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...