checks until a certain day, and I was paying the interest for it. Unfortunately, one day the interest wasn't enough.
'A independent wrestling company capitalizes at only 50,000 yen (500 USD)'
In 1989, when Onita started FMW, he used to use this phrase all the time to get the media attention. Back then, there was only New Japan Pro-Wrestling and All Japan Pro-Wrestling in Japanese wrestling world.
Ironically, with only 100,000 yen (1,000 USD) that needed to be paid, we lost everything.
Fuyuki made a comment on newspaper "FMW started from 50,000 yen (500 USD), and ended at 50,000yen. (500 USD)" He was quite right.
Back then, FMW was in debt already with 28 different companies including high interest street loan sharks. Some of the loan sharks were not very reasonable. They were charging 10% interest in 10 days (TOICHI), 30% interest in 10 days (TOSAN).
You wouldn't understand the psychology of someone who borrows from such the bad loan sharks.
But it didn't matter if I was using the bad ones or not, I was just desperate of running my business and felt very thankful of them.
In the beginning of 2002, FMW was just less than 300 million yen in debt. (3 million USD)
I would just keep borrowing and paying back and then borrow from someone else and pay it back. It was just like going around the circle. But unfortunately our business didn't turn any better. It was dying. Hayabusa had most ability to attract the audience, but he had spinal injury during a wrestling match. He wasn't able to stand in the ring...not only that, he wasn't even able to continue a normal life.
The fights in the ring were not catching the fans needs.
Different direction of the wrestling.
Luck of the sales strength.
Withdrawal of the sponsorship (SkyPerfecTV channel).
These element piled up, as the result, profit of the event was going down especially after the start of 2002. Everyday I was still hoping to find the reliable sponsor to put our future into. I'd never imagined that I'd fall from this tightrope walking. I never knew how much I'd be in agony in this rock bottom.
-Unexpected Tightrope Walking Day-
Early in the morning on February 14th
I was getting on my car thinking 'Well how many times would I have to bow today...'
I was going to visit to the high interest loan sharks in Shinjuku, Ikebukuro, and Kanda.
My 5 checks which I issued were going to be cashed on this day, but I had not enough bank balance for that and I also had to pay 500,000yen ($5,000 USD) to one company.
As a proper company, making a dishonored check was a massive damage. We would not get trust from anybody. The business wouldn't turn any better at all. It is very scary situation.
I had to ask 6 companies not to cash my check today.
But they wouldn't accept that without paying a small interest at least.
I was just thinking about this temporary life saving plan for my checks.
First of all I had to pay the interest to 6 different companies, which was a total 3,000,000yen (30,000 USD) which was supporse to be paid the day before. But I don't have 3,000,000yen (30,000 USD). Not even in my own or my company account.
I had a car, but it was my brother's. Mine was already taken as a interest.
It was impossible to pay 3,000,000yen (30,000 USD). My brother's car was used quite a bit. It wasn't worth that much money. However it didn't need to be 3,000,000yen (30,000 USD). They sometimes will agree to extend the date with small amounts of interest like 50,000yen (500 USD) and 100,000yen (1,000 USD).
I was thinking maybe total 1,000,000yen (10,000 USD) interest would be enough to extend the checks from being cashed. In fact I didn't have such money. But I thought I could borrow more from different loan sharks. That'll make up about 1,000,000yen. (10,000 USD)
Just for one day if they could wait, I can survive another day.
The next day on February 15th we were expecting to get 10,000,000yen (100,000 USD) fund from a non-loan shark bank.
'Yes, just one more day...after that everything is going to be alright.'
I certainly believed so, stupidly.
When I was about to start the car, my cell phone started ringing. I knew it was a loan shark. I answered after a deep breath.
'Hello, it is Arai speaking.'
It was a one of those loan sharks who was already lending me the money.
It didn't have anything to do with one of checks needing to be cashed by them because I haven't issued any checks to this company 'A', but I hadn't paid the interest to them from the previous loan. It was supposed to be paid off yesterday.
Of course they would ask me for it.
I began the conversation with the company 'A', pretending to be calm.
I'd have to negotiate to 6 more other loan sharks today.
Becoming humble or not, I must survive the day.
Dark clouds were arisen into my heart.
I've got to move on before 3pm the time the bank's closed.
I have to persuaded 6 companies not to cash the check.
My phones are ringing non stop. They are calling on my office phone as well.
I had no time to visit 'A'.
If I visit 'A', time will run out to sort out those other companies.
'I understand this is such a massive favor, but could you please wait? I'll visit you later for sure. Please!'
'No, Mr. Arai, you just need to come to see us. Right now! I'll negotiate face to face.'
They didn't listen to me at all. I had no choice to visit 'A' just to apologize and make them wait.
Then I will go to the other companies.
We had been in business since last year, the person who is in charge was very understanding about my situation. But he was different today. He didn't want to listen.
'You come to see us today and explain. Not over the phone. You have to persuade me!'
After I started the car, I drove to the local council office to get 12 copies of the certificate of seal-impression and a few resident cards.
I always keep them in my bag because it's quite common they ask for
these 2 documents when arranging the loan. When I came out of the building, it was in a middle of the rush hour. I hurried to see company 'A'. I had only 1,000yen (10 USD) in my wallet.
I went to see company 'A', and my plan was completely ruined.
I had to spend hours to get out. They asked too many questions.
To be honest, I never told them how many loan sharks I've been using at the same time and which companies they were or how much I am borrowing from each.
If the rumor comes out about FMW using the loan shark to run the business,
it will be a big scandal. It must not come out. The loan sharks always beware of multiplex creditors.
Because they'd fight for the debt collection over the same client. But it is very difficult to know if they are dealing with the same clients.
Not like the banks because they don't use the same system and share the information. Some of those loan sharks are illegal. They don't exchange the information to each other. I was taking the advantage of this system.
I still don't know the truth, but it seems like the company 'A' guessed that I was a
multiplex creditor. I think that's the reason why they had been very inquisitive on that day. I've heard the lender usually become suspicious at the point of the creditor is not able to pay a interest.
'Boss tell me the truth. How much are you borrowing from the others?'
It was just passed 9 am, a man asking me slowly and calmly at the 'A' office.
He's wearing a quality suit, not aggressive, but it makes him look more sharp and threatening.
There is no way I can tell him a truth. Ignorance myself and the man that was inquisitive were having a never ending conversation.
In my pocket, my cell phone was ringing all the time.
I knew who's calling, but of course I can't answer right here.
Even when I switched it to the silent mode, I was so scared him to find out my phone's ringing.
It's already 10 am. Only 5 hours to close the bank.
I need to get out of here. I have to sort out the other loan sharks as soon as I can.
I was shaking with my cell phone's vibration.
'You're not going anywhere...'
To get out of here, I just told him the other loan shark's name and about
my checks being cashed from them today.
It was my biggest mistake. This judgment was the beginning of the nightmare.
-Royal Rumble with Loan Shark-
'I see...you borrowed from 'B' '
The man from 'A' stared at me with surprise and chuckled.
I didn't know at the time that in fact debt collectors A and B knew each other.
There are many loan sharks especially in Shinjuku, Ikebukuro, and Kanda area.
Some have got different names but they sometimes belong to the same group or
company. If they belong under the same group, they'll probably know both clients
information and exchange them. Even if they belong to a different group but know each other, it's possible to exchange the information.
Company 'A' called company 'B'.'
Hi, I want to confirm something with you...'
He's asking 'B' to come to their office.
During their phone conversation, I looked at him and he looked at me.
I must have looked very pale on their sofa.
My mouth was very dry and swallowed saliva many times.
I never thought my confession of loan shark's name would cause the worst case scenario.
'Hey! What's going on, Arai!?'
About 20 minutes later, a man from company 'B' arrived and stared at me angrily.
There is the wrestling match called the Royal Rumble. The wrestlers enter the ring at different minutes from each other.
My situation was just like a Royal Rumble and I was the only target of everybody.
How could I take a bump!?
Both 'A' and 'B' started to exchange my information immediately.
To them I am the liar who tried to get as much of their money as possible so there will be no mercy to give it back to them.
To me though, I was going to pay off everything later.
However, it's not much different that I was lying to them anyway delaying to repay.
I was just juggling their money.
I felt like being stabbed in my back by the sofa I was sitting on.
If I think back now, I can describe it was just like the Spike Nail Death Match.
Then I couldn't think of anything. I was just feel my cold sweat coming down on my shirt and wetting my jacket.
'Hey, we know how much you borrowed from others! We are going to make you pay back at least the interest. Right now!' shouted a man from 'A'.
They can't get anything from me. Even if they put my wallet upside down, only 1,000yen (10 USD) will come out. It's passed 1pm already.
My heart beat is getting faster. My throat is almost squashed.
I tried to calm down though as my head wasn't functioning property, and I tried to find what the best way out within next few hours was.
Squeezing my voice out I began to talk.
Having said that I haven't decided what to say next and I had to mend this situation somehow. I had a deep breath.
'Anyway...the other company is going to cash the check today. I also have to pay 500,000 yen (5,000 USD) as the interest, and then FMW is definitely going to be bankrupted. You won't be able to collect any money. I will not escape. I swear, I'll pay back in exchanging for my life. Could I please pay you only the interest fee today?'
My voice may be shaken and horse. I had to persuade them anyway.
'Today, I was going to pay you the interest borrowing the money from someone else,
then I was going to stop the other company from cashing my check today. The Bank is closing at 3pm. Time is running out! If they cash it, I'm not the only one who's in trouble. You are too!'
I was begging and begging.
Maybe they understood me, they finally agreed me to pay 250,000yen (2,500 USD) each to both 'A' and 'B'. It was already after 1pm.
-Rope Work Dead or Alive-
'Ok, Arai. But....'
They came closer to my face and ordered me to sort out the money on my phone, in front of them.
I was shaken and looked away. I hid my surprised face.
Because there is no way I could tell them 'Yes, let me call the other loan shark to arrange the finance!'
I was going to do so...If they find out where the money comes from, 'A'&'B 'will be furious for sure.
'A' asked me
'Ask him to transfer 500,000yen ($5,000 USD) to 'B's account directly. Not to yours. Then we will divide them.'
They didn't trust me at all.
After I agonized, I contacted another promoter who I had known for a long time.
I explained him my situation.
'Yes, that's fine.' he said.
He agreed to lend me 1,500,000yen ($150,000 USD).
Which is more then I needed but I asked just in case.
I nearly cried with gratefulness.
But there was a problem.
It took a long time to be able to get the money, because he used a bank counter and not an ATM.
Until I get the confirmation phone call for this transaction I can not get out of here. While I was waiting my cell phone ringing non stop. I ignored all of them.
Otherwise 'A' and 'B' are going to find my debt from the other loan sharks.
My impatience was reaching to the limit.
It took a very long time to get the transfer confirmation.
Our discussion carried on. Mainly those two guys were doing the talking.
The kind promoter transferred the 1,500,000yen (15,000 USD) which was more than the agreed interest for 'A' and 'B', they took everything in the end.
I was annoyed but getting out of here was more important at this moment.
'I get out of here and then I can make a phone call and then I can go to the new loan sharks...'
I was relieved. I stood up from the sofa and said, 'Okay, I have to go to the meeting soon. You got the money now, so could you let me go?' I have to go to see the sponsors who fund FMW...'
They didn't want to trust me still.
'Are you sure you are not going to borrow from another loan shark? I'll ask our guy to come along with you just in case.'
If they send a watch dog, I can't contact the other loan sharks, can I?
But I had no choice. I just had to leave and the watch dog got into my car.
I was driving pretending as nothing had happened.
I thought 'Please let me go!!!' as I was biting my teeth together, and sweating nervously.
5 minutes to 2pm.
'The time is near...'
I've got to contact more loan sharks, but the guy is watching me.
My phone is ringing as well. I had to sort them out.
I was so irritated, but I had to find the way.
I decided to drive to Shinjuku. I pretended having a meeting about wrestling, so I went into 'K's office suddenly. I just asked the watch dog
'I don't want anybody's attention...so could you please wait for me at downstairs?'.
'Breathe in, Breathe out...'
Finally, I was on my own. I had a deep breath on a elevator. I felt the air so fresh.
It tells how much the atmosphere with those thugs was extreme and pressured.
'I still got the chance. I can do it.'
I sent oxygen into my brain and talked to myself.
'Excuse me. It's an emergency...could I use your meeting room for a little while?'
I knew I was annoying them, but 'K' understood my situation.
I managed to have a time to make phone calls.
I took out the cell phone, and I saw that there were many missed calls.
I called back everybody. It was 40 different numbers.
I was just apologized and spent more than 1 hour.
3 in 6 loan sharks which was going to cash the check today, mentioned
they weren't going to. I felt easy a bit.
But there was another problem arisen. The loan shark 'D' said,
'Why didn't you answer our phone today? I can't listen to your favor. Come and explain us what's going on at our office!'
The strong enemy had just got into the ring. It's just minutes before 3pm.
Because I couldn't sort it out in the morning, problem were happening later.
'D's' office is just round the corner from here. The bank closes at 3pm, but the inside operates till 4. There might be a possibility to ask my request to the bank until then.
'If I go to 'D' now...Maybe...'
Like holding on to the line of the bright light, I decided to go to 'D'.
But as soon as I go downstairs, I'll have to face the watch dog from 'A' and 'B'.
I don't know what to do! I was panicking. I didn't have cold sweat anymore.
I couldn't feel anything except my shaking fingers and lips.
I really really wanted to get over this situation. I was always managing the problems so well, strangely, I was kind of confident. The confident was supporting my nearly collapsing mental state.
'Now I have to do something. Dead or alive, this is crucial moment to me and FMW.'
I talked myself and encouraged my fading energy.
As soon as I got out from their room, I asked 'K'. 'I'm so sorry, but can I borrow one of your staff?'
I was using K's staff as a disguise. Pretending to go to the wrestling meeting,
not the loan shark.
I didn't know if the watch dog was going to believe me, but the 'D's building has a lots of other companies. If they wait outside, they wouldn't know where we are visiting.
I thought it's a silly disguise, but I was so confused. I couldn't think of anything else.
I got out of 'K's office with determination.
I was in a taxi with 'K's staff and the loan shark from 'A' and 'B' drove my car to follow us. I borrowed 5,000yen (50 USD) from 'K' for this taxi fee. We made our way to loan shark 'D'. I was on a phone all the time during the short journey.
We got off the elevator on the other floor and walked up the stairs. The elevator was stopping on each floor, and I couldn't hear any foot steps behind us. The watch dog didn't seem to follow.
'That's good...It'll be all right...' I thought finally the last hope is about to connect....but...
-Time Up Gong-
'D''s attitude was very severe until around 2pm, but I tried so hard to persuade them.
Finally they agreed not to cash the check today. I borrowed D's phone and called the bank.
Then I heard...
'It's too late Mr. Arai. I told you many times.'
The banker told me with heavy tone. The time was up. It was half passed 4.
The bank was already processing the check and I didn't have enough money in my account. The check would bounce.
Time was up.
The gong was just sounded like the 10 count gong for the retirement of wrestler.
It was 2,040,000yen (20,400 USD) dishonored.
If I had one more hour, I could have made it.
But I thought I only had to make 1,200,000yen (12,000 USD) for D. When I heard it was 2,040,000yen (20,400 USD), I wondered why.
It turns out it wasn't only from D. There were also C's check.
C agreed on the phone, but they changed their mind afterward and cashed it in the end.
That means 2 checks had bounced.
I was just stunned. I couldn't move.
I got over many difficult situations. I used to managed the rope walking just in time somehow.
But my luck had ran out. Dejection and disappointment. I couldn't feel neither. My feeling became too paralyzed. Maybe I was fainting without noticed.
But the situation became worse, so I had to be back to normal.
Over hearing my phone conversation with FMW office, 'D' suspected 'C's check had been bounced.
'D' said he'll take me to 'C's office. They may want to discuss about the debt collection. Bankruptcy of FMW was almost certain.
What about the watch dog guy sent by 'A' and 'B'? They are waiting for me outside.
What's going to happen if we saw each other...
'Please wait...please wait'
Thinking only such words, my body was paralyzed and I can't hardly move my mouth.
'Lets go.....stand up....'
'D' grabbed my arms and tried to stand me up. I was too stunned to hear what he said exactly. Did my pupils go wrong? I only saw black in front of me.
'Time to give up, is it...?'
I got on the elevator with scary looking men's escort.
Felt like my body was pulled down with the gravity on the elevator, I heard my mental joints making a broken sound. At the same time I hoped all the joints in my body would break.
Just before arriving at 'D's building, I found the estate agent's sign on above 'D's floor.
I told 'K's staff to pretend we are visiting this estate agent because they are FMW's sponsor, and we are about to discuss the next sponsored event.
It was already after 3pm. We got out of the car and stood in front of the building, and I told the watch dog to wait outside, the same as last time.
I knew they definitely checked the elevator panel to see which floor we are getting off.
When I came out of the building, the watch dog guy saw me and his face's changed. He smelt the same smell from 'D'.
-Loan shark clashes with loan shark-
It made such a threatening atmosphere.
When the man from 'D' tried to get into the car, the driver watch dog stepped on
the accelerator so hard. This is my car.
He must have thought he had to retain at least this car as the debt collection.
'What are you doing!!'
'D' was shaken off and rushed back to his office.
I was just standing there.
The car stopped in front of me and the watch dog came out. His eyes looked so angry. Then I heard banging foot steps from my behind.
There were 4 or 5 men from 'D'.
They stared at each other again, I was in between them.
It's now passed 5pm.
The sun hadn't set yet even though it's winter. It was a very busy road.
Obviously not normal looking men were arguing loud on the street.
They looked like just they were going start a street fight.
'Who the hell is he!?' 'Hey Arai! What's going on!?'
'I'm so sorry the check has bounced.'
'Why's that? We didn't cash it!!'
'We transferred 500,000yen (5,000 USD) though!'
'A'&'B' shouted at me brutally. 'You idiot! You know what's you've done!'
'D' grabbed my shirt's collar and pulled me towards him.
'D' told 'A'&'B' 'Who are you two? I'll have to keep Arai!'
'A' & 'B' both changed their face with anger.
'Are you kidding!? Why by your company? He's ours!'
'D' pulled my hand to tried to take me into his office. 'Arai! This way! Come!'
'A' & 'B' pulled my hand back. 'Why are you taking him!?'
I was just stunned and standing in between them.
There was not anything I could do. It was just like the scene from a TV drama.
I had never seen such a thrilling scene even with FMW's kidnapping gimmick.
The stern men looked like they were about to the fight.
People were passing by, looking what was going on with distance.
Cars driving by and passing. I stood there shaking up.
-The Harsh Throwaway Match-
'Not in the office, lets go to a cafe.'
'Is that ok, Arai!?'
They were calling me 'Arai-san' (Mr. Arai), now I'm just ''Arai''.
I was taken to the nearest cafe surrounded by 10 men.
I got back to sane just a little bit.
On a street all the loan sharks were so desperate over me and tried to kidnap me,
nearly had the car chasing action as well. Too much shouting was going on.
I'd rather be in the cafe than being in a brawl.
I thought 'Thank god. They won't make much noise here.'
But people say this is the loan shark's usual trick. Using the closed place for questioning is classified as 'imprisonment' which is against the law in Japan.
Like cafes or restaurants are the 'public open place'.
There was a guy from loan shark 'C' also joined up.
Loan Sharks occupied the corner of the cafe, there was no escape.
Well I couldn't anyway. I had no energy for escaping.
As I described in the beginning, I was blamed by those men here.
FMW didn't have any property to pay off the debt. As I mentioned before those loan sharks tried to take our wrestling ring. I begged repeatedly, but they just simply didn't listen.
'Hey, are you not understanding? FMW is just the same as bankrupted. We have the right to take your property.'
Listening of reasoning and threatening made me quiet. I couldn't protest.
They said this funding is coming from the third party. Not belonging to their companies, so they can not make any losses was explained me so many times.
However, I have no way to pay back. They were so fumed and insisted each other's right. They all wearing a tie but looked like the Yakuza.
'Tell us! Where is the ring!?'
I was shaken up and thought 'Maybe that's it' and handed them the ring company's contact. They called the antique dealer asking how much the wrestling ring worth.
They were told it's not worth anything because no one wants to buy it.
It was a relief.
But they aren't let me go until they find something worthy from me.
I was thinking so hard how to solve this problem, then another problem happened.
Another loan shark 'E' showed up.
'B' muttered 'Oh, another one.'
'D' asked me and handed a pen.
Just write down all the loan sharks you have borrowed from.'
It was over the limit.
I just gave up myself and wrote down every single one slowly.
Slowly, meaning I was still hoping with a break through.
Unfortunately that was no help.
I finished writing the list. It was nearly 20 loan sharks.
'I thought it could be about 10....I've never seen such a shameless man.'
'C' muttered admiringly.
'No way! We haven't even got a interest yet!' 'E' cried out.
To 'E' it was a 100% loss.
'You know what it's called!? It's a con. You are a con man. What are you going to to fix this mess!' 'D' started shouting at me.
The loan sharks were verbally abusing me, but I couldn't say a word.
The loan shark list was over 20 companies.
They continued to discuss while I was writing down their name.
It was passed 6pm, and the 2 men stood up from 'A' and 'B' .
It has been a deadlock, they decided to withdraw from the case.
'Well there's no choice. We are going.'
I had been borrowing from both companies since last year.
They've got a huge interest paid back already. I supposed they gave up on getting more.
On the other hand, 3 other companies haven't got anything yet.
'We'll definitely grab the money back.'
I could feel the strong atmosphere from them.
Then my phone rang.
It was Mr. Y who looked after FMW.
'Hello, Mr. Arai. We've got a situation. A lots of loan sharks are surrounding FMW's office. What should I do? It's unsafe. Should I call wrestlers as security guards?'
'I'm so sorry, Mr. Y...To tell you the truth, the checks have bounced. Is that ok to call our guys?'
As soon as I told him so, he called all the wrestlers from FMW.
We managed to avoid them destroying the office.
I heard that every FMW wrestler was called and turned up except Mammoth Sasaki who was appearing for a PRIDE event next day. Sasaki wasn't informed. When I think about it, I feel a lump in my throat. I really don't know how much I want to thank them. And I am really sorry.
But, I still don't understand why FMW became like this and what happened to FMW.
Click here for Chapter 2