Little House In Ise

To Live in Tokyo …
February 27, 2008, 18:13
Filed under: Expat, Family, Japan | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Unless you are rich, blessed with a company that pays for your housing or are just lousy at finances, to live in Tokyo, requires downsizing expectations about house or apartment size. Usually, downsizing a lot is going to be barely enough.

When house hunting, consider where you want to go every day (work/play) then choose a location that is convenient to a rail line that will take you there. Anything inside the loop formed by the Yamanote line is going to be pricier than places outside with famously expensive locations such as Ginza and Shinjuku topping the list.

To keep costs down, consider living outside the loop. The farther out the cheaper it gets with Chiba and Saitama being relatively reasonable. The Yokohama area and locations adjacent to the Chuo line are also expensive. Try to find a place near your preferred station. Buses may be less frequent than you need and station area parking can be pricey (way out in the Chiba Urayasu area, parking near the station costs about 20,000 yen per month — about $200). Also, avoid living near stations where the express trains don’t stop. It’s awful to stand in the cold, watching trains zoom past knowing they go where you want to be.

Another way to keep costs low is to rent an older apartment. This may sound obvious but the drawbacks associated with it are not. To start with, older Japanese homes and apartments have serious insulation issues and end up being both colder and hotter than new ones. The bigger problems have more to do with space for stuff. An older apartment will only be designed to hold an old-style fridge and washing machine. In both cases, that means very small. For singles that can work, but for families or couples it can be a problem. In some areas, for example the Okachimachi area near Ueno, the local custom was to visit public baths so many older homes, that have not been remodeled, don’t include a bath.

I recommend avoiding any commute that requires changing trains in Shinjuku. I am a crowd wimp, so take the traditional dose of salt, but Shinjuku station and its walking-distance-neighbors are tough to get around in at the best of times. Dante missed out by not including Shinjuku station at rush hour as one of his circles of hell.

If you are renting a mansion (condo/apartment) ask your real estate agent for “bunjo” type. Bunjo mansions are built to be sold rather than rented and so tend to be built to a higher standard (quieter and warmer).

Finally, it helps to be comfortable with using tatami mat size (jo) as a unit of measurement for room sizes. Overall, house and apartment areas will be described in square meters but individual rooms, especially Japanese style rooms, will be described by the number of tatami mats that would fit the room. A typical small room is 6 jo. A typical storage or bonus room is 4.5 jo. An LDK (Living-Dining-Kitchen) that is 14 jo is big.

Good luck!


Bad Ass Bio-Mechanics will Play with Your Head
February 26, 2008, 09:56
Filed under: Aikido, Expat, Japan | Tags: , , , , ,

On my first day at Honbu, David, one of the senior foreign students
warned me not to practice in the corner of the mat to the left of the
shomen. That’s where all the really old guys do their stuff. He warned
me that the guys there play with your head as much as your body. I
laughed and filed it away as a cool saying.

Recently, one of the older (late 70s maybe?) students asked me
if I’d like to train with him. This fellow has been through multiple
knee surgeries and has had both replaced with metal parts. His knees
don’t bend and he can’t sit in seiza. He warned me in advance that he
does not do ukemi and we would have to go very slowly. Mostly I was
concerned that I would hurt the guy. I needn’t have worried.

He insisted that I go first, I think he wanted to see how I moved,
unbiased by his opinions of how technique should work. We started with
me slowly not throwing him and him slowly tossing me about like a rag
doll. At first it was pretty typical stuff until he made a sort of
Yoda-pulling-out-his-light-saber transition. He would drop me and
proceed to completely lock me to the ground. He insisted that I fight
all his pins… I now know what butterflies feel when added to a bug
collection. Aside from his wickedly effective pins, he also was able to
take my balance from a moment after contact was made. There was no
mystical Force at work here. The guy knew how to gently steal my balance
and keep control of it. He repeatedly showed me that the muscles in his
bicep were slack while preventing me from moving or escaping. For
kotegaeshi, he used two fingers on one hand to hold me down and the
other hand to ward off kicks.

After class, David, who had given me the very astute warning walked up
saw what was likely a dazed expression and said, “I told you! They mess
with your mind as much as your body!” He laughed at me and wandered away.

Fortunately, Patrice, another one of the foreign students, was hanging
out in hope of a little extra work. We threw each other around long
enough for me to feel as though I had not completely lost my way.

Re-Inventing My Swing
February 21, 2008, 14:02
Filed under: Aikido, Expat, Japan | Tags: , , ,

I read somewhere that Tiger Woods has reinvented his swing three times in his professional career. I don’t know golf but I have a concept of what reinventing a motion that you know very well might mean.

This morning I had the very great privilege to train directly with Yamamoto Shihan for an hour. I will admit to not knowing this man before class but from the first contact I realized that I had to learn more. In the course of one hour Sensei gave me more starting places, corrections and suggestions than I have had in ages. It will take me months, possibly years to truly do justice to what I he showed me today.

After class, a wizened little man with white hair, a toothy smile and an iron grip insisted that I show him what I had learned before I forgot it. His reinforcement of my earlier lesson, as painful as it was, helped and his happy cackle made it fun.

From today, I am re-inventing my “swing”. The people on the train must have thought I was a freak…

Shoshinsha Mark
February 20, 2008, 14:07
Filed under: Aikido, Expat, Japan | Tags: , , , , ,

Shoshinsha Mark

The shoshinsha (初心者 : beginner) mark is green and yellow chevron used in Japan to indicate that a person is new at something. This originated as a mark that could be attached to cars so that other drivers would easily recognize drivers who were new to the road. Whether this actually works to reduce traffic accidents is anyone’s guess but culturally they have become a pervasive concept. I have seen newly hired cashiers at the super market with little chevrons on their name tags to indicate they are noobs. This is a culturally specific icon that I would like to see exported from Japan.

If you study Aikido long enough you will come across the idea of returning to shoshin or returning to basics/the beginning. There are quite a few interpretations of what this means but the one that I cling to is this. Even if you have achieved some level of success at something, don’t get cocky. Don’t let your ego swell as it will likely just get in the way of further progress. If you train with someone who is lower or even much lower than you in rank there is still a lot that they can teach you. To learn you need to actively look for what they can teach — as with anything. It may not be technique or ukemi that they teach you but there is something that can be taken away from most situations. I can’t claim perfection. My ego puffs up at the slightest compliment which usually causes my next techniques to look like a pile of ass.

A little shoshinsha mark on the end of my belt would be an ongoing, physical, reminder to _me_ that I need to return to basics, that I am a beginner. Practically, it might also reduce the in-dojo pile-ups.

There is a university gasshuku (合宿) being held at Aikikai Honbu this week. There were so many more bodies on the mat that we needed four ranks plus stragglers to get everyone in rather than the normal three (plus stragglers). Most of these folks were young, energetic, excited to be at honbu and raring to go. So there were a lot of really pumped up college kids moving fast and throwing bodies around. At one point, my uke threw me in such a way that I tripped, backwards, over another pile of four that had been created in a previous collision. There were no injuries but many apologies. It also was the origin of my idea to put a little chevron on the belts of people who are beginners and those who need to remember that they are beginners.

Happy rolling!

Aikido Pedagogy
February 15, 2008, 16:47
Filed under: Aikido, Expat, Japan | Tags: , , , , ,

This is not brown nosing*, I really mean it. I like the way Doshu teaches. Each of his classes seems to be built around a theme. The theme is usually a type of attack — today it was ushiro ryotetori (後ろ両手取り). He usually starts out with a some variation of irimi nage (入り身投げ), moves into ikyo then nikyo and/or sankyo, kotegaeshi and shihonage. Near the end he frequently does moretetori kokyunage (諸手取り呼吸投げ) after which he calls for jiyuwaza (自由技) and then ends with kokyudosa (呼吸動作).

The jiyuwaza portion gives a chance to explore the days work in more detail. The pattern of the techniques and their order also provide a view into what Doshu may think is important. As an example, other than kyokyudosa, morote tori kokyu nage is the only technique we’ve done every day. He clearly thinks it’s important enough to emphasize a lot. It was not on my radar as something of great importance before but now it is.

Every day is a new basic movement and the techniques cover the basics of the Aikido palette. I find that this sort of teaching methodology works well for me.

* Cultural note: The Japanese phrase equivalent to, “Brown nosing” is “goma suri” (ゴマすり) meaning “grinding sesame”.

First Blood
February 13, 2008, 18:49
Filed under: Aikido, Expat, Japan | Tags: , , ,

I was working with one of the morning class regulars on Tuesday. All through practice we nudged the energy level up bit by bit until we were both going at it pretty hard. I had a slight age advantage which he took to mean that he could throw me as hard as he wanted. I didn’t mind — it was fun and we were both pretty spent by the time Doshu called for kokyudosa (呼吸動作). As sempai, my partner was nage first. I grabbed on and he moved fast, popping my shoulders in the air then tossing me. Sadly, he stuck his head into my orbit and I kneed him in the eye as I went over. OUCH!

After recovering his glasses and repairing them, we left the mat to attend to the bleeding eye. Facial cuts tend to look nasty and this was no exception. We got him taped and re-joined the end of class for the final bow. We apologized profusely to each other and I cleaned the blood off the mat. He left the dojo more quickly than normal. So, I was concerned.

This morning, I arrived and checked on my partner of the day before. He laughed and showed me the cut while telling me not to be concerned. He then introduced me to a young big guy and suggested that we be be partners that day. “Oh shit … this is payback” was my first thought. I smiled and accepted. The big guy was powerful and very controlled througout. He insisted that I “go first” meaning that he was treating me as sempai which was ridiculous but, what can you do? During jiyu-waza (自由技) the big-guy threw me with a wicked fast koshi nage which was a total surprise. I showed him my appreciation by imitating as best I could (not as fast nor as smoothly). Later I showed him a very direct irimi-nage variation that he liked. Again, it was fun.

It turns out that the older fellow had talked me up at his own dojo and recommended me to this guy before class. Hearing that made all the worries about giving offense as well as injury go away. It’s budo, sometimes there is blood. In this case, it was good blood.

赤福復活!  Akafuku Returns!
February 9, 2008, 19:07
Filed under: Expat, Family, Japan | Tags: , , , , , ,

The joyful vision of squishing mochi and squishier anko being hand smushed together once again greets (abuses?) the senses of visitors to the Akafuku shop in Okageyokocho Ise (おかげよこ町伊勢). On Wednesday, February 6th, 2008 Akafuku reopened their doors to throngs of tourists and locals armed with cash rather than the expected pitchforks and torches. All in all the company seems to have rebounded quite well from scandal after spending about three million dollars to upgrade equipment and processes for ensuring the accuracy of freshness dates. News from the trenches indicates that three days later the lines have shortened but business is still bustling for the recently bruised 300 year old company. Whew!

On a sad note, the stuff still tastes like shoe polish — to my barbarian palate.

Finally, to those of you who discovered this blog after Googling for “No pan shabu shabu”, I apologize. The first usage of was an attempt at humor. This time it is egregious link baiting…

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