Thursday, January 28, 2010

鏡開き式・武道始め (KAGAMI BIRAKI)

Erica here!

Earlier this month, on the 11th, Louise and I attended the Kagami Biraki Festival at the Nippon Budokan. What is Kagami Biraki? I will explain by quoting from the program because its description is far more elegant than mine.

“Kagami Biraki is a festival which literally means ‘unveiling of a round-shaped mirror” has its origin in a ceremony that was widely practiced by the samurai in the 15th century. Every New Year’s day, the warrior would honour and purify their personal armour and weapons by offering two layers of small round-shaped mochi cakes made from glutinous rice to the gods. Later, at the end of the holiday season, sometime between then 11 and 20 of January, they would share these mochi cakes with their families and with members of their clans.

Beyond its spiritual significance, their festival helped strengthen family ties and friendship among warriors of the same clan.”

The first half of this festival at the Budokan was very interesting. There was a sort of play where many people dressed as ancient samurai warriors were seated in formation, food and wine was brought to the leader and a huge double layered mochi cake was broken after. Following the skit, there were demonstrations of 9 Budo arts including kyodo, aikido, kendo, judo, shorinji kempo, jukendo, karatedo, naginata and sumo.

After the demonstrations, everyone from these forms of Budo went down onto the floor for Budo Hajime (we all trained simultaneously for about 30min). Other than having a difficult time hearing Sensei’s instruction because everyone else was kiai-ing, it was a fantastic experience!!

When this finished, we all got a bowl of Shiruko (sweet red bean soup with a piece of mochi). Some of the kids from Shiramizu loved it so much that they went back for seconds, thirds, fourths, fifths and the most I heard one of the kids had was six helpings!! That’s when the Sensei’s told them they weren’t allowed to have anymore =p

At the end, we all got to take home an ema (a wooden plaque with a drawing of the year's zodiac). On the back, you're supposed to write something equivalent to a New Year's resolution.

The Budo Hajime can be viewed here (that's Kempo closest to the camera, with the karate group being beyond it in the center).

The leader of this samurai clan being served wine.

Mochi being broken.

Kyodo demonstration.

Louise and I with Samurai san!!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

New Intern Selected: Pete Williams!

Richard here!

I want to congratulate Pete Williams from Exeter, Devon in the UK for being selected as the next Shiramizu Karate Intern from June 1.

Pete is 27 and a graduate of Exeter University, where he captained the karate club. He's been doing martial arts for 15 years and currently he learns Wadoryu Karate from Paul Hammond Sensei, as part of the British Wadokai Association. A professional Copywriter and Graphic Designer, Pete was also a Boy Scout leader for many years.

In the coming weeks I will ask one of the current interns to do a pre-arrival e-interview with Pete so we can all get to know him a little better (and see what misconceptions he has of Japan just for fun - for those who have been to Japan, they will know what I'm talking about).

The runner-up for the internship was Josh Paszkiewicz from Kansas City, Missouri, USA. Hopefully we will also be able to invite Josh from April 2011.

Also thank you to those many people who contacted us about the internship. Everyone is of course welcome to visit us anytime!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Happy New Year! It's 2010!

Richard here, just wanted to share Shiramizu's New Year's postcard (nengajo - see Erica's post for details).

It lists the major happenings of 2009 - all of which are have been written up in our internship blog.

- dojo walk to the shrine
- dojo participation in the Kagami Biraki at the Nippon Budokan.

- 10th Annual Shiramizu inter-club tournament & participation at the Wing Cup.

- Kanto Wadokai Regional Tournament

- New Members! (most new members join in April at the start of the Japanese school year, as most new members are elementary first graders who move up from one of the five kindergartens that Shiramizu teaches at).

- JKF Saitama Tournament, where the Shiramizu Junior High Boy's Kumite Team took first place

- Arakawa Sensei's trip to Germany
- intern's Carl and Amy graduation
- new interns Louise & Erika's arrival

- Shiramizu gasshuku - summer camp - at Nikko.

- 2 members took part in the JKF National Youth Championships
- some members were part of the Sakae High School's 3rd Boy's Team Kumite place finish in National High School Interhigh Championships
- JKF Wadokai National Championships at the Nippon Budokan
- JKF National Junior High School Championships Boy's Kumite Team 5th place, as part of the Kita Kyushu City team (I suspect they from the Shiramizu dojo in Kyushu run by Arakawa Sensei's father and old brother)

- Arakawa took 2nd place at the JKF Master's tournament in the 40-44 year old Kumite division

- Sugito City Karate Championships
- Kanto Region JKF Junior High School Championships

- Tobu City Championships

- member Rie Hirai took part in the JKF National Championships as part of the Tochigi Prefectural Team.
- 1000 punches at the year-end training session

A few final notes about Rie Hirai making the JKF All-Styles National Team, other high school student's success, the reasonable cost of the Shiramizu Summer Camp in Nikko, and the 2500 athletes who compete in the Wadokai Nationals where this year the club wants to get some friendly revenge with better results.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Travelling-on-Trains Fairy Tale

Written and Illustrated by Louise

Once upon a time, there was a karate student, intelligent, modest and with great hair, who went on an epic journey, travelling intrepidly and fearlessly into the great unexplored reaches of western Honshu. Because she preferred to spend her money on other things (like food and nice places to stay), she bought the cheapest train tickets she could (aka the Seishun 18 Kippu), which each gave her five days free travel on Japan Rail (JR) local and rapid trains, anywhere in Japan. Those trains are actually the slowest you can find, but the magnificent karate student bravely endured this hardship.

At first she amused herself by watching the outside going past (though the insides of tunnels are pretty boring) and by looking at other people's shoes ('Can one judge a person by the shoes they wear?' she asked herself); then when it got dark she meditated (i.e. practiced being a vegetable); and when this became too tiring, she read the insides of her eyelids.

Snacks for the journey. Note the Tiger-Bun (or toraman) on the left.

Snacks, a bit later

Snacks see the sea

Who ate the snacks? Must've been the Tiger-Bun

In this way, the courageous karate student travelled without major mishap up hill and down dale, from Saitama to Nara, to Koya-san, to Hiroshima, Tsuwano, Matsue and back to Nara. Snacks were bought and eaten, photos taken and sights were seen. But little did she know what would happen on the last leg home.

The day started like any other, not a cloud in the sky and no premonition of what awaited. The first sign that something was amiss came when the first train to Kyoto kept stopping between stations. The karate student used her super-duper Japanese skills and picked out one word in the conductor's announcements: traffic lights. 'The train signals must keep changing', she deduced. 'Not to worry, I have 40 minutes to spare before my next train from Kyoto at noon.' That first train arrived at Kyoto 37 minutes late, so the athletic karate student ran into the station for her next train and on the way past read the station signboards.

Shock, horror! There had been a level crossing accident between Kyoto and Maibara, her next transfer point. 'Hmm.... I still have to get home, so I'll go as far as I can along the line, and maybe it'll have been sorted out by the time I get there,' she thought. This she did, but nope, it hadn't.

What to do, what to do. By sheer chance, the station that the fortunate karate student had reached was connected to a private railway line that also went to Maibara, though the long way round. With some help from a very friendly station attendant, she decided to take the private railway, throwing her luck to the winds and gambling that it would be faster than waiting for the JR trains to start again.

Thus, along with half the population of Kansai (the other half travelling in the opposite direction), she crammed into a rather slow, hygienically challenged train, and became more acquainted with her fellow passengers than she really wished. But because the karate student was the type of popular, kind and generous person everybody wants to know, she made some lifelong friends without even mussing her hair, and arrived at Maibara only three hours late.

To cut a long story short, she continued on her journey home, navigating at each transfer point by sense of smell (her carefully prepared itinerary no longer applicable), and arrived successfully at Omiya, Saitama, at midnight. But this wasn't the end of her troubles. Omiya is not home for the patient karate student, and to her disappointment, as her train pulled into the station, she saw the last train to her final destination pulling out.

Having fun at the end of a long day. Ha ha.

Now Omiya is a nice place in which to shop and go to karaoke in the daytime or early evening, but after wandering around for a bit, the tired but undefeated karate student concluded that Omiya in the early morning was not where she wanted to be. No internet cafes presented themselves, and spending the night in MacDonalds was decidedly unsavoury, so after a short conversation with a couple of friendly taxi drivers, she set off at last on the final, most expensive, part of her journey. In record time the taxi had dropped her home, and she lived happily ever after.

The End

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Christmas in Japan

Erica here.

There are a few things that are different about Christmas in Japan. Christmas presents are not usually exchanged except among couples, close friends and given to small children. It is not common to give out Christmas cards and there is no Boxing day or Boxing day sales! Instead, New Years is very important. New Year postcards (nengajo) with well wishes are mailed out to family and friends and there are big sales everywhere after New Years!!

Although Christmas is not really celebrated as much in Japan, all the English schools I work at were very festive and had Christmas parties. At the Shiramizu Christmas party, Arakawa Sensei dressed up as Santa and handed out presents to the students. Aside from presents and snacks, we got to watch Hansel and Gretel and a Christmas song (in Japanese) through a black theatre. Yamazaki Sensei and two of her helpers told this story on a board that was covered in a black cloth and a black light over it. Then they would put pictures up on the board and because of the light, the pictures would glow. There was a narrator and even music. All the kids enjoyed it very much!

The Black Theatre board with the lights on.

Lights off!!

Santa!!! Now where did Arakawa Sensei go??

Sunday, January 3, 2010

忘年会 Bonenkai!

Erica here. I meant to write this before the year ended, but here we are! Happy New Year everyone! At the end of last year on December 19, there was a Shiramizu bonenkai (forget the year gathering end of the year party) at Uta Min (魚民) restaurant, beside Sugito Takanodai station.

Since alcohol was being served, only people over the age of 20 were allowed to attend, so most of the participants were adult students, parents of the students and of course, all the Sensei. The venue was a restaurant that included ‘all you can drink’ beverages, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic. Everyone was in a merry mood and had plenty to drink. We played bingo and everyone was excited because there were some great prizes which included a Sony mp3 player, a coffee maker, a very popular scale that not only measures your weight but the percentage of body fat among other things and various smaller prizes like socks and Shiramizu towels.

Near the end, we all had to stand up and give a short speech about how we did this year and what we hope to achieve next year. This took a little while because there were about 40 of us. It was a very enjoyable night!