Little House In Ise

Morning Practice
January 30, 2008, 17:55
Filed under: Aikido, Expat, Family, Japan | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Between my new job, new apartment and quasi-single life (my family is in Ise until the end of the school year — March), I have had a growing need to do Aikido. Today, I made it to Honbu.

Morning class started at 6:30 and ran for one hour. To make it on time, I prepared my dogi, hakama and work clothes the night before. My Mac chimed at 5:00, I dressed, ate a mikan, dropped off the “non-burnable garbage” and left for the Shin Okachimachi station where I hopped on the Oedo line straigt to Wakamatsu-Cho and Aikikai Honbu Dojo. After paying my fees and dropping off my member card (NOTE: they don’t want your yudansha book, they only need your membership card) I went up to the third floor to change.

Notable differences in training style at Honbu and other dojo I have visited were that 1) you keep the same uke all throughout class and 2) even morning class is packed. I’ve been told that training at honbu also tends to emphasize flow over static training and if my partner today was typical of the school then that is very true. I will see.

Doshu demonstrated a standard set of techniques most from katatedori gyakuhanmi (片手取り逆半身) the one exception was ryotetori kokyunage (両手取り呼吸投げ). We did, ikyo, nikyo, hanmi-handachi shihonage (半身半立ち四方投げ), kotegaeshi, and reverse kotegaeshi. After the koyunage sensei said, jiywaza and so we did … Whew! I’m glad my partner was moving slowly. He was an old guy with a whole lot of ability but REALLY bad eyes. I don’t think he was intentionally dropping me on people — it was _very_ crowded. He really did steal the floor from me on more than one occasion. Eventually, I would find the floor again, at speed, and make meaty thunking noises. That seemed to satisfy him more than it did me. Even so, it was fun working with him.

Finally, if you really want a shower after class at honbu, don’t count on hot water, there is none. FYI …


January 27, 2008, 20:46
Filed under: Aikido, Expat | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

I got into Tokyo on Saturday night and into my “monthly mansion” by 7:30ish. Finding the real estate office and getting around the city went smoothly but finding my building once I was in the area was a much bigger challenge than I had expected. I found a really nice map at the station and lined it with where I was going and then went in exactly the wrong direction. That was the second time that has happened to me here in Tokyo. I am not map challenged but it turns out that Tokyo area street maps are made _for_ map challenged people. They have maps lined up with the street rather than aligned with NORTH! I assumed that north was on the top of the street map I followed and used it as one should. On closer examination (the next day, in the light, etc…) I noticed a legend at the bottom that showed north clearly pointing to the bottom edge of the map. That, I think, was the cause of a couple lost hours that I will never get back …

Anyway, the mansion is small. There is a tiny kitchen with a one burner stove, a beer fridge and basin suitable for hobbits and other small folk to brush their teeth. The place is furnished and there was a box filled with brand new towels, dishes, a spoon, a fork, a knife and stuff for life. It was interesting to me that the instructions say to keep it all or be charged for its disposal. Some bright fellow did the math and, apparently, it’s cheaper to buy and give a way a new load of stuff to each new tenant than it is to either keep or dispose of it. So I have a bunch of brand-new cheap-o pots and pans.

While exploring my new neighborhood I found a very nice meat shop that sells Costco sized portions (side of cow anyone?). So, on my first foray out of the apartment I found ham, real cheddar cheese, tortillas and yellow mustard. Now all I need are fig newtons and Dr. Pepper and I’ll start to think that life in Tokyo is survivable.

My computer, bread machine and clothes arrived this morning via Kuroneko Yamato (black cat Yamato delivery service). Once it was unpacked and booted up I pulled out my maps and plotted my course for the day. Trip #1 took me to Akihabara (Electric City) where I picked up a couple of power strips and USB camera for the computer. For trip #2, I scouted the Ginza line to my office. Getting there on a Sunday afternoon was easy but Monday morning rush-hour on the Ginza line looks to be hell. On the way back from that outing I found a little market with semi-cheap veggies 2 minutes from my door. Wheee!

Throughout trip #2 I was looking for an easy way to get from my office to Aikikai Honbu Dojo where I plan to train. Physically, the dojo is much closer to my office than to my apartment but to get there I may need to change trains two or three times depending on my route. It looks as though I will have to go back to training in the morning. The punch-line here, if you want to call it that, is that Doshu teaches those classes. Anyway, I can get to the dojo in one straight shot from my apartment, no changing trains at all. After class, I will take the most direct route to the office… through Shinjuku at rush hour. Yeah… that’s the Tokyo experience all right.

My first day on the new job is tomorrow!


Last Class at Saruta Hiko Jinja Dojo
January 23, 2008, 13:14
Filed under: Aikido, Expat, Japan | Tags: , , , , ,

Tatami may be traditional for dojo but they’re harder, more slippery and abrasive than judo mats or even most home-grown tarp covered mats that I’ve trained on. Move with the grain and your feet will often slide more than you really want them to. Go against the grain and expect friction burns. The cold days, when you can see your breath all through practice, the tatami feel even harder than they really are. Maybe it’s just that my feet and hands start out out numb and slapping the tatami during rolls stings more than normal. The mats are more tattered than when I first arrived. They’re heavily patched with gum tape and arranged so that the most worn spots are farthest to the sides. It doesn’t help much. After one good fall my hakama is covered with dust and bits of straw.

Training with and becoming a friend of the folks at Saruta has been the high point of my stay in Ise. I look forward to coming back and rolling around with them more, even though the mats chew through my ankles every time! 🙂

Dojo Storming in Tokyo!
January 17, 2008, 22:40
Filed under: Aikido, Expat, Family, Japan | Tags: , , , , , , ,

I have been having trouble finding an Aikido dojo in Tokyo. My problem, isn’t a lack of options but, rather, an over-abundance. This would seem like a wonderful problem to have but I find it frustrating. I am looking for an excellent (not necessarily famous) Aikikai instructor in a dojo that provides as many classes per week as possible. I don’t know what my work schedule will be but I will need to fit training into it somehow. So far, there are plenty of dojo that sound good but their schedules, in general, seem to be awfully limited. Also, I know where I will be for the next two months, Asakusa (浅草), but where I’ll live when my family finally joins me is still up in the air. I need to find a dojo close enough to home too.

This sounds like an opportunity to do some dojo storming! I won’t be traveling dojo to dojo trying to “run the line” of senior students in order to challenge sensei but I think I will take the opportunity to visit as many different schools in the Tokyo area as I can manage in the next two months.

For completeness sake, the schedule at Aikikai Honbu is wonderful. I am sure that will become my default dojo (and no complaints there) but this is an opportunity that I may never have again! I want to search for the senior deshi of Nishio sensei and Kuroda sensei. I want to visit Tada sensei at the Tada Juku (my wife thought “Tada” meant free and that I was being a bit silly looking for cheap schools 🙂 ), Kobayashi sensei in his dojo and maybe even some of the Daito Ryu folks! Whew!

Ueda sensei of the Mie-Ken Aikidokai has very kindly offered to leave my membership here as “open” so that when I return I can train whenever I like.  For now, Obata will remain my home dojo but I will be packing up my bags in a week and in the big city very soon.

This is getting exciting!

January 11, 2008, 21:08
Filed under: Expat, Japan | Tags: , , , , ,

Since I am between my last job and my next (it starts 1/28) I have been at home a lot lately and so doing more cooking than I did previously. Normally, when I cook I stick to recipes of the American South-West and South. Recently, however, Megumi has subscribed to a food club. I don’t know how else to describe it. We have a two or three option menu that changes daily. Every day a cooler box filled with fresh food — vegetables, meat, fish, whatever is needed, is delivered to our door. The food matches the needs of the menu for the day and there is a detailed description of how to prepare the meal.

I have to admit that the recipes are written out in a order and manner that I find hard to follow but it is a great way to practice kitchen Japanese. There have been a couple of mistakes that I have made in reading the directions that have impacted the flavor and … presentation… but, but, skipping past details… this is a great way to kill several birds with one stone. We do less grocery shopping, we get fresher food (like going to the store every day) and I learn new “technical jargon”. This is a win and I highly recommend the option for anyone living here.

Shokubun (ショクブン ), from shokubunka (食文化 — dietary culture), is the company that offers this service here in Ise. The chain seems to be centered in Nagoya but I am sure there are other similar companies in other areas. If you’re living in Japan, want to optimize your shopping time, vary your menu or maybe learn to prepare real Japanese food, give it a go! For more information … Google is your friend!

Shihan — 師範
January 6, 2008, 12:42
Filed under: Aikido, Expat, Japan | Tags: , , , , , , ,

I was interviewed by a reporter from the Chunichi Shinbun after hatsugeiko. It was an awkward chat and I found myself in the weird position of explaining the usage of Japanese words to a Japanese person. Having my own sensei, my shihan, standing by listening in did not make me more comfortable.

There are differences between typical Japanese usage of certain words and their Aikido (Aikikai Aikido in this case) specific terminology. She asked me if other than being an Aikido Shihan I had another job. 🙂 It is an understandable mistake but it made me uncomfortable. In Japanese “Shihan” means “instructor” or “teacher”. In an Aikikai Aikido context however it means something like “Master teacher”. It is a title that does not correspond to an exact rank but seems to awarded beyond the 6th degree black belt. When Aikidoka refer to “Aikido Masters” they are generally talking about shihan.

So, with my own shihan listening in, I tried to explain that “Shihan” meant a teacher of high technical proficiency who has also made significant lifetime effort to bring Aikido to the masses. Sensei laughed, told me not to get too complicated and then wandered off, which made the rest of the interview a lot easier. The reporter had seen me teaching kids and had heard Ueda Shihan call me “Eric Sensei” so she wanted to know what my title actually was in order to put me in context. “Shugyousha” didn’t quite cover her need for context but my need to NOT be called “shihan” (or even sensei) in a newspaper article trumped that.

Hatsugeiko — 初稽古
January 5, 2008, 21:22
Filed under: Aikido, Japan | Tags: , , , , , , ,

This morning was the first Aikido practice of the year for the Mieken Aikidokai. Fifty kids arrived, wearing dogi, at the Kansha Jinja (官舎神社) where the local priest “blessed” (shook a stick at — “Get off my lawn!”) them. After the stick shaking ceremony, the kids were sent out into the street to collect garbage on their way to the dojo. The street clean-up is one of this dojo’s annual community events and the kids seemed to get a kick out of competing for trash to fill their bags.

The restoration of the Obata dojo is not yet complete so this year the gymnasium at a local elementary school was used for the first practice. The school is much closer to the shrine than the actual dojo so the kids were able to get out of the cold quickly. The downside was that the place we practiced was a basketball court so there were no mats. Since we were training on hardwood flooring, sensei had us practice only back falls and then went through a few techniques for which slow, gentle ukemi is ideal.

After practice, we all ate hot soup prepared by a few of the students’ mothers. The kids ran around like insane little monsters and the rest of us chatted. It was a nice start to the Aikido year.

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