Photo by Takanori Kobayashi

Tokyo' own version of Fight Club takes place nightly beside the Koma Theater in Shinjuku's Kabukicho district. But while the challengers come and go, Nagurareya the human punching bag remains to fight another battle, taking hits from budding pugilists for only JY1000 a minute. He might be a glutton for punishment, but there's a method to his masochism.

Nagurareya, whose real name is Akira Hareruya, was born in Aomori Prefecture in 1963. After graduating from junior high school, he came to Tokyo and entered one of the city's famous boxing gyms. At 20, he made his debut as a pro boxer. After retiring ten years later, he established his own electrical contracting company, but hard times earned him debts of JY150 million. At a loss over what to do, Nagurareya, now 37, decided to resurrect his boxing career. He allows passersby to punch him or try to punch him for JY1000 a minute. He himself never retaliates; he only uses defensive measures.

Last year he published his biography, "Nagurareya," which sold 10,000 copies, but didn't go close to paying off his debts. The main purpose of his mobile Fight Club is not, therefore, to entertain people, but to make money. Besides dodging blows from strangers, Nagurareya spends his day as an electrician, then heads off to his bar, also named after himself, in the evenings. Then at midnight, he takes up his position on the street.

The story of how this boxer ended up in Shinjuku's back alleys is not uncommon in the world of professional sports. "I was weak. I had lost five bouts in a row. After losing the fourth one, I decided to concentrate only on boxing and made up my mind to win my next bout at all costs. I was married, but to avoid thinking about anything except boxing I made my wife go and live with her parents. For six months, I was just training for my next match because I wanted to test my mettle as a boxer. But it was all to no avail. I lost. Then I knew it was time to give it up," he says.

Nagurareya started his uncanny career two years ago in Roppongi. Today, nightly beatings have become a part of his regular routine. Despite his experience in the ring, amateurs are now his greatest challenge. "It is hard to predict where they will strike from, whereas trained boxers are far more predictable," he says. Although he estimates that he's taken at least 10,000 punches, Nagurareya will never forget the one man who decked him. "He was at least two meters tall. In addition, he was a pro boxer. His arms were like logs. He knocked me down three times in one minute."

While the opportunity to view a good punch-up never fails to attract a crowd, Nagurareya maintains that not everyone wants to watch him get beaten up. "One guy had tears in his eyes as he tried to stop me because he thought it was a terrible way to earn money. However, I can't quit until I have paid off my debts." Owing JY200 million at last count, Nagurareya recently made a bid to speed up the repayments by opening a bar. One of his supporters, a karate fighter, talked him into it. "He loaned me the money, so now I'm in debt even more - I hope that someday I can pay him off, too."

Takanori Kobayashi

The address for Nagurareya's Kamiyacho bar is:
5F, Marugen 54 Bldg
1-2-6 Kabukicho, Shinjuku
Tokyo 160-0021
Tel: 5292-9820

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