by Andrew Sunter, Danny Jmes
We met on Wednesday evening at the Andon Ryokan in Taito-ku near Asakusa. With no plan in mind whatever, we set out to see the sights on Thursday morning. Imagine our surprise to stumble upon Maruyama Yasuko-san near the Kaminari-mon (Thunder Gate) of the Senso-ji near Asakusa subway station.
Yasuko-san insisted on taking us to lunch at one of Tokyo's newer restaurants (around 205 years old) where we ate dojyou (a kind of miniature eel) served over a charcoal brazier. We washed it down with beer and sake. We then visited Senso-ji together where Yasuko-san fervently prayed that Andrew might lose weight and one day find a "garufurendo".
Feeling tired and not a little emotional, we returned to our ryokan for some rest before heading out to sample the delights of night-time Tokyo. Heading North on the JR Yamanote-sen from Ueno, we somehow confused Ikebukuro with Shinjuku and got off at the wrong station. While we were trying to figure out what to do, who should walk by but our old friend Will Reed Sensei! We were so surpised! Will was on his way to training at a small gym in Western Tokyo. As luck would have it, we had our keikogi with us as usual.
We joined class at the Heiwadai Taiikukan with Saito Sensei teaching. It wasn't long before the beer and sake from lunchtime combined with the ambient humidity to cause Andrew to turn an alarming shade of red. We had an excellent class. It was great to pick up on a few things from people who are training with Maruyama Sensei week in and week out. An interesting aspect of class was that the mat space was shared by a judo class who were training with weapons.
Our heartfelt thanks go to Saito Sensei, Osawo-san, Kuzuhara-san and our other training partners. After training, Saito Sensei gave us each a small towel so that we could shower. He asked Will Reed to pass on the message that we could keep them, commenting "It's not because I think they're dirty". We all went to dinner at a local family restaurant before heading home.
Inspired by our good fortune of the previous evening, we set out on Friday in search of the spiritual home of Aikido. Because the Yamanote-sen had been so fruitful on the previous day, we decide to start there. Asked to pick a number between 1 and 10, Danny chose 11, and so we found ourselves wandering the back streets of Shin-Okubo. We found a little shop making keikogi, hakama and obi. We worshipped briefly, resolving to return with many thousands of yen the following day, in order to make offering.
Returning to Shin-Okubo Station, we bumped into Andreas, a peripatetic budo buddy of Andrew's who splits his time between Sydney and Tokyo. Once again we had our keikogi with us and so we were able to accompany Andreas to a small family-run dojo in Shinjuku.
We were fortunate to experience the teaching of Kuribayashi Sensei, a young and dynamic teacher who emphasised the centre line and a strong connection between uke and nage.
After training we headed up to Shinjuku and bumped into Will Reed once more. Will took us to a Belgian beer house nearby where we had a quick drink (we could only afford one -- Danny's ginger ale cost nearly AUD$6) accompanied by a lot of budo banter and assorted talkie-nage. Shortly after, the conversation was resumed at a Korean BBQ restaurant that Andreas frequents. After too much beer and barely enough discussion of crucial facets of aikido, aiki politics and various stylistic differences, we spent some time wandering Kabuki-cho, testing our development in fending off spruikers, pimps and some very friendly ladies (some of whom weren't ladies at all, Dan).
We spent the next day wandering various streets, markets and parks around Tokyo, but it seemed that our luck had deserted us for the moment. We returned to Iwata Co to replenish our supplies of spiritual armour. Danny was later introduced to the delights of the "sento" and, as well as having his occupation and qualifications exclaimed over, had his back washed by a local plumber.
We decided that a ride on a really fast train to somewhere fairly improbable might restore our aiki mojo. So it was we boarded a shinkansen to Okayama and a local train to a little town called Chayamachi, where, incredibly, Andrew bumped into a former housemate from Sydney.
This resulted in two BFDs (budo-free days) as we visited various local beauty spots, made our own Bizen-yaki pottery and generally gallivanted about.
Tuesday saw us back on the budo trail. We arrived in Osaka and went in search of Andrew's former dojo and training partners. Things were looking grim when the dojo proved to be no longer there and his best contact seemed to be unavailable, but with a little help in deciphering a recorded message, normal service was re-established and we entered the mat by 7 pm that evening.
The Ki Society has a new, purpose-built dojo which was only completed in July. The new "Koshinkan" is close to the centre of Osaka. The dojo is on the ground floor and the upper floor is dedicated to change rooms and Kiatsu teaching and treatment rooms.
After half an hour of "warming up" in the oppressive heat and humidity, it was decided that the superb airconditioning system could be used. Yamamoto Takemi Sensei led us briskly through a series of techniques. Later that night we joined the boys for dinner Kansai-style (a cheap, rowdy and quite crowded resturant, tucked away in one of Osaka's ubiquitous covered markets) with many weird and wonderful dishes available (including an enormous tuna eye-socket) we ... errr dug in with great gusto.
We made it back to the mat the next morning right on schedule for class with Yamamoto Shouichi Sensei. We had a great class on ushirotekubidori kotegaeshi with some really nice variations, a number of which were new to us.
That night we joined our friend Oki-san for shabu shabu at a sumo-themed restaurant. The evenings out were beginning to take a toll just as surely as the training!
The next day saw us make a frenzied day trip to Kyoto. We visited Nijo Castle in the morning and then set out to shop. Andrew got us horribly lost once again. He was on the sniff for something -- he said it was incense, but I suspect it was actually Japanese shop girls, we spoke to so many.
That evening we realised that time was running out for us, we had only 48 hours left in Japan! We hit the streets in search of another dojo. While Andrew was trying to buy film for his digital camera, Danny noticed a sign-board on the street. We had stumbled upon a Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu class with Okajima Sensei! We were astounded almost as much by the differences as by the similarities to aikido. The class was fascinating and some of the exercises frankly astounding. Although this was by far the most expensive training we undertook, we really wished we'd had the chance to train there a few more times. Mind you, we would happily return to any of the dojos we visited.
We were exhausted by now, and headed back to our hotel for a good feed and a long, long sleep. The next day being a national holiday, we already knew that most dojos were closed. We decided to wander the local area and visit a nearby temple. Imagine our surprise to see a plaque reading "aikido" at the front gate. It seems our luck had deserted us once again as there was no one around. We returned later but the dojo was dark and there was clearly no training being conducted that evening.
The next morning, our last day in Japan, we rushed back to the temple. We discovered that this was the famous Shosenji, where Shimamoto Sensei pere et fils teach. Class was led by a very friendly godan, Kondo Sensei. We had a great time training there and were only sorry we couldn't attend more classes, but this was the story wherever we went. Amazingly, it turned out that Kondo Sensei and Kuribayashi Sensei, with whom we'd trained only eight days before, had been roommates when they were uchideshi together!
After a long soak at the local Onsen, a nervous wait for our new Iwata Hakama to arrive by mail and about 3 hours of train travel we arrived at Kansai International airport that evening for the final astounding coincidence of the trip -- although we had booked separately and Danny was flying to Brisbane and Andrew to Sydney -- we were on the same flight back to Australia. You can't help good luck.
Gaijin in Japan. We met a lot of foreigners in the dojos we visited. They are all strange. Some of them (in fact, most) are strange in engaging, entertaining and delightful ways. A small number are just strange. Sometimes they seem to believe they are the only ones who are doing it "for real" and they want to take on the role of sempai to "help" other foreigners who visit. Although you will probably find this almost as annoying as we did, try not to step on their oriental fantasy (and try and keep your own fantasy in check).
Training in Japan. It can be very hard to find aikido dojo in Japan, not only because of the language and cultural barriers, but also because a street address is rarely sufficient, you generally need directions. While traditionally a formal introduction is required, many dojo are very welcoming. It is probably easiest if you can make all the arrangements before leaving for Japan and a personal contact with someone there is best. Classes may be more expensive than you're used to, though in some cases the cost may be waived. If you're lucky you may be invited to go for drinks and/or a meal after class.
Good Etiquette. You haven't seen it all - sensei's technique is the only way you should be practising. Local dojos often have there own etiquette variations. Treat everyone on the mat as your senior - do what they do. Bring sandals, socks, towel and face cloth to be prepared. Wear a white belt if you're training outside your style unless invited otherwise. Be flexible - go with the flow, some aikido activities that we planned didn't quite come to fruition but be sufficiently flexable to take advantage of other opportunities that arose
gaijin: non-Japanese person
keikogi: pyjamas, worn when playing budo, usually white in colour except for the odd blood stain and suspicious yellow patches around the armpits and other hot spots. Other people strongly recommend that budo bums pack a minimum of two.
onsen: natural hot spring
ryokan: A ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn. This style of accommodation generally features tatami rooms with futon to sleep on. They often provide meals and washing facilities. We observed that the cheaper ones, particularly in Tokyo, can have rooms as small as four mats (or smaller), which can be very cosy.
sento: communal bath house
William Reed: topped Amazon Japan best seller list in September 2005 with a new book (in Japanese) on Buzan Mind Mapping. We understand he has written practical guides to Ki and Shodo in the past.