Little House In Ise

A Collection of Stuff

1) Megumi and I visited a sword shop in Ginza last weekend. The shop felt like a samurai art gallery displaying katana, wakizashi, tantou, naginata, bows, arrows, armor and clothing. The swords varied in age from Kamakura and Edo periods to the works of modern masters. I fell in love with the eclectic collection of tsuba (鍔: a sword’s wrist guard) and lusted after steel. Aside from the collection of rare objet d’armour, the feature that stands out about this place was that the master actually opened up his cabinets and allowed me to hold a few of the swords! Wow!

Name : Ginza Choushuya
Address : 104-0061 Ginza Choshuya Bldg 3-10-4 GINZA CHUO-KU TOKYO JAPAN

2) This year NHK is showing a historical dramatization of the life of Sakamoto Ryoma. This is the guy who, in his own rather geeky way, directed the birth of modern Japan. This is fascinating history, interesting drama and provides a view, though fictionalized, into kenjutsu dojo of the late samurai era (at the very end of Edo Bakufu). Four thumbs up from the Holcomb family.

Time: Sunday at 8:00 on NHK it will run for the rest of the year.

3) The Ferris Wheel outside of Korakuen (the Tokyo Dome) is a great spot for a date! The weather is still chilly enough for public snuggling in this non-snuggle friendly society. The view is OK, nothing spectacular, but a few minutes of privacy in a romantic-ish setting are worth it. If you are going there for baseball or to do Judo at the Kodokan (it’s around the corner) this might be a nice stop — especially if your date has started to wonder whether all the “keiko” (稽古: training) you’ve been doing is another girl ( 恵子: “Keiko” is a typical girls name).

Location: Across the street from the Tokyo Dome near the Korakuen Station.
Cost: 800円/person
Con: Adjusting the music to my tastes was challenging…

4) Cherry Blossoms are opening and I think they are regretting it. The weather went from Spring-like back to “Just kidding it’s still winter” in a blink of an eye. The trees are fluffing up but the weather is just not quite good enough for blossom viewing picnics. There is nothing like public drunkenness and karaoke to truly enable cherry blossom viewing. Aaahh! Spring in Japan!


Bullshit Artistry
January 17, 2010, 14:06
Filed under: Expat, Japan | Tags:

I just read a story about how Mark Spitz convinced Russian Olympic swimming coaches that his mustache gave him a fluid-dynamic advantage over bare faced swimmers. He then claimed that the following year all of the Russian swimmers competed with mustaches. True or not, this is a beautiful piece of bullshit artistry. Respect! It got me thinking of my personal favorite moment of well-timed story telling.

I was riding a bus home from work on a sunny Seattle day when the young man standing next to me started chatting up a pair of Japanese exchange students. Normally, this wouldn’t have registered but we were standing next to each other and he was making a his move in Japanese. I couldn’t help but eavesdrop a bit. After much giggling and such his stop arrived and he got off the bus. The girls continued to laugh about about how the pick-up artist had hit on them. Just as my own stop was approaching one of them said she was shocked that an American could speak Japanese so well. That was my trigger…

I turned to the two of them and, in my best hick Japanese dialect, told them that ALL Americans can speak Japanese, we just pretend not to. And I got off the bus. Their expressions were worth it.

For bullshit to rise to an art form, opportunities given must be accepted.

Koshi Toshi Keiko and other New Year’s Festities
January 11, 2010, 00:35
Filed under: Aikido, Expat, Japan | Tags: , , ,

The crowd for Honbu Dojo’s New Years Eve training was huge. I counted nine rows of people wall-to-wall and may have missed some. The normal for morning class is only about five rows and that can be pretty crowded. The mat was packed! With Doshu leading class we started promptly at 11:30. Warm ups were quick. We did rowing exercise on the left then tama furui undo (玉不利運動: lit. shaking the ball exercise), then on the right. Class then followed Doshu’s regular pattern though we did change partners each technique.

The crowd was so thick that ukemi was often impossible. Most techniques ended at kuzushi but some we did take to the floor — especially those where we started on our knees. For some reason, I had been expecting a more casual atmosphere without a lot of serious work but there were so many visitors from around the country who wanted to train hard that it was a quite a good class even without being able to do much ukemi. The fellow with whom I partnered for sankyo was especially interesting to work with. His blend into sankyo wasn’t a big deal (he kind of reached out, grabbed and twisted) but once sankyo was on he started playing with my balance in interesting ways. I took that as granting permission for me to do the same thing and we did some pretty good experimentation with very close-quarters kuzushi. It was an excellent practice. I looked up at some point and noticed that the new year had begun without comment.

After class there was a quick clean up and distribution of low tables. Bottles of sake, juice and snacks were laid out and those of us gathered at the back were herded into seats. I sat with a group of other foreigners front row center. We were literally right in front of Doshu and Waka Sensei. After the Kanpai I took advantage of my position and turned and wished them both happy New Year. I figured a line would form soon and I didn’t want to be in it. Sure enough, minutes later a queue had formed with visitors stopping by to give their good wishes for the new year and offering to pour sake for sensei.

The conversation was fun and I mingled a bit with friends and strangers. Afterward we were reminded repeatedly that the dojo is in a residential neighborhood so we needed to be quiet. With so many people coming and going at 2AM the reminder had to be made many times. I went on to a party at the home of some friends and, after shooing everyone out, the Honbu staff had their party. I hope they had fun — they had worked so hard to make everything just right for the rest of us.

After several more Aikido-free days it was finally time for the opening class of the new year, Keiko Hajime, on the sixth. Almost the whole teaching staff of Honbu made an appearance and trained in Doshu’s class. The class itself started with Waka Sensei leading the Honbu Shihan to the shomen where, as one, they made their New Years greeting. They then returned to the back of the dojo and stayed for class. Though I did not train with any of them, it was amazing seeing them all together and being surrounded by shihan on the mat.

And then on the following Sunday was Kagami Biraki. Aside from the staggeringly massive crowd on the third floor, the most striking thing to me was that the pile of sake barrels beside the shomen had grown huge. Since New Years eve there had been three barrels, two massive ones from organizations in Japan and a “small” one from France decorating the dojo. Today however the pile had grown significantly. Which of course left me the mini mystery of when does the dojo open the barrels and drink the sake?

The ceremony itself was relatively short and if it weren’t for greetings from politicians it could have gone quickly. Doshu gave a quick enbu in the very crowded space in front of the shomen. It was his normal smooth, controlled Aikido but it seemed to me that he probably wanted more room to “open up” and really throw his uke. Perhaps I read more into his expression than was there but the space was very tight. After his enbu, promotion announcements were made and Doshu presented certificates to representatives for each rank. After the last certificate, seventh dan, was distributed a list of names and ranks of everyone promoted was unveiled on the back wall. A friend, Shanon (tall, strong, talented New Zealander) was promoted to 3 dan — too cool!

After the ceremony came the festivities. Tables were brought in and guests were squeezed out to the fourth floor and kids to the second floor. More bottles of sake, bowls of shiroko (sweet bean soup with a lump of mochi freshly pounded that morning by all the uchi deshi and staff) were distributed and a lot of merry-making ensued. In the process I found out what happens to the barrels of sake. They will be stored until the next occasion when sake is needed and then tapped and siphoned into bottles. The sake bottles spread out all over the dojo were filled from sake barrels received last year. A neat system.

Once again, Happy New Year!

Happy New Year 2010
December 31, 2009, 23:07
Filed under: Expat, Family, Japan | Tags: ,
Eric, Ray, Megumi, Kokoro in kimono

The Kageyama Holcomb Family

September 6, 2009, 15:04
Filed under: Aikido, Expat, Japan

I have been off the mat due to a knee injury for about three weeks. Last week I made an aborted attempt at returning to train but found the pain to be too much and took the rest of the week off. Trying to do my best lemons-to-lemonade response to adversity I spent the now available late nights doing OS upgrades on my home network and catching up with Cajun vampire adventures on TV. The TV is a good excuse to rest, ice, compress and elevate my knee but really, I would have preferred to be at the dojo.

So, yesterday I went back and though my knee was aching afterward, it was excellent! My partner was a young Russian man who, though matching my size, was probably ten kilos heavier. It was a pleasure to work with such an athletic young guy who was not only willing but able to “kick it up a notch”. It was good fun all around.

The only down-side to the whole evening was that I completely shredded my dogi. I bought this dogi when we moved back to Japan in 2006 and have used it very hard ever since. The collar has been threadbare for ages and there are small holes in the shoulders. Still, it has been my favorite. Last night, however, it became ventilated.

I threw a pretty hard shomen strike at my partner who responded with a very nice ikyo omote. I heard cloth tearing but didn’t bother to look down. From that point on every twist of my upper body was accompanied by fart-like tearing noises — embarrassing to say the least. By the end of class I had a twenty centimeter hole under my left armpit and another somewhat smaller one under the right. It was ruined.

So what to do with the old gi? The thing would obviously have to go into burnable garbage (it didn’t fit any of the other garbage categories) but that seems like a waste. Megumi isn’t a seamstress and other than patches for my other gi I can’t really think of another use for it. So far, the only idea that appealed to me has been cutting it up into cloth diapers but there are no nearby green babies to use them…

How do you re-use/recycle has-been dogi?

Kangeiko   寒稽古
February 3, 2009, 14:09
Filed under: Aikido, Expat, Japan | Tags: , , , ,

Wednesday is the final day of kangeiko (寒稽古) midwinter training. The goal is to attend some class every day for ten days. It doesn’t sound too difficult but life does sometimes gang up on the most innocent of plans. I ended work at one company and started work at a new one during kangeiko. There have been many late nights of farewell parties and packing. Along with, or perhaps due to, all that I have been emotionally drained. It has been a challenge for me to get my lazy butt out of bed even for normal classes and I have had to recite my mantra, “Just fucking do it” far more often than normal.

So far, the highlights of kangeiko have been training with Ninomiya sensei (二宮先生) who was described by one of my favorite instructors as a “Super 7th dan”. I’m not sure what makes him “super” as compared to the 7th dan who called him that. My lack of insight is similar to my lack of insight into the cleanliness of the upper surfaces of airplane wings in flight — they are a bit too far above me to judge. Anyway, Ninomiya sensei was mostly gentle and willing to give me pointers throughout.

That day was also fun because Doshu broke his normal pattern and threw out all sorts of wild (for him) techniques. The theme of the day mune tsuki (胸突き:chest punch) which is not one that he normally emphasizes. He then seemed to go out of his way to present head-scratcher techniques that made even gray-in-the-belt oldsters puzzled. He was smiling the whole time and looked to be having a genuinely fun time baffling everyone.

Another highlight was training under Kanazawa Shihan (金沢師範). I rarely can fit his class into my schedule but I paid extra for Sunday training this month and was able to make his morning class. Sensei explained a couple of details that put my head in a good place for Aikido. It helped that my uke was really well connected but all throughout class it felt as though I was doing real Aiki. The kinonagare (気の流れ: Flowing Ki) techniques swooped and swirled so and felt wonderful.

One more day of midwinter training to go but I will stick out the week and wait for Saturday to sleep. I hope that most of the visitors go back to their regular training schedules so, maybe, the mat will be a bit less crowded and we can really throw down!

Happy rolling!

PS Shout out to Gil from CA who stopped by to this week and many thanks to Mizuto-san for not breaking my arm!

Kagami Biraki 2009 / 2009年の鏡開き
January 18, 2009, 22:28
Filed under: Aikido, Expat, Family, Japan | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

This year, I participated in two Kagamibiraki (鏡開き) events. The first was held at the Aikikai Honbu Dojo on January 11th. Ueda Shihan, my teacher from Ise, and one of his deshi, Kan Ishiguro (soon to be a Honbu uchi deshi), came to participate in a national meeting of Dojo Leaders and Kagamibiraki.

That morning, when we arrived at Honbu for Kagamibiraki Keiko, we found most of the uchi deshi and many others outside in the parking area. They were pounding mochi in preparation for the events later in the afternoon. As usual, the uchi-deshi were busting their butts doing most of the hard work (mochi hammers are big and heavy) while older, more experienced members stood around giving sage advice.

Ueda Sensei had asked me to chaperon Ishiguro-san and so I offered to be his training partner. I also suggested that if he really wanted to have a good time he should grab one of the scary old men and train with them. He agreed and partnered with a very talented 5th degree black belt who is a morning class regular. They seemed to have a very pleasant (hardcore) time of it. The dojo itself was crowded with visitors from all over Japan attending that weekend’s many events. It was not quite as packed as during the All Japan Enbukai but falling was still a challenge. Class ended early in order to prepare for the afternoon and we went to lunch.

After lunch, we went back to the dojo and got in line for the Kagamibiraki ceremony itself. The line stretched about 70 meters down the street. At the front, the “cooks” were preparing oshiroko (お汁粉: a sweet bean “soup” with a lump of mochi). There were so many people attending that local high school students had been recruited to act as shoe valets. We took off our shoes in the entrance of the dojo and were given a receipt. The valets parked our shoes out in a grid marked on the concrete of the covered parking area. They were expecting between six and seven hundred attendees. On the third floor, it felt as though that was an underestimation. The dojo was filled wall-to-wall with people sitting seiza in neat rows. Uchi deshi wandered around asking people to leave their bags and coats in the locker room. We spent more than a half hour waiting for the room to fill and the ceremony to start. It was long enough for most feet in the place to be completely numb by the time the ceremony started (almost broke my foot trying to stand at the end).

Osawa Shihan acted as the MC and there were speeches by Doshu and other officials. Announcements of the Kagamibiraki promotions from shodan to hachidan were made and representatives received their certificates. There was only one hachidan announced and he came in person. After the announcements, Doshu gave a demonstration (in a very small area) that included tachi tori, jodori and san-nin gake.

After the ceremony was over, I escorted Ueda sensei back to the train station. When I returned to the dojo, I found that tables had been laid out and sake and oshiriko was being served. The second floor dojo was less crowded, this was where children’s kagami biraki was being held. Megumi, Ray and Kokoro were all there and had already eaten. The kids were very pleased with themselves as they had both received promotions (Kokoro to Jun 8 kyu and Ray to Jun 3 kyu). I grabbed a bottle of sake and made the rounds pouring for parents and then the shihan present. It was comfortable and friendly.

The next day, the Nihon Budokan held its Kagamibiraki ceremony. Kagamibiraki literally means “opening of the mirror” where the “mirror” is a pair of loaves of rice cake used traditionally as New Year’s decorations. The splitting of the rice cake was a way for upper level samurai to share their wealth with lower ranked samurai and the celebration was supposedly an important time for renewing bonds between warriors (that’s what the lit distributed at the Budokan said anyway). At the Budokan a small army dressed in Samurai era armor paraded and the Dai Shogun split the rice cake with a hammer and wedge. The Fuku Shogun had the more pleasant task of splitting the lid of a sake barrel.

After the ceremony, there were demonstrations of Kyudo, Judo, Juken (bayonet), Karate, Iaido, Shorinji Kenpo, Sumo, Naginata and Aikido. The Kyudo and Karate demonstrations were both spectacular and the Sumo demonstration was fascinating. The lethal precision of Kyudo was as beautiful and terrifying as ever. The practitioners made all of their 75 meter-ish kill shots while projecting cool control. The Karateka were as spectacular as they were brilliantly vicious and gave what I thought was the most exciting demonstration of the day. Since I have been blessed with many opportunities to see wonderful Iaido in the US, I was not particularly impressed with the Iai demonstration, it was merely professional and clean. The Judo demonstration was actually boring. It was clear that the intent was to present the most basic elements of that art as executed by masters but, to me, it seemed to lack a sense of love of the art. The Shorinji Kenpo demonstration was so energetic it was almost spastic and very difficult to follow. Sometimes, it seemed to be little more than a wild punch-fest. Juken was very disappointing with only the most obvious strikes and responses demonstrated. The Aikido portion was excellent with demonstrations by both Yokoto shihan and Sugawara shihan (yes, I am biased but they were good). I missed the Naginata demonstration because I was changing into my gi.

After the demonstrations, there was common practice with students of all arts on the floor trainiing at the same time. While this was fun and actually quite a good class (lead by Yokoto Shihan with Honbu uchi-deshi as uke) it was a little frustrating for participants who had wanted to watch the other arts training. I was definitely hoping for too much! 😉

Happy rolling!

3rd Floor Dojo During Kagamibiraki Party

3rd Floor Dojo During Kagamibiraki Party

Yokoto Shihan 横田師範

Yokoto Shihan   横田師範

2nd Floor Dojo (Kids' Kagamibiraki party)

2nd Floor Dojo (Kids’ Kagamibiraki party)

Ray, Sugawara Shihan, Kanazawa Shihan, Kokoro, Me, Suzuki Sensei

Ray, Sugawara Shihan, Kanazawa Shihan, Kokoro, Me, Suzuki Sensei

Kokoro's new rank Jun 8th kyu (pre 8th kyu)

Kokoro’s new rank Jun 8th kyu (standard 8th kyu)

Lined up at the Budokan

Lined up at the Budokan

Daishogun Kabutu

Daishogun Kabutu

Samurai vs the tub of sake ...

Samurai vs the tub of sake …

The army

The Army





Nihon Kendo Renmei Iaido

Nihon Kendo Renmei Iaido

Sumo -- the flexible big guys

Sumo — the flexible big guys

Sumo -- stare down

Sumo — stare down



Shorinji Kenpo -- Japanese Kung Fu

Shorinji Kenpo — Japanese Kung Fu

Shorinji in space ...

Shorinji in space …

Juken (bayonet)

Juken (bayonet)

Aikido Demo (I'm in the fourth row on the left)

Aikido Demo (I’m in the fourth row on the left)

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