Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Lost in Translation...

No, this post isn't about the movie!

I just thought I'd share a funny conversation that I had with Arakawa Sensei today over lunch. Every Wednesday morning, their is an adult training session at the Shiramizu dojo. Afterwards the students and instructors usually go for lunch and today was no exception.

The instructors were talking about a new movie that was coming out in Japan, I could follow a little bit of the conversation even though it was all in Japanese.

Arakawa Sensei asked if I knew the movie 'Ai-yama'. I said no. He told me it was very famous, about machine suits (?), but I just assumed that it was some japanese style movie. I picked up my mobile and quickly went on the internet searching for 'Ai-yama' but only found brief references to Yoga.

Anyway, Arakawa Sensei searched the internet and showed me this:

Arakawa Sensei said 'IRONMAN' and not 'AI-YA-MA'...

I thought it was funny anyways...

Monday, 9 February 2009

Kita-Kasushika Area Karate Championships

The Shiramizu English intern tag-team!

Yesterday was the Kita-Kasushika Area Karate Championships held at the Asukaru Centre in Satte City. I thought this was going to be a small local competition, I was therefore pleasantly surprised to find out that there was over 500 entrants and a reasonable number of competitors in my own divisions.

For a full report on the comp, go to http://japankarateintern.blogspot.com.

I just thought I'd mention that Amy performed very well, making her way to the finals of her division and took gold. Her FIRST EVER Individual Gold medal, a great achievement in Japan... Nice one Amy!

Amy 'high fiving' her opponent during a match!

Making her way comfortably to the finals to win her first ever individual Gold Medal, in Japan of all places!!!

Amy with her FIRST EVER individual Gold Medal!

Lawrence in action...!

Carl's winning punch

Carl mid-flight, a moment before the right leg connects to his opponents head

In other news, I went onto to get 2nd place after some good fighting... but I think the day was Amy's!

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.