Little House In Ise

Too Deep
September 24, 2008, 18:21
Filed under: Aikido, Expat, Japan | Tags: , , , , ,

I have seven stitches across the knuckle of my right big toe — one for each of the samurai virtues (more later). The details are boring so suffice it to say that walking is uncomfortable and the doc has side-lined me until he pulls the stitches out. So I am doing mitori geiko (見取り稽古: Training by taking what is seen) again.

As it turns out, Waka-sensei was also side-lined today and we hung out together. More accurately, we sat near each other and sulked. I did take the opportunity to clear up a mini-mystery. There is a high ranking woman whose Aikido is brilliant and whose ukemi in particular is beautiful. It had always seemed to me that Doshu picked her as his uke for specific techniques (shihonage and kotegaeshi) but not for others. Since he insists on relatively bland ukemi during demonstrations it didn’t make sense that he was picking her for her tremendous acrobatic skills.

So, I asked Wakasensei what was up. He gave me a funny look and responded: “She comes after the teaching staff and does what’s next in order.” In other words, no reason, it just lines up that way. I felt like newbie Japan-hand digging for deeper meaning in something that really had none. This time, the cigar really was just a cigar.

There have been dozens of times that I have heard newbie expats and visitors searching too deeply for meaning in things Japanese. I’m guilty of that myself. In other words, foreigners often look deeply for meaning in customs, designs and what-not and they don’t always have any depth to offer (the custom may just be another excuse to drink to excess and the design may just be pretty). Desperately looking for deeper meaning in everything in this culture is a classic Japan-o-phile experience. As such, I am sure that there are many instances of meaning being attached arbitrarily to things in order to give a veneer of depth or at least wabi sabi (侘 寂: simple aesthetic taste). In my case, the seven stitches in my toe hold some skin together and had nothing to do with samurai virtues until I started writing this …


Overheard in Tokyo
September 5, 2008, 10:05
Filed under: Expat, Japan | Tags: , , ,

I’ve never really liked going to doctors or dentists in Japan. This has nothing to do with concerns about how skilled Japanese medical practitioners might be but rather due to my expectations of how medicine “should be” practiced.

Once, years ago, I had a painful ear-infection and went to an ear, nose and throat specialist. His office was one large room with chairs along the walls for waiting patients and a chair in the middle for the one being examined. Everyone in the room could watch and hear what was being said to the person in the chair. Though I knew he wasn’t going to tell me that I had an STD or anything embarrassing, it was still uncomfortable being examined in front of an audience.

As a result of that and other similar experiences, I have resisted seeing health professionals except when my need was clear. But when you do need to go, how do you pick? In my case, I pay attention when people offer advice about their doctors. The other day, I overheard a conversation between three guys talking about their dentists. One had just tried a new one and wasn’t impressed. The second remained loyal to his because of an attractive hygienist. The third, older guy offered up the following:

“I have been going to the same dentist for years. I hate him, he’s terrible!”

“Then why do you go back?”

“It’s never crowded so I don’t have to wait in line…”


Dr. Pervy II
August 31, 2008, 20:26
Filed under: Expat, Family, Japan | Tags: , ,

Biking home today Megumi spotted a 100 yen shop and we had to stop.  As we wandered around I heard the kids giggling in excitement about something. Kokoro ran up to me and announced, “They have a new picture! Come see!” and ran off. I had no clue what she meant but figured I’d better find out. She led me to the beverage section and pointed to a rack of Dr. Pepper. I groaned. The kids had found a new grotesque on the label and decided that Papa NEEDED to know about it. SO, Here is some more freaky advertising from Japan for your entertainment…

There was another new bit of anime art as well but that was a bit too over-the-top so I decided against posting it.

This blog has been brought to you by the caffeine in Dr. Pervy…

So, when do my product placement earnings start rolling in?

Dr. Pervy
April 13, 2008, 12:47
Filed under: Expat, Family, Japan | Tags: , ,

Ray and I were biking around the other day when he mentioned that he was thirsty. It was a short ride home so I said we could wait until then to get something to drink. Ray knows me very well so the next vending machine we passed he announced loudly “Oooh look, they have Dr. Pepper!” Simple but effective manipulation that I fell for immediately.

I finally figured out how they managed to make a market for a product in country where most people think it tastes like medicine: Anime porn! You don’t believe me? Here are some pics that I took of the can …

Like other simple, effective manipulation it works for me too.  I bought two more. 😉

Honbu in the Morning
February 8, 2008, 13:43
Filed under: Aikido, Expat, Japan | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Back in Seattle, at the PSA, there was a group of older yudansha who used to come for the Friday open mat and pound the hell out of each other. They were beyond me in more than just years. These guys really knew how to move. It was through watching, talking and working with them that I really got my first glimmerings about what “being relaxed” and “natural movement” meant in an Aikido context. I’d mouthed the words for years before but they were the people who I credit with my, admittedly limited, ability to relax now. However, it wasn’t just their technical excellence that I enjoyed. Their camaraderie and the pleasure of doing Aikido with them was enough to make me persist out to the ragged edge even during the roughest workouts. Most of them train at Aikido Willapa Bay so I haven’t seen them in a while.

Here in Tokyo, at Honbu, the morning class students are mostly older men. They start gathering on the mat about 6am. These fellows are about the same age as the guys from my Friday afternoon practices. I see a similar familiarity that is encouraging. I’m by no means an insider and don’t expect to become one but the atmosphere is enough of a comfort. This morning there were two older fellows stretching near me. I heard one tell the other “No, no, not like that! Your toes have to touch the ground.” The response was “Not today, that would kill me… You try it.” Friendly snarkiness of that sort is not what I had expected at 6am at Honbu.  For some perspective, the second fellow had wiped me all over one corner of the mat and part of the tokonoma the day before.

The technical focus today was morote tori (諸手取り). We did two variations of irimi nage (one was the swirly, ki-no-nagare, wrap uke’s arm about their own neck), ikyo, nikyo, kotegaeshi, shihonage and katagatame (take uke down as though for a kaiten nage, instead of throwing, insert hand that would otherwise be on uke’s neck into armpit, extend and lower your weight to the mat).

All in all, I have been pleasantly surprised by the breadth of waza demonstrated during morning class. Doshu, apparently, has a reputation for showing only kihon-waza but there have been other technical nuggets as well.

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 …

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!

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