Tuesday, June 30, 2009

First impressions

Hello!! Erica here.

So my first impression of Japan is hot and long train rides. Lawrence came to get me from the Narita airport and we took the train for about 2 hours to a station near where I am staying with my suitcases. That was quite an experience. The first couple of days, the weather wasn’t too bad but today it was raining outside so I expected it to be cool like it is in Vancouver when it rains. Not only was it not cool bu it was very humid and possibly hotter than it was yesterday when it wasn’t raining. Imagine what karate class is like in this weather? Hot, very hot indeed but then you work up a really good sweat and after a nice shower, you'll pass out even before your head hits the pillow.

Aside from these two things (which sound like complaints anyway), everyone here is really warm and welcoming. I'm very happy to learn that most of them understand and speak English quite well, which is a relief for me because all I can say in Japanese is “Hi, nice to meet you. My name is Erica. I’m 22 years old.” It’s all I’ve been saying for the past week! I should really start learning how to speak it and maybe eventually learn to read so I can understand the menus instead of asking Louise (who is super at Japanese) to translate things for me.

PS – I got lost walking to the train station and ended up being late for work because Carl went ahead. That was embarrassing, considering I didn’t even get lost on the train line (which is very easy to do!!) but walking TO a train station...fun times..

Yamazaki sensei, Louise, me and Yoshihara sensei

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Hello hello hello.

Hello hello hello. Louise here.

Erica has pretty much summed up my first impression of Japan: hot! Coming from the New Zealand winter, (where we've had temperatures down to -4° C) it was a bit of a change, but training in the heat makes me appreciate how cool it is when I'm not training.

I would like to make a disclaimer here: I'm not actually super at Japanese. I can read hiragana and katakana (two of the three Japanese alphabets) and if I'm lucky I understand about 30% of what people say, though often not even that. Luckily Erica can read kanji (characters derived from Chinese) as she knows Mandarin and Cantonese, so together we can usually figure out written Japanese. Now that's what I call teamwork!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

New Recruits... Part 2! (Erica)

Carl here,

Erica arrived late on Monday evening, so after training at the Branch dojo is Satte City, Louise, Arakawa Sensei and I went to Kuki station to pick her and Lawrence up. Lawrence kindly agreed to chaperone Erica from Narita airport because Arakawa Sensei couldn't make it.

Once Louise and I had finished working at the Sugito Shirayuri Kindergarten (Louise' first day of work), we (Louise, Erica and I) had a walk to a local restaurant to grab some lunch, talk over the intern work schedule and generally get to know each other. I'd say we all 'gelled' very well, with each of us making fun (in a nice way!) of the differences in the way we all talk... I was trying to explain that I spoke 'Queens English' or 'Correct English', whilst they both speak a version of English that isn't quite as pure... I'm not sure they agreed though!

On the afternoon, Erica joined me at the Shiramizu English class for two lessons which were both very loud, high energy affairs. Erica settled into the classes immediately, the kids quickly got over their initial shyness around the 'new foreigner', and Erica helped me run both classes. Meanwhile Louise was asked to assist at one of the kids karate classes.

Sorry, I don't have as many photo's as the last blog post - I didn't realise I had my camera in my kit bag until after the English Classes!

On the evening, Erica had her first taste of Japanese Karate - Shiramizu Style, with the adult class that was taken by Uehara & Kikuchi sensei.

Sensible pic: Louise (left) and Erica (right), at last nights adult karate class (Erica's first Karate class)

Trademark 'Intern-Style' Pic: Louise (left) and Erica (right)

Wednesday morning, both ladies attended the Adult Karate class at the dojo and afterwards we joined some of the Sensei and went for lunch.

Louise (far right) & Erica (2nd from the right)

New Recruits... (Louise)

Carl here,

As you will probably be aware, the first of the two new intern's has finally arrived in Japan. Louise Fisk a 3rd Dan from Robbie Smith Sensei' New Zealand Wadokai arrived early on Saturday morning.... and was asked by Arakawa Sensei to watch the 'high performance' class on the Saturday afternoon (where I met up with her after I got home from work). Louise was itching to get stuck in to training and could be seen practising when she thought no-one was looking! In the evening, Louise could finally put her karate suit on and do some training...

Amy (left) & Louise (right)

Louise had a few days to settle in to her temporary apartment before Erica (the other new intern) arrived and before she started work, so Amy, Louise and I decided to use Sunday to do some sightseeing, souvenir shopping and get to know to know each other a bit better.

Amy, Intern 4.5 (left) & Louise, Intern 5.0 (right)

We headed to Asakusa, the site of one of the most popular temples in Tokyo, Senso-ji, and a great place to pick up souvenirs.


Then went on a 45 minute ferry cruise along the Sumida Gawa (Sumida river)....

...to the Hama Rikyu Tei-in (Detached Palace Garden), a very nice example of a Japanese garden with the city of Tokyo looming in the background. Being a nature lover, and a scientist, Louise had a great time there...

...We spent a long time in the park/garden, mainly because every time we walked past a tree, Louise did this:

which looked like great fun, so naturally I gave it a go too:

I ended up walking around the park in the opposite direction to the two ladies and thought it would be diffucult to find them again, but then I saw a sign for a '200 year old pine tree' and knew instantly were they would be headed!

...a 200 year old pine tree - wow!

When we found each other again (at the 200 year old tree!) we left the park and had a walk up to the popular shopping district in Ginza, and naturally visited the big toy shop there. We grabbed some noodles at a basement restaurant and caught the train to Ueno, bought an alarm clock (for Louise) and headed to the movies in Satte city with David and Chris (two other Canadians from Shiramizu) where we were planning to catch the new Star Trek movie, though sadly, our organisational skills were lacking and the only show times had a very late finish... so we grabbed some snacks instead... We all had a great time, and I already feel like I've known Louise for years!


Louise joined Arakawa Sensei at the Sugito Shirayuri Kindergarten for her interview, then shadowed me for the last hour whilst I tought an English class. Then she was 'invited' to help out at the Monday Kindergarten karate class. Arakawa Sensei gave all the kids a 'mini' English lesson, and got all the kids to introduce themselves in English... 'My name is...., Nice to meet you'...

Louise helped Arakawa Sensei teach this class and then I joined them to go to the branch dojo at Asukaru Sports Centre in Satte city. Louise then trained in the Special Kata class whilst I helped with the rest... Afterwards we all went to Kuki station to pick up Erica who was chaperoned from Narita airport by Lawrence (Intern V3). We had a very quick introduction and by this time it was getting very late so we took dropped off Erica at her temporary apartment for some sleep with an agreement to have a 'proper' introduction tomorrow...

Sorry, no pics of Erica yet - the battery died on my camera....!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Saitama-ken Junior JKF Taikai...

Hello, Amy here!

I thought I would just tell you all about the Saitama-Ken Junior JKF Taikai (or… the Saitama prefecture JKF Junior Championships) that was held on the 22nd and 23rd of May in Ageo city.

Unfortunately due to certain rules (not being juniors) we, (Carl and I) were not allowed to enter. We decided that we would go regardless and lend our support to the Shiramizu Team. Who would be entered under their town names, rather than dojo - as this was a regional qualifier for the ‘All-style Nationals’ later in the year.

On the 22nd Carl was busy at work, so I had to brave this unknown region to find the Ageo Budokan. For this mission Carl had armed me with a printed map and a very rough idea of where to find the competition. It was basically to be found on a very large green splodge on the map…..somewhere….

{Carl here… the map was courtesy of Google Earth, and it’s never let me down yet – some people simply can’t read maps :-) }

I found myself at Ageo train station and flipped a coin to decide in which direction to go in. I wandered through the streets following my map, passing further and further away from civilisation. It was a bit disconcerting when the ‘7- 11’ convenience store failed to materialize as this was my landmark on the map. But I continued on regardless and found the green splodge which happened to me an immense park with many sports buildings held within it and a huge deserted amusement park. I must admit however that the park did have many huge 3D maps in which to check your location……unfortunately there all were in Japanese. So again with the coin I decided in which direction to start my search. After walking and seemingly not moving for a long time I arrived at a car park the size of a small town. With my eagle eyes I soon found a sign to show that all my efforts were not in vain………….a group of youths with really stylish hair in karate bottoms…’YATTA’ I did it!!

Note the easily recognisable Shiramizu Banner on the right hand side!

Once inside it was easy to find the Shiramizu camp, just look for the huge flag. I was just in time to watch Masatoshi perform in Kata. Round after round Masatoshi won with a great example of Kushanku.

Masatoshi (Arakawa Sensei' younger son, Grade 3 Elementary) in action

As this was a large event there was a wait between watching the Shiramizu Competitors. But this was not a hindrance as it gave me time to watch the other competitors from different styles, especially the Kata which was preformed picture perfect almost every time!

Masatoshi enjoying a break after winning his Kata division (sitting on Yuki's knee)

(After a few hours I was looking forward to Carl trying to find the Ageo Budokan. I was sure that he would become completely lost. However I was in for a disappointment, as he managed to get a lift to the front door of the Budokan from his workplace…..DOH!!)

Kana mid-Chinto

Carl was just in time to witness Kana perform Chinto. She preformed amazingly and got through many rounds, unfortunately she was beaten by a kata from a different style, which was also performed with expert precision. Misaki was also performing Chinto (perfectly) and made it into the semi-fimals of the next day.

We also had the chance to watch some of the Shiramizu Instructors compete. Arakawa Sensei won his kumite category with ease.

Suzuki Sensei in action, with a rather questionable use of his lead leg... hmmm!

Suzuki Sensei had some trouble in his kumite but did well in his kata. Yamazaki Sensei competed in kata only and won her first round. In her second round unfortunately it went to three flags to two in her opponents favour.

All the Shiramizu students did amazing, but a special mention has to go to the high school boys kumite team.

Rikuto (left) recoiling from a reverse punch...

Which was the highlight of the entire competition. They fought amazingly with a good range of techniques. They showed great team spirit. It was definitely the amount of training and effort that these young lads put in that secured their victory.

It was a good way to spend the weekend. But Shiramizu weren’t the only ones competing that day, across the other side of the world Hartlepool Wadokai (our dojo) team was competing in the Aiwakai Nationals, our association’s national club championships. The team of 18 competitors (including both of Carl’s parents – in the Veteran Kata division) competed in both kumite and kata and brought home 20 medals. Well Done Everyone!!!!

Highlight video of Shiramizu's 10th Annual Club Taikai

This is from the 10th Annual Shiramizu Karate Club Championships.
It was held on Feb 22, 2009 at the Asukaru Community Center, Satte City, Saitama Prefecture. It was a fun, inter-club event for the home dojo and branch locations. Out of the 450 members, probably about 250+ took part as competitors, while many more took part in the demonstrations.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Lolly Pop Kindergarten

Carl here...

I'm fully aware that the last few posts (excluding the intern interviews) on here have been all about sightseeing. I thought that I should write a post about work, since when not training, eating chocolate, sleeping, reading the mammoth 'Wheel of Time' series (I'm onto book 11 if you were wondering!), climbing mountains and generally having a great time, I do occasionally have to work... OK, not occasionally actually. I work Monday to Saturday and my schedule is crazy busy, even if I do say so myself...


I landed a job at the Lolly Pop Kindergarten in Iwatsuki in October last year, where I now work every Friday morning. It's really a dream job, all the teachers are really cute... I mean, nice... really nice people... the kids are great, the pay is very good and they even feed me! What more could you ask for?

This is me working hard!

My usual routine is this:

I get picked up at Kita Kasukabe Train Station

10:00 - 11:45 ish
I have a great time with the kids, building sand castles, playing football, playing Sumo with the kids (no really!) etc...

11:45 - 12:45
I help the teachers serve the lunch to the kids. This is actually pretty impressive, the kindergarten cater for approx 300 people everyday, the foods always delicious and totally healthy and it's all done like clockwork.

Teaching, yes I do actually do some proper work too. My hour is usually broken down into 3x 20 minute slots for 3 different classes. The classes are soooooo easy to teach because the kids and teachers are so enthusiastic...

After finishing work here, I get dropped off at Toyoharu Train Station on the Tobu Noda Line. I catch the train to Omiya and chill out for an hour or so before I catch the 15:30 new shuttle to Yoshinohara for my second job of the day.

The past two weeks however, have been a little different... Apparently the principle decided that I'd been working too hard so I should go with the kids on their next field trip. And this is what we did:

...we went to a nearby farm... and were met by a local farmer and a Cable TV Crew!

...were given a short talk about 'chicks'

...we then handed out the animals to the kids... with mixed reactions...




...though most of the kids had a great time...

After stopping a few of the poor animals from getting squashed to death by over-zealous kids, and 'saving' a few birds from their occasional bids for freedom, the kids were all instructed to turn around and face the rice field and release the birds en-masse...

All that was left was the interviews with the teachers...

This is the kids bullying a shy kindergarten teacher into giving a TV interview...

...and the kids for the evening news...

After the birds had been set free, and the interviews finised, we loaded up the kids and headed to a local supermarket where we were all treated to small ice cream and chocolate snacks. Then it was back to the kindergarten for lunch and my short teaching stint.

The following week was just as good... I went on a very short bus trip to the local temple with the kindergarten 4 year olds, which is around the corner from the kindergarten.

We split the kids into two groups, the first group went to see the small garden and pond and the second went to the temple.

Camera shy... indeed!


It was a very sunny, but very windy day and more than a few of the kids caps were teken away by the wind. After looking around the temple and garden the kids went hunting for acorns and seeds for the craft classes back at the kindergarten.

Then it was back to the kindergarten for lunch.

See, as my readers will no doubt agree, I DO work sometimes....!

NEW INTERN v5.5 - Erica's Interview

Carl here to post Amy's interview with Erica....

The two 'replacements' will be here in less than two weeks (at the time of writing this post), and since we've already introduced the world to Louise (Intern v5.0) we thought it was about time to introduce Erica Ip (Intern v5.5) who hails from the same dojo as Lawrence (Intern v3) in Vancouver, Canada.

University Graduation with my mom

Erica, please tell the readers a little about yourself……

I’m 22 years old, just graduated from the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver, Canada, with a bachelor in Science for Food Nutrition and Health. I was born in Vancouver and I speak English, Cantonese and Mandarin. Before university, when I had time to myself I played volleyball, was in a band, enjoyed a good book and loved baking. In a nutshell, I’m somewhat of a nerdy athletic type all rolled up into one. Currently, I have started to learn the art of appreciating wine after a wine course that I took and TA-ed for (TA= teaching assistant). It really is a matter of exposure.

When did you first start karate and what grade are you currently at?

I first started karate when I was 12, but at the time the dojo I joined, we (Pacific Spirit Wadokai) were with Shintani (the Shintani Karate Federation, which is a non Wadokai group in Canada) so I didn’t start proper Wado with Norma (Norma Foster, head of the official Wadokai Canada) until 5 years ago. I am currently a brown belt and was hoping to get my shodan before arriving in Japan, but the exam date got pushed back so perhaps I will grade when I get there...

Why did you start karate in the first place and why did you stick with it?

Karate was an afterschool program at our elementary school and my sister really wanted to take it, but she wasn’t allowed to unless I went with her. She talked me into it and that’s how I started. After taking it for some time I found that I really enjoyed it, not so much the fighting part, but the exercise and self discipline. There is always more to learn, more ways to improve and that is why I think I chose to stick with it.

A very old picture of when I first started Karate.
I'm the orange belt in the back row.
Hey! Lawrence is in this too.

What do you believe is your greatest achievement in karate and why?

I think my greatest achievement would that I have stuck with it for so long. Aside from my education, I don’t think I’ve done anything for more than 10 years. There have been times when my attendances in class were a little shady, but I have always been there and ready to learn, even with the transition in style.

When did you first think of coming to Japan?

The World Wado Karate Championships in Vancouver summer of 2008. I was a volunteer at the event and got to see all the amazing kata and kumite from all these people who had travelled to the event from different countries. I thought to myself that it would be amazing if I were half as good as they were. At that point, Lawrence and I were talking and he told me about his experience as an intern in Japan and told me that I should consider applying. A couple of weeks later, I decided that going to Japan on the internship would indeed help me along the road of becoming better at karate and more. So here I come!

Please describe your image of Japan.

My image of Japan is quite a mosaic. The initial thought is that Japan is very traditional with their rich history, rituals and beliefs, but then it is currently known for its advances in technology and the fashion scene. Then it goes to random images of cherry blossoms, geishas, Harajuku girls, tea ceremonies, samurai, sumo wrestlers, anime and the bullet train. Like I said random.

What do you hope to achieve in your year as intern?

I hope to learn as much as I can in karate to take back to Canada, but also the Japanese language and culture. Japanese was one of the options as a second language at my high school, but I chose to take French instead, which is the second official language in Canada. Little did I know back then that Japanese would have been far more beneficial to me today seeing as how half the population cannot speak both of the official language.

Aside from learning karate from its origin, I do hope to contribute any way I can. I’m not sure how I will be able to help, but I see this internship to be a dynamic equilibrium and not just a one way relationship where I am the only one who is taking from it.

Making it to Peak 2 on a hiking trip (Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains, BC, Canada)

How do you think the karate training will differ from your own country?

I have no idea aside from the fact that it will most definitely be way hotter (in the summer at least). I was training at Norma Sensei’s club in Burnaby where she likes to crank the heat up to around 30 degrees Celsius while we train, leaving all of us drenched by the end of the class. She comes up to me at the end and says, “You think this is bad? Wait until you get to Japan!” Aside from that, I think I will be training more in Japan than if I were in my own country because in Canada, I have many distractions such as work, school, friends and family, but in Japan, all I see myself doing really is training and working...and training.

Where do you hope to visit in Japan?

Definitely Tokyo, it looks like Vegas and Hong Kong put together! Think of all the awesome places for shopping!! I can’t visit all of them, but some of the shrines look so beautiful, though I am not spiritual, they are still captivating. I also want to visit Kyoto and Gion for its history because I’ve always been interested in the more traditional side of Japan. Who knows, maybe I’ll even try to learn the tea ceremony, although I hear that’s not too good for the knees....

costume party: Geishas

Is there anything specifically Japanese that you would like to learn while in Japan? i.e origami

Oops, I jumped the gun there, but aside from the tea ceremony I would also like to learn how to put on a Kimono. Those things are magnificent and apparently if put on the wrong way, it can signify deaths.

What do you think you will miss the most while you are here in Japan?

I will for sure miss my family and friends, but the thing I will miss the most would be familiarity. To be able to just know where you’re going and how to get there and knowing that even if I get lost in Vancouver I am capable of finding my way. But in Japan..well...that’s a completely different story...

Is there anything else that you would like to say…………………..

Ready or not, here I come eh?