Sunday, 28 December 2008


Nozomi Shinkansen...

With the plans for our expedition to Kyoto organised for January 2nd - 4th 2009, well under way I realised that I had better get a move on and actually buy the train tickets. Amy and I wanted to ride the Shinkansen, or bullet train (called this because the train looks unsurprisingly like a bullet!) and get there in style. Lawrence and Okano, one of our Japanese friends from Shiramizu would be driving to Kyoto in Okano’s car.

Amy was working today so it was left to me to get the train tickets, the closest station that I could get the Shinkansen tickets from is (I believe) Omiya so I caught an early, well early for me train.

Light reading...

I thought I would try and do the job right and not be some ignorant foreigner. I could have easily grunted a few words in semi English-Japanese like ‘Tokyo’ ‘Shinkansen’ ‘Kyoto’ ‘ichi-gatsu (January)’. It only takes a little effort to actually make coherent and polite sentences, and I think it makes all the difference. Anyway, I looked through a few (?) Japanese language books for the best and easiest way to ask for the tickets... In the end I managed to form a sentence that wouldn’t make me seem stupid!

30 minutes later, I was at the information centre in Omiya station ready to buy the tickets but I was faced with three separate queues. Being English, my first instinct was to join the longest but I decided to ask for advice instead. I mustered my non-existent linguistic skills to ask which queue I should join, and was marshalled to the longest – note to self: always trust your instincts!

The queue led to a series of automated machines, so all the work I put into my Japanese speak was useless. These machines were actually very good, and they had that magical ‘in English’ button which makes my life so much easier. At this point, the very nice guy who I asked about the queues came over to make sure that I was ok getting the tickets, I thanked him and started pressing buttons.

our train tickets...:-)

A minute later I had departed with the best part of 30,000 yen (approx £150.00) and had mine and Amy’s Shinkansen tickets – woo! Mission accomplished...!


Click on the map to zoom in...

For those of you that may be interested, and purely because I really had nothing better to do, I’ve plotted the rough course of our train on the map so that you can see where we’ll be going.

Click on the map to zoom in...

Sunday, 23 November 2008

It's cold in Japan but...

Not quite as cold as England!!!

If you can make this out, it's a picture of my sexy red Citroen C4 which at this very moment is missing me loads! As you can see, she (yes my car is a girl!) is not only having to suffer with my brother driving her around BUT on top of all that, she's getting covered in snow. My older brother Mikey thought it would be funny to send me this photo, I think just to rub in the fact that I'm having to ride a bike everyday instead of my car!

I think I'm going to stop moaning about the cold over here in Japan, at least until next month when the Japanese snow arrives... :-)

Friday, 31 October 2008

a quick update...

Well, what have I been up to lately?

I don't really know for sure, I just know that I've been busy. Really really busy... Since landing in Japan and taking over the Internship at Shiramizu, I've added two more jobs on three mornings - both jobs are at Kindergartens. The first job is Monday and Tuesday mornings in Sugito and the second is a Friday morning in Iwatsuki (about 25 minutes away from Sugito by train). The second is very convenient because Iwatsuki is on the way to Omiya, where I catch the train for my Friday afternoon job in Yoshinohara.

These new jobs mean that I now have three 'proper' days of work (Tuesday; Thursday; Friday), the other two day (Monday and Wednesday) I only work a few hours. My working holiday visa only lets me work 20 hours, but don't let that fool you though. If you include the travellig time between some of the jobs (Thursday and Friday) and the fact that I train at Shiramizu almost every day, sometimes a few times a day, my week soon fills up...

Maybe at a later date, I'll put online my super-busy work and training schedule so my readers can see what I do and when...

Nihon-go is the Japanese language... and it's pretty tricky. Some Japanese people like to think that foreigners can't learn their language. However, this mainly stems from the Tokugawa-era when it was made illegal to teach foreigners Nihon-go!

I've lately been studying Hiragana, which is ONE of the Japanese writing systems. There are approximately 100 different Hiragana characters to memorise (compared to 26 letters in the English alphabet!). Once I've mastered Hiragana, I'll need to learn the 100 Katakana, the writing system for describing all things foreign. After that, there is just the simple matter of learning the 6000 kanji, or chinese characters in use. Of course, this is just written Japanese, speaking is a whole lot more fun... All in all, it shouldn't be a problem really, it's all about determination...

My current objectives:

  • To find a few really cute Japanese lady friends to teach me Nihon-go (Japanese!)
  • To erm... learn Nihon-go
  • To fix my karate techniques
  • To learn the legendary kamehameha!
  • To survive the Japanese winter season*

    *I survived the summer season with little ill-effect, BUT it's getting cold already so I'm not looking forward to winter at all!

    Well... that's it for now, I'll try to write again soon...
  • Monday, 27 October 2008

    Sugito Taikai

    Carl here...

    ...for a huge report on the 33rd Sugito Taikai (Sugito Championships) which was held on Sunday 26th October at the Takanodai Elementary School in Sugito.

    Team Gaijin! Lawrence, Carl, Amy...

    There are only two karate dojo in Sugito, Shiramizu (Wadokai) and Zenshinkan (Shotokan), so a number of dojo from the surrounding towns were also invited to bulk out the entries. This was still going to be the smallest competition that I had entered so far in Japan, so I was eager to see how it would work out. Size wise it will be closer to the ‘inter club’ events that I’m planning for my dojo in England.

    Set up
    Lawrence, Amy and I walked to the school (only 15 minutes from our apartment) and arrived for 7:15am to help Arakawa Sensei and his team of volunteers to set up the competition. The set up was pretty straight forward, 4 taped areas in the middle of the hall, chairs for spectators around three sides and the officials table at the top of the hall opposite the entrance.

    The tournament had 14 kata and 13 kumite divisions with 411 individual entrants. This number of entrants can be halved because most competitors entered both kata and kumite.

    Group Warm up

    Warm up... Shiramizu style!

    As is customary at Japanese competitions, the dan grade cadets put everyone through a standard warm-up of drills and stretching. The Shiramizu competitors took up most of the hall and at a guess, I would say that they accounted for 80% of the entrants.

    Opening Ceremony
    Again, this was pretty standard. There were a few short speeches and Takuya Iwasaki gave a very good roman salute to Matsuda Sensei from the Zenshinkan dojo, on behalf of all the competitors.

    I must admit that after the opening ceremony, I found somewhere quiet to go to sleep. If it wasn’t for Lawrence waking me up I would have probably missed my event! I did watch a few events, and I thought the standard was very good.

    Men’s Kata
    There were only five entries in this category, 3 of whom were from Shiramizu, myself, Lawrence and Tsubasa and the other two were friends of Lawrence. My only goal in kata was to perform without being nervous; my last two attempts at kata have been very shaky performances. I was first up with an offering of Chinto, with a guy from the Shotokan dojo with Kushanku. Lawrence was up next against the guy who beat me. Lawrence also performed Chinto, which I don’t think he’ll mind me saying, was not up to his usual standard. The Shotokan guy went through to the final to face the winner of the next match between Tsubasa and the other guy from the Shotokan dojo. Tsubasa performed very well, and got all 5 flags and thus went onto the finals. The final match was no contest, Tsubasa easily won with a great performance of Chatanyara Kushanku kata and got all 5 flags.

    Cadet & Ladies Kata - Amy’s Kata Debut...

    Misaki in action

    I watched Amy’s category with interest as it was her debut performance in a kata competition. Her ladies kata division was merged with the cadet’s because Amy was the only senior entry. The cadets are all very good, in particular Misaki and Kana from Shiramizu.

    Amy, mid-Chinto

    Amy gave a good performance of Chinto but didn’t get through the first round but she enjoyed the experience and will definitely be entering the next kata event.

    Kana, event final, Superinpei

    I was particularly impressed with Kana’s Superinpei in the final, the kata is overly long and she performed it exceptionally well, winning with 3 flags to 2.

    After the kata events, we all stopped for a 1 hour lunch break. During the break, most of Shiramizu donned their mitts for some kumite drills. I took the opportunity to beat up some of the kids who kidnapped my IPod earlier in the day...

    I didn’t watch many events, I was too conscious of my need to medal. I’d come away from the last two competitions without a prize and was eager to put an end to the dry spell. To add to the pressure, there were only 3 people in my category (including Lawrence) and I’d been given a bye to the final. Also, this was only the second time that I’d used one of the Japanese head guards, my first outing with this didn’t go particularly well!

    Amy’s kumite
    Amy was again the only entry for the ladies kumite so her division was combined with the cadets. I had my fingers crossed that she wouldn’t get disqualified.

    Misaki, Amy, Kana

    Amy’s first fight was against Misaki, who is more of a kata perfectionist than a fighter. Despite this, it was a very close fight. Both fighters traded very well, and the result could have gone either way. Amy however found her stride first and settled into delivering solid gyakuzuki’s as counter punches. Amy won the fight 6-4. Her next fight would be the final which would be held a little later on in a special ‘end of day’ event.

    Men’s kumite
    Lawrence was matched with the guy who beat us both in the kata.

    Lawrence (blue) in action...

    The fight was very good; Lawrence quickly took the fight to his opponent and found his stride.

    Go Lawrence...

    I was trying to coach from the sidelines but I’m not sure if he heard. Despite not being a fan of kumite, Lawrence is actually a very good counterpuncher. Whenever his opponent attacked, he was ready with a solid reverse punch to get the point.

    Still Lawrence...

    He easily outmatched his opponent to win the bout on the buzzer 7-1.

    The Finals
    After all the preliminary rounds had finished on the four areas, they were all dismantled and a central area was created for the 13 final matches. This was a really nice touch to the tournament as it let the crowd get closer to the action. The referee’s and the fighters were also introduced over the PA before each match which added to the excitement of each bout.

    The final events ran in typical order, youngest to oldest. There were some very close matches but most of the juniors stuck with hand techniques to try and get the 4 points clear.

    Yusuke (Arakawa Sensei’ oldest son) fought very well in his match, he was clinical and his opponent didn’t get close. An easy 4-0 win!

    Yuki and Rikuto, Kumite final

    Yuki and Rikuto (male cadets) from Shiramizu was a good match, with both guys throwing some great combinations including a few good sweeps and a well placed jodan-geri. Yuki won the match by a comfortable margin.

    Amy and Kana, Kumite final

    Amy and Kana’s fight was close, I thought Amy would have won easily but Kana, quickly found a weakness in Amy’s attack and used it to win the match.

    Next up was the men’s kyu grade final between two Shiramizu fighters. I didn’t watch much of this bout as I was getting warmed up for my match. What I did see of the fight was a brawl, with a few warnings being handed out. I always find this category to be the same - heavy contact but lots of effort.

    Carl Vs Lawrence
    I’d just watched Lawrence fight the best I’ve ever seen him fight, with some great counter punching. So I was a little apprehensive when we were called up. I couldn’t let him get settled in the fight otherwise it would become a very close contest. I took the fight to him, measuring distance with my lead hand trying to throw him off, and launched with a tobikomizuki to get a point. Lawrence launched in with a jab, but I was faster with a gyakuzuki to get another point. I then set him up for a jodan-uramawashigeri (hook kick to the head) which the crowd liked. Next, Lawrence moved in with a gyakuzuki-chudan which landed and should have scored because I was a little slow to react, I side stepped with a jab to the head. The referee wanted to give Lawrence the point, but was overruled by the three flag officials who, blindsided only saw my technique land. The result was 6-0.

    Closing ceremony and kumite awards
    Once the area was cleared away, all the competitors lined up for the kumite presentations. After the awards were given out, there were a few final speeches including a funny ‘lost-property’ announcement by Arakawa sensei. After the final ceremony everyone helped to clear up the tournament, which took a little more than ten minutes.

    The Shiramizu entrants... (picture from Arakawa Sensei' blog)

    The tournament was very well organised (I’ve put a few observations at the end of this post) and even finished early! It’s a shame that my kumite event was so small because it felt like an empty victory, despite being my first Japanese medal! Amy was quite pleased with her 2nd place medal too, which was also her first Japanese medal. Everyone had a great time and I think the way Arakawa sensei arranged the kumite finals was fantastic and really added to the atmosphere.


    About the tournament

    Officials and Volunteers
    I think it’s a testament to the character of Arakawa Sensei and Uehara Sensei (chief referee) that they got so many officials to help at the event. Kata had 5 flag officials, then an adjudicator and maybe 5 more people running the table. Kumite had 3 flag officials, the referee, adjudicator and maybe 10 people running the table. At a rough count I would say that there were 50 volunteers/officials for 4 areas.

    Run like clock-work!
    As soon as a category has begun, volunteers are getting the competitors for the next category ready in a separate location, with all relevant equipment. All ‘red’ competitors are put in one line, and all ‘blue’ in another. As soon as the final match has finished on the area, the new competitors are marched into the main hall. The red competitors go to the ‘red’ side and blue to theirs. The event is ready to go by the time the referee’s have bowed out. This organisation ensured that the competition could finish early.

    Tournaments in the UK often over run because of either a lack of officials and volunteers or because competitors are not where they are supposed to be, with the right equipment when called for.

    Points system
    Kata was run as WKF standard, red and blue flags, 5 flag officials with both aka and Ao performing their kata simultaneously except in the finals.

    Kumite for the juniors was to 4 points clear, cadets and seniors to 6 points, including the final. This ensured that the event ran so quickly. If I was to adopt this system I would probably have all events run to 6 points clear, because it’s too easy to get 4 points, one lucky kick and a punch and it’s all over! Also, for the finals (if time allowed) I would probably go for the WKF standard 8 points clear as it gives the fighters more chance to take risks and is therefore much more interesting to watch.

    What I think is a good idea is that the number of awards is dependent upon the number of competitors in that category. So, in large categories there were 8 awards – medals and certificates for 1st, 2nd and joint 3rd and certificates for next best 4. Some of the smaller categories (like my kumite one) only had 1 medal. I think this system is rather good, not only does it cut down on the cost of a tournament, BUT and perhaps more importantly, competitors have to earn the prize rather than just being awarded it for being there!

    Along with the standard event program, all competitors were given a pen printed with the tournament name on free of charge. A small and inexpensive way of having the event remembered!

    Friday, 24 October 2008

    Arakawa Sensei, Masters Party

    Carl here...

    On Sunday 19th October the seniors from the Shiramizu dojo decided to have party. This wasn’t just any old party though; it was to celebrate Arakawa Sensei becoming the All-Japan Masters Champion in the kumite division. It’s a great achievement to win this prestigious tournament, and Sensei trained hard for it, so why not have a party to celebrate winning?

    Amy and I

    Ueno-san had organised the party and had arranged a bus to pick up most people on the way to the venue in Satte city. Amy and I, Lawrence and a fashionably ‘on-time’ Richard Sensei joined a bunch of people, including Arakawa Sensei at the Shiramizu dojo to catch the bus. The journey was pretty un-eventful but spirits were high all the same. We stopped at Sugito Takanodai station en-route to pick up some more party-goers and then we headed to the venue.

    Our group was ushered upstairs to a huge and very traditional room. There were four large tables set up already with the food laid out, with cushions on the floor for everyone to sit on.

    Hmmm, where do we sit?
    I think it’s funny that us gaijin didn’t know where we should sit, we hung around in the hall way for a few minutes and watched what everyone else did. This really didn’t help as no-one was quite sure where they should sit. Richard Sensei explained later on that no-one wanted to appear to be in-polite by sitting were their rank didn’t warrant. This is typical of Japanese society; everyone has their place in their respective circles, be it sporting, social, working or family.

    Anyway, Richard took up a place at Arakawa Sensei’ table and Amy, Lawrence and I claimed a full table for the rest of the international arm of the Shiramizu dojo. This only lasted a few minutes because we were quickly joined by a number of others from the dojo which we didn’t mind at all.

    Get the party started...
    There was a few short speeches to kick off the party, Ueno-san explained why we were all here and Arakawa Sensei offered a few words of thanks to everyone for showing up to celebrate with him.

    Dodgy food!

    Before I dared try any of the rather dodgy food, I asked Yamazaki Sensei what some of the more unusual bits were. I think (!) the stuff in the large red pot was duck with an egg on top; there was also a small selection of tempura, raw fish, cooked sea food and a selection of weird stuff in the middle. After looking at the food for a few minutes I was ready to head to McDonalds, but then everyone started to tuck in so I downed a beer and braced myself to try to sushi!

    Left to Right: Carl (Intern V4), Amy, Lawrence (Intern V3), Richard

    Ok, so I was nearly sick. My body doesn’t like raw fish, at all! I quickly washed it down with more beer and moved onto the tempura, which thankfully tasted much better. At this point I saw my escape; one of the waitresses brought a crate of beer into the room. So I started delivering the beer to the different tables, topping up empty drinks along the way.

    In what seemed like no time, the group of us had gone through a couple of crates of beer and it was time for everyone’s speech, a lot of the food laid untouched.

    The speeches were kicked off by Fujimoto Sensei, a good friend of Arakawa Sensei. Of course, I have no idea what was said because it was all in Japanese. I’m going to guess that he said, Arakawa Sensei is a great guy and congratulations on winning the Masters! Everyone took their turn offering their congratulations to Sensei and saying what an inspiration he was. Listening to the speeches, I started to think what I could say when it was my turn, I had no idea. I was just going to wing it!

    Amy presenting Arakawa Sensei with flowers

    Amy on the other hand, had asked a number of her colleagues from work to translate her speech for her. I hoped I wouldn’t have to follow her speech. Amy’s speech was very well received, I think everyone like the amount of effort she had put into it. She said something like: ‘Sensei, congratulations on winning such a prestigious competition. You’re an inspiration to me and all your students please teach me to be as great as you!’

    Well, needless to say I had to follow Amy’s speech and being the ‘official’ intern, expectations were now high. I easily coasted through my last party speech in Japanese and then Amy’s great speech, I’m sorry to say that my Japanese speech was terrible.

    I managed something like:

    “Good evening (everyone replied good evening), ok see you...”

    ...I tried to escape out the door at this point which got a few laughs.

    “Congratulations Arakawa Sensei. Ueno-san, thanks for the Party.”

    Ok, I know it was lame. I was going for a short but sweet speech – honest!

    Thank you Keiko-san

    Arakawa was last to give a speech, which went on for a while. He gave us an animated blow by blow account of his win at the competition (which I’ve already written about on this blog). He also gave his long suffering wife a huge bunch of flowers as a thank you.

    After the speeches ended, we all posed for a few photos and then we were kicked out. Apparently these party venues are booked for time-blocks, and the beer is all you can drink in that time.

    Journey home
    The bus ride back to the dojo was quite entertaining as everyone was a little but tipsy, Fujimoto Sensei was complimenting Amy on her speech and his younger brother was singing Beatles songs and asking me if I understood what he was singing. I also ended up singing parts of my favourite Beatles song – Help!

    The food was definitely not to my tastes and I’m sorry to say that the Shiramizu end of year party will also be held there. The party was still a lot of fun, everyone had the chance to chill out, drink loads and have a good chat. Like I’ve already said, it’s a great achievement to win the Masters tournament but Arakawa Sensei just takes it all in his stride and like Richard Sensei has written previously, he has a lot of goals for next year to keep him occupied.

    Wednesday, 22 October 2008

    Kindergarten Sports Festival

    4 of the kids from the orange class

    Carl here...

    I realise that my last couple of posts (on the 'Karate Intern' blog) have been about sightseeing, so I just wanted to reassure my readers that the internship isn't all play and no work; I do occasionally get my hands dirty, sometimes!

    I was recently asked if I would like to volunteer to help at my kindergarten's sports festival. Obviously, wanting to get involved in as much as possible whilst in Japan, I jumped at the chance; I even volunteered Amy to help too! The scheduled day was Saturday 12th October, but on the morning I received a phone call from the kindergarten principle to say that the event had been postponed until the Sunday because of rain. This change of date meant that Amy couldn’t help out because she was already working in Tokyo, she would be dressing up as a witch for her kindergarten’ Halloween party.

    In the beginning...
    Sunday morning came, and the weather couldn’t have been better, a clear blue sky. The festival was being held in the kindergarten’s field, over the road from the main kindergarten building, this is very convenient because it's only 5 minutes along the road from my apartment. As I cycled towards the kindergarten, I found myself becoming more and more wary. I was passing a lot of cars with kindergarten kids in, and there full family’s! I was unsure of how I was supposed to be helping out; I had been practising various racing games and loads of dancing with the kids over the past few weeks, I had all my fingers crossed that I wouldn’t have to dance in front of 1000 people - 280 kids and their families, plus all the teachers and special guests, oh and did I mention that they had a TV crew?

    ...the risen sun!

    Opening Ceremony
    The event kicked off with all the students marching onto the field according to their respective class, and then the parent volunteers also marched on. I had the privilege of marching at the front of everyone, alongside the flag bearer, I had to make sure that the flag, and the little kid holding it didn’t take off in the wind! The ceremony was very good, especially since some of the kids are only 3 years old; they had to stand in line for a long time, during all the speeches and the raising of the Japanese flag and national anthem.

    part of the openinig ceremony

    The day consisted of lots of different games, races and general activities and everyone was encouraged to get involved. All the kids were kept busy, and most of the parents took part in at least one activity.

    The first event
    This was the first race of the day. The circuit was really good, the kids started by being a human ‘tank’, which was made out of cardboard.

    They then had to run under a big net...

    ...and pick up some ‘washing’ and put it into a basket and run to the next stage (with the basket) and ‘hang up’ the washing on a clothes line, then they had to sprint to the end. A unique way to teach life skills!

    In another game, the kids had to throw bean bags into baskets above them.
    Two teams competed against each other, the team with the most bean bags was the winner.

    The Parent and child skipping (4 people) was fun to watch, the most successful teams were those in which the parents just carried the kids and jumped. I’m not sure if that was cheating or not!

    The parents’ relay races were fun to watch. Each team had 8 people in, some of the parents got very ‘into’ it and dressed up for the occasion. This wasn’t to be a simple ‘running-only’ race however, in the spirit of trying to embarrass the parents as much as possible there was a little bit more to it. The parents ran for the first few metres whilst blowing up a balloon, when they got to the designated spot they had to sit in the balloon to burst it. Then they had to run another few hundred metres and get in some giant sacks, once they had hopped 10 metres or so, they had to sprint to the finish and pass on the baton.

    Band procession
    The Band procession was very good, especially when you remind yourself that some of these kids are only 3 and 4 years old. I’ve had a drum kit for years and these kids still kept a better rhythm than I can!

    We had an hour break for lunch, and all us teachers were served up some very nice sushi.

    Kids Relay races
    This was fun to watch, some of the kids didn’t seem to realise or maybe care that it was a race, and they were quite content slowly jogging around the circuit. They all had fun all the same, and that’s really what counts!

    Parents, 20-man skipping
    This game was just for the fathers and was very funny to watch, imagine 20 grown men try to skip in unison!

    The kids have been practising this for a few weeks now and I'm very sorry to say that I know the dance off by heart!

    After a few more different dances, I was (rather reluctantly) given the left hand of one of the teachers who had dressed up as a superhero, I'm sorry that I don't have a photo because her costume was very good. I was marched onto the field and then I had to help 'show' everyone the dance. Though thankfully, I don’t have any embarrassing photos of that to put online!

    The Final Event
    The final event was the finals of the parents relay event. The teachers (including me!) would be racing against the winners of the earlier heats. No pressure they said, but the teachers always win! We had to run ¾ of the way around, get into a big sack and hop for about 20 metres, then sprint the rest of the way and pass the baton onto the next team member.

    Closing ceremony
    For the closing ceremony, all the kids and volunteers marched back onto the field and the classes that had accumulated the most points throughout the day had trophies awarded to them. After the awards ceremony and speeches, the Japanese flag was lowered and the day ended.

    Despite getting some seriously pink sunburn, it was a really good day and my cheeks were aching because I had been smiling and laughing so much. I think I will be incorporating some of the games (especially the parent relay race and the ‘human-tank’) into my karate club’ summer event when I return to the UK.

    Wednesday, 27 August 2008

    Rescue Mission...

    We had a great day out at Kamakura (see previous post); we visited loads of important temples, the great Buddha, even the beach. It was a good day; all that was left was to get on the train home at the right time to make it in time for training which started at 8pm. We worked out that if we boarded the train at 6pm at Kamakura-Eki, we would arrive at Wado-Eki and still have time to get changed and to the dojo. No problem.

    The journey home couldn’t be simpler, the ‘Shonan-Shinjuku line’ goes all the way from Kamakura to Kuki, and so there is no need to change trains. We have to change at Kuki for a train to Wado, but that’s only a 3 minute train journey. As we were getting on the train near the start of its journey, we were able to get seats (trains can get filled to capacity during rush hours), so this made the journey a little easier. We sat down, plugged our IPod’s in and dozed off.

    When we got to Kuki, we got up and headed towards the gate. As I stepped off the train I reached for my phone to check the time, but the phone wasn’t in my pocket. It was obvious that I’d left it on the train, and I just had time to see the train doors close and the train leave the station.

    Amy, always quick thinking, pulled out her dictionary and started looking up the words for ‘phone, left on train’ etc... And we headed up to speak to the ticket guy in the station. The guy was very helpful, he understood straight away what I had done, he checked the train schedule and explained that the train would finish at Koganei-Eki at 9pm, and would be cleaned by 9.30pm. If there was anything left on the train, it would be found then and handed in. He asked for a contact number, so with both Richard and Lawrence already in Canada, I gave him Arakawa Sensei’ number. He said he would call at 9.30pm tonight.

    We said our thanks and headed to the platform for Wado, Amy laughing at my stupidity. When we got home, I got cleaned up and headed for the dojo. When I got their Sensei was in the middle of teaching the Adult class, so I went into the small office and checked my email while I waited. After the lesson, I explained the problem to Sensei. He was really helpful, he called my phone and left a voicemail message and then he started to look up the number for AU, the phone network in order to block the phone. Whilst he was looking, his mobile phone rang; it was the guy from the station. He explained that my phone had been found at Koganei-Eki and that I could collect it myself or they could post it out. I agreed to collect it on the next morning. Sensei was very happy for me; he shook my hand as he said that I was very lucky. I agreed.

    The rescue operation the next morning was very straight forward, all I had to do was go to Koganei-Eki which is about 1 hour from Kuki, pick up my phone, and come home. Hopefully I won’t have to repeat this again!


    Kozu Tsumi doku desu ka?

    Kozu Tsumi doku desu ka, this roughly translates into ‘where is the parcel located?’ Let me explain.

    Just before Amy and I left England, we thought that it would be a nice gesture if we could give every Shiramizu student a small present from Hartlepool Wadokai. This would be a great way for us to ahem, bribe (!) all the kids into liking us! No seriously, we thought it would help to reinforce the international links with both dojos.

    We needed something that would be small enough to bring in our luggage, something English, which you can’t get in Japan, and we needed 500 of them – easy enough! The obvious choice was a small key ring with the Hartlepool logo on. Ok, so we knew what we wanted.

    We spent the best part of a week looking around all of Hartlepool’s tourist shops. The choice they had was pretty poor, unless we wanted something with the monkey on. The other problem was that we needed to bulk buy, for some reason no-one stocked 500 Hartlepool key rings. By the end of the week, we were quickly running out of options, it was now Friday and we would be flying out to Japan on the Sunday! Even Ethan Hunt would struggle with this one...

    We decided to go to the Christ church, a converted church which is now an art gallery, right in the middle of town to pick up some small presents for Arakawa Sensei, Richard, Rei and Lawrence. Whilst we were there we had a look around their small gift shop and noticed the custom made key rings that they had. After making some enquiries with the shop keeper, it was agreed that she would pass on our contact details to their manufacturer.

    The manufacturer turned out to be local, and he called us that very same day. He agreed to make a sample key ring, with the Hartlepool Wadokai logo on for Saturday. Saturday came, and the guy delivered and we quickly ordered 500 key rings and 200 small badges too. The only problem was that he simply couldn’t make 500 key rings over night, so the only option was to post the finished products to us in Japan hence the ‘where is the parcel located?’.

    My mother posted the finished products out to us within a matter of days, and we waited and waited and waited. After 3 weeks, I started to wonder if the parcel had gone missing, or maybe had been stopped by customs or something. I didn’t really want to bother Sensei with this small problem, as he is a very busy man, more so now with the World’s just around the corner, besides, I was pretty confident that I could resolve this myself.

    On my next free day, I decided to cycle to the Post Office, which is only a 10 minute cycle ride from my house. I had my dictionary in hand, and I was pretty confident that I knew how to explain my predicament. I knew the basic words, though I wasn’t too sure of how to group them into a sentence, I decided just to ‘wing’ it. I was armed with 3 Japanese words as I walked to the counter.

    Parcel - Kozu tsumi
    From - Kara
    England - Egirisu

    Despite being ignorant of the word order, I was confident that I could get the message across. The first guy I spoke to was very polite, and he kindly gave me an envelope to post a parcel to England. I repeated my question, Kozu tsumi doku desu ka? At this point, a post office lady came along to help me out. I managed to convey that I was waiting for a parcel, so they had a look around for it. They quickly concluded that it must be at Sugito central post office, I thought this was funny because I had foolishly assumed that the parcel would be at my local post office. It doesn’t even work like that in England, so I don’t know why I thought it would in Japan. The post office manager kindly wrote down the phone number for the office.

    After thanking the two workers and bowing my way out, I headed back home so that I could look at my Sugito map and see where the sorting office is. After getting myself organised, dictionary still at hand, I arrived at the central sorting office. I went through the same thing as last time, and to be fair, the two people serving me were even more friendly and helpful. They searched everywhere, but in the end they concluded that it can’t have arrived yet. I was grateful for help but all I could do was wait and see if it would turn up.

    You might not find this story particularly interesting, but I think it’s great to see how accommodating the Japanese people are. Once they realise that you don’t understand the language, and you’re totally out of your depth, but trying anyway, they go out of their way to help. It also shows that you can get by with just a basic understanding of the language, just as long as you keep smiling.

    So what happened to the parcel? Well, as you would expect after my mini adventure, the parcel was delivered by courier the very next day. Typical!


    Friday, 15 August 2008


    Since arriving in Japan, I've wanted to visit Kamakura. This is effectively, the birth place of the samurai. Are you ready? here cometh the history lesson...

    In the 12th Century, the Taira family and the Minamoto family, both offshoots of the imperial line, had come to dominate the affairs of the Heian court. They were quite literally at each others throats in a battle for supremecy. In 1160, the Taira won a major battle, killing the Minamoto leader Yoshitomo in the process. This should have secured their control over Japan, it didn't. After the battle, they spared his 13 year old son, Yoritomo and sent him into exile, in doing this they made a serious mistake.

    Yoritomo had 20 years to gather support against the Taira, and plan his revenge. In 1180, he launched a rebellion and chose Kamakura, a natural fortress as his base of operations.

    Within 5 years, Yoritomo had completely destroyed the Taira, and the Minamoto had control of Japan. In 1192, Yoritomo forced the imperial court to name him shogun, effectively making him the head of state. He left the emperor in Kyoto as a figurehead, but ran Japan's first shogunate government from Kamakura, where it stayed for 141 years.

    We had an early start from Wado, but not too early to hit the rush hour on the trains. We arrived in Kita-Kamakura at 11.00am and headed straight to the closest temple we could find, which was opposite the station.


    Founded in 1282, this is the second most important Zen monastery in town and the biggest. For us, this was our first taste of Japanese temples, and we weren't let down. The photo's do enough talking, but it was very relaxing walking around the complex, especially when you can smell the insence burning.


    This is the most important temple in Kamakura, and established in 1250, claims to be the oldest in Japan. Despite this temple being smaller than Engaku-ji, there is still plenty to see. The only problem was with the sheer amount of steps to climb. We climbed all the way to the top of mountain for some great panoramic views of Sagami bay and Fuji-san.

    The Minatomo Shrine, Tsuru-ga-oka Hachiman-gu

    This temple is dedicated to Emperor Ojin, his wife and his mother - from whom Minamoto no Yoritomo claimed descent.

    Daibutsu - The great Buddha

    The 37ft bronze figure was cast in 1292, and was originally housed in a huge temple. In 1495, the temple was washed away in a tidal wave. For over 500 years, the buddha has faced all the extremes of the seasons from freezing winters to scorching summers.

    It's a very impressive place, and you instantly feel at peace in the presence of such a huge (literally) symbol of Buddhism.

    After spending most of the day seaking spiritual enlightenment, there was only really one thing to do next. We headed for the beach.

    Off to the beach...

    The weather was settling down by the time we got to Sagami bay, so it was a good time to just sit down on the dirty grey sand and chill out. There was quite a lot of litter on the beach, which was disappointing but no doubt the beach had been filled to bursting by thousands of Tokyo-ites eager to catch some rays.

    It was great watching all the surfers and windsurfers in action, and the best part? there was still plenty of eye candy around.

    We walked back along the beach towards Kamakura-eki, walking past lots of bars, some of which had pretty good dance music playing. One place in particular had a great beat that Gaijin and local's alike were dancing too. We will definately be coming back here...

    Monday, 11 August 2008


    All photo's in this article have been taken from

    On Monday, Amy and I decided to head into Tokyo for some sightseeing. Here's how it went, with a little history thrown in for good measure!

    In 1868 Emperor Meiji moved his capital from Kyoto to Edo, renaming in Tokyo (the Eastern Capital), Shinjuku became the railhead linking the city to Japan’s western provinces. Travellers would rest and refresh themselves for the final leg of their journey to the imperial palace. The popularity and importance of Shinjuku has not waned, and today 3 million commuters pass through Shinjuku Eki every day, making it the busiest station in Japan.

    By day, Shinjuku Eki is a huge concentration of retail stores, malls and discounters of every description. By night, the area is an equally impressive collection of bars, parlours and restaurants – just about anything that amuses, arouses or intoxicates can be bought here, if you know where to look.

    The main reason for me wanting to come to Shinjuku is the Skyscraper district. I know it's a little bit sad, but they are an impressive sign of what can be accomplished when you put your mind to it. The area also adds some definition to an otherwise un-defined Tokyo skyline.

    Tokyo Tocho – Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office
    Built by architect Kenzo Tange, this huge city hall complex was started in 1988 and was completed in 1991 at a staggering cost of 157 billion yen! That is roughly £780 million, that’s the same as some developed countries GDP.

    The main building has 48 stories, and it splits on the 33rd floor into two towers. There are observation decks on the 45th floor of both towers and I’m told that on a clear day, you can see Mount Fuji. Unfortunately, it wasn't a clear day when we visited, BUT, we did take a photo of where Fuji should be!

    We headed for the south tower, and had a short wait when we entered the building for the elevators to the observation decks, we also had to get our baggage searched. I must say that I was a little disappointed when we got to the 45th floor. The view was ok, but the visibility wasn't good enough to see any great distances. I think I was naively expecting something similar to the view from the 110 storey New York World Trade Centre which I visited before they were destroyed in 2001.

    The floor had windows all the way around the outside to view the city, there was a small cafe in the middle and a tiny gift shop. There was also a small exhibition for Japan's bid for the next Olympics. After a while of looking at the city, and posing for a few pictures, we decided to join the huge queue to get back down to the ground floor.

    Next, we decided to go to the Shinjuku Park Tower Building
    for lunch. After a very nice curry from an Indian restaurant, we had a short walk back to the station, where we had a look around.

    Subnade –the most extensive underground arcade in Tokyo
    This place is full of shops and restaurants, all underground... I'm sure this is really impressive, it's certainly an impressive piece of engineering, and it is huge. But by the time we got here, I was tired and hungry, so we got some snacks and headed back home. Maybe next time we're coming through here I'll appreciate it a little more... maybe.


    The Inner Voice and the Holy Grail

    Carl’s Random thought of the moment

    When training, always strive to stay in the now. For some people, this may seem to be a strange concept, but let me explain with an example...

    When working on your Kata, maybe for a tournament, it’s easy to get distracted by your minds inner voice. I know what you’re thinking; only crazy people talk to themselves, but everyone has this inner voice. And before you start, I’m not condoning you walking down the high street having an all out argument with yourself because, believe me, those men in white coats will be coming after you!

    What I am talking about is that inner voice that forces you to do the right thing, to turn up for training when it’s a hot summer night, to get out of bed early in the morning to go for a run before you start work.

    Now, in relation to training, this inner voice can be both good and bad. Some of the benefits I’ve already mentioned, and there are many more. For me, one of the main negatives is when your inner voice is taking you out of the now during practise or worse during a tournament bout. When you’re toe to toe with the current Kumite world champion, with 30 seconds remaining, the last thing you could possibly want is to be in ‘la la land’ with your inner voice. I’ve let my inner voice talk me into losing a place in the finals of the Wadokai England National Championships. The voice in my head was telling me that I shouldn’t be fighting so well, that I hadn’t done enough training and that I was carrying an injury. This negative self talk took my mind off the fight and I ended up losing to a guy who I simply shouldn’t have!

    Now, this inner voice isn’t always bad, like I’ve already mentioned. I’ve often use positive self talk to get myself ready for a bout; it’s a great way of getting ready for a fight. During the fight however, you don’t want to be thinking at all.
    The Japanese call the desired state mushin, I believe this translates to ‘no mind’. No, this doesn’t mean that you need to become an extra from Shaun of the dead. It means that your body should be so well honed, your techniques so well rehearsed, that your body moves of its own accord, and your mind is not needed. Professional athletes call this being in the zone.

    This state can be likened to a time when you can do no wrong, all of your techniques find their target and it’s all effortless. This state is the holy grail of every athlete, regardless of sport and something that we all strive for. How you get in the zone is a very personal affair, and must be discovered on your own, sorry, there is no magic formula.

    To be able to stay in the now can become a very strong training tool. Imagine how much more you could accomplish in the dojo if, when you bow in, and you walk over the threshold of the dojo you could flick a switch that leaves all your petty thoughts, problems and ambitions at the door. This would allow you to concentrate 100% at the task at hand, your training. Without your ego or ambitions in the way, and without your inner voice deciding which brand of beer you’re going to crack open after training, you are truly free of everyday life, at least for a moment. You are free to concentrate on putting that kata just right, and nothing else.

    Just think what you could accomplish if you could master this skill, and I’m not saying that it would be easy, things worth achieving are never easy. But this is a life skill that can be transferred into all walks of life.

    What are you waiting for? Go, practise...

    Monday, 28 July 2008

    Sightseeing - Imperial Palace, Tokyo

    Today (21st July) is a national holiday in Japan (Marine Day according to my phone), so no work to worry about. Even if I did have work, it would only be a one hour adult class. We decided to go to the Imperial Palace in the middle of Tokyo and (finally) do some tourist stuff.

    So, a bit of a History lesson for you...
    The Imperial Palace is on the sight of what was once Edo-jo (Edo = early Tokyo, a little fishing village + jo = castle. Ieyasu Tokugawa chose this sight for his castle in 1590 after making a deal were he was awarded the eight provinces of Kanto in exchange for his three provinces closer to Kyoto (the capital). Tokugawa was fine with the exchange, he was Lord of Kanto, the richest granary in Japan, and it gave him the chance, and the finances to build a mighty fortress to rival Kyoto. Within 10 years, he was ruling the whole country from Edo-jo as military shogun.

    Tokugawa secured 250 years of unbroken peace for Japan. The shogunate was eventually overthrown in a bloodless coup in 1867. The following year, Emporer Meiji moved his court to Edo, from Kyoto and renamed the city Tokyo - the Eastern Capital.

    At its peak, the castle had 99 gates, 21 watchtowers (3 are still standing) and 28 armouries. It was completed in 1640, and at the time, was the largest castle in the world.

    We arrived late afternoon, which meant that we coudn't visit the gardens as they were closing (we'll go back later). We had a good walk around, and it's not until your stood infront of the walls, and start walking around them, that you really appreciate the size and complexity of the building. We had a good day of sightseeing.