A budo bum returns to Japan, Nov 2007

Lost in Translation - A Budo Bum back in Japan

Danny James, Nov 2007
Hi everyone,
I've been in Japan now for about 3 weeks, nominally I am staying 2 hrs south of Tokyo in what could be described as the surfers town of Tsujido. I say surfers town because the waves are pretty small and the beach is black, but there sure are plenty of surfers. On a clear day you can see Mt. Fuji in the distance, I understand this is something of a rarity though because it was the day after a typhoon has passed, even the locals were out taking photos of Fujisan. Although this is my third visit to Tsujido and the nearby Keio University Campus it is my longest stay by far and starting to feel at home, rather than terroised by the local cyclists wizzing by on the side walk, and buying less of those delicous looking pastries that are actually filled with curried something or other. 

I am here courtesy of a Japan Society for the Promotion of Science fellowship, host by Assoc Prof. Yuji Ohgi at Keio university. Yuji and i met 2 years ago at a conference in Tokyo where I presented some work on sword swing analysis. Its been great to seen him again as well as his wife and daughter, who we had the pleasure of hosting in Brisbane earlier in the year. We are continuing a collaboration which I hope will grow over the years reaching into local universities and hi-tech busnesses in Australia and Japan. 

Charlie has joined me for a week or so (almost post PhD thesis submission but sadly not to be) and two w/ends. During this time we visited the Hakone region, famous for its hotsprings and views of Fujisan. Here we stayed at a Ryokan (traditional inn) enjoying traditional dinner and breakfast in a shared living room. Dressed in Yukata (like a gi) and Haori(over coat) for the occasion, we managed to gorge ourselves on a series of traditional foods and drink. Meals seem to be a series of small 'treats', one meal incudes fermented squid in liver paste - definitely not for the faint hearted esp. for breakfast (nor any other time).

The hot springs have a lovely mountain aspect and are great to soak in before and after meals. The bath takes some getting used to, not only do you have to get nakie with all the other patrons (females and males are seperated...sorry guys) but there is of course some ettiquette to follow.
Firstly dowsing ones self from wooden buckets is essential (while perched on what I am sure passes for a decent sized stool for the japanese butt) before entering the baths, and the wearing of your washing cloth on you head as you soak (so as to not sully the water). Fortunately I had previous received expert instruction from Sunter-san and a local plumber on a previous outing at a Sento (bathhouse) in Tokyo. Of course no trip to Tokyo is complete with out visiting the Meguro Parasitological Museum, that's what Charlie told me anyway (Parasites are her area of proffessional expertise - no jokes about husbands please).

Coming face to face with an 8m tapeworm certainly has me rethinking the amount of raw fish I am eating over here, though Yuji assures me that all Sashimi chefs are trained to recognise all the parasites in fish, I'm not so sure. Just the other night at a conference commitee dinner I finally met my match, being served live squid (it was actually trying to crawl off the table), before the tentacles were cut and handed around to eat. Contemplating still twitching tentacles...while the squid stared me down...well.... Fortunately the (the squid) returned later on in roasted form and I was able to appreciate the freshness much more. 

On Charlies second last day we visited Kamakura, a well known temple region quite close to where we were staying and was the home of the first Japanese shogun. It was a real pleasure to get away from the hustle and bustle for a while and explore the somewhat ruralised location. Along the way were were fortunate to stumble upon a traditional music concert in one of the shrines and were treated to shakuhachi (japanese flute), koto (a dozen strings or each on a seperate ridge ) and shami sen (3 stringed banjo), from what i could tell the performers where led by an 8-dan practicioner and most of them held sandan or above in their respective instrument schools. Later on we visited one of the shrines where people go to wash their money to give themselves good fortune - probably a good opportunity to clean the tired VISA cards too! I'll be returning to Kamakura for a swimming conference later in my trip. On Charlies last day we spent some time strolling around Enoshima island, a pilgrimage destination of sorts supported by the gentry and artisans of yesteryear with many shrines on it and one of the few places where we saw traditional souveniors that westerns appreciate.


I have managed thus far to train several times with Maruyama Sensei, although its a 2+hr trip to sensei's dojo involving train, subway and buses and asking lots of stupid questions along the way. We also spent some time with him, Yasuko san and Tokyo last wekend. As many of you know I am just his student, whilst Charlie is his favourite (Yasuko san even knitted her a special cardy) and it was nice to spend some relaxed time with them away from seminar pressures. 

Although I've been to Tokyo a few times its still a daunting network of busses, trains (JR national railway), the subway and private railway lines as well. There are a few traps for the unwary and I've fallen for most of them and more than once! In addition to signs in english(romaji), hiragama and chinese characters not all stations sharing the same name are in the same place. Most are joined by labyrinthine passageways filled with purposeful locals, scurrying to make their train (even though the next one comes in 5 mins time). Note to self, don't stay out too late with the dojo drinking sake as you might just miss the last direct train home and have to find alternate routes or explain what a 'capsurel hoteru' is to Charlie (I took the former option as being easier). It been nice to see some familiar faces there from previous visits and meet new ones, together with meeting other western visitors who drop in from time to time. It was nice to see Will Reed sensei there and also to receive Daito-Ryu inspired instruction again from Okajima Sensei, guest instructor from Osaka who took a class. 

With Charlie back home I'm currently in Tsukuba for a conference before moving on to another in Kamakura. I think I'm just a few hours from the shrine to O'sensei but that will have to wait for another trip. Interestingly the president of what was to become Tskuba University was Jigaro Kano, the founder of Judo. Before returning home I head up to Yamagata University in the north for some research and hope to have time to explore the mountains with Yuji as well.