Sunday, July 4, 2010

Out with the Old...

Peter Here, with the blog of my first week!

My first day actually seemed like 1.7 days, or 2.6, or just very, very long. The fact remains that I was effectively awake for 39 hours. Which is a very long time considering that I was to introduce myself to Louise, Erica, Richard and Arakawa Sensei and keep it coherent!

2 quick points:

1) a global disaster movie probably isn’t the best in-flight entertainment

2) The landing procedure at Tokyo Narita takes precisely the same amount of time as the first four tracks of Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side of the Moon’- to the extent that ‘the Great Gig in the Sky’ kicks in the wails exactly on touchdown, with the airbrake rumble adding to the cacophony, then mellowing as the plane taxis to a stop. Worth a blog post on it’s on, that; and probably the most awesome way to kickstart a journey evereverever.

Passport check went by swiftly, by 6pm they must have been getting tired of all the blond-haired blue-eyed westerners shrugging their shoulders at every question. So, after declaring myself fit for my year's residency, I stepped through the gates to meet Louise and Erica who, looking at my disheveled state, took me to the rescue remedy that was the coffee shop. It was here that I experienced my first bit of Japanese culture:

After coffee, we swung by Ueno station to meet Richard, and then to Tobudoubutsu-koen station to meet Arakawa Sensei. By this time, I was taken in by all the pretty lights and tall buildings, but as for listening to people although I was trying my best to take everything in alas, it was steadily turning into white noise despite my efforts. Arakawa Sensei took me back to his house, which is where the main dojo is as well. That night was spent in the dojo office, which has a bed in it thankfully.

Tuesday morning I was awoken to the sound of a sole karate practitioner at 6:30am. I expected this to be Arakawa Sensei warming up for the day, but no- it was one of his high school students, and right there the tone was set for how seriously I should take this year. Back in England, 16 year-olds would hardly recognize the world at 6:30am, let alone produce elegant kata!

After Breakfast with Arakawa Sensei and his wife Keiko, I got ready for my first day at work. That’s right- no resting for the interns!

The day began with an interview with the Principal of Shirayuri Kindergarten, where I would be teaching on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays. A brief conversation surrounding my work went over my head in Japanese (ironic, given the size of me), and I was introduced to the kids. The children, pleased that they received this new walking climbing frame that also happens to teach English, promptly made themselves known to me by chasing me around the playground.

It was on this day, I learned: “Okii Ne!” – which is a general exclamation that I am, in fact, quite tall - and this looks to become a general comment that somehow mingles with everyone’s introduction.

That afternoon Arakawa Sensei, Louise, Erica and I sorted out my temporary accommodation for while Erica and Louise were still here, which turned out to be the party guest house for the Shiramizu events:

Incredible, isn’t it!

Tuesday evening was the first training session, and although jet-lagged, I felt eager and set to the class with gusto. However, halfway through the session I started to feel very giddy; before long felt myself dangerously near collapsing and just had to sit out. This was not how I wanted to impress in the first class, and felt demoralized. Arakawa Sensei made sure that I was ok, tugging on my obi to make sure that it wasn’t tight. But for me, that pull on the belt reminded me that I was a shodan and should be able to take this strain, yet fell very short of the mark. My first session then ended humbly and I returned to the guest house- drained of sweat and pride, and in their place a lot of self-doubt.

After that session I wanted to make amends in the Wednesday morning class, which I did. The intensity of the practice was much lower than the night before and the lesson was focused on basics, which suited me just fine. Thankfully the session passed without any incident, aside from the fact that I stuck my chin out when I bowed, causing a few giggles and a correction.

After lunch with the Shiramizu class, we set off to apply for my foreigner card (a process that takes two weeks), then after a brief respite at the guest house Erica introduced me to two new classes.

That evening Erica’s private student had invited the three Interns to dinner in Kuki. Sensing that it would naturally be rude to turn down such an invitation, we met and ate in a traditional Japanese style restaurant, sampling many new dishes along the way. Some were lovely, though others may take a while for me to become accustomed to the texture or taste. Needless to say an enjoyable evening was had by all, and the journey home was filled with happy and colourful conversation and more laughs than should be deemed reasonable for such a late hour!

The Wednesday had restored some much-needed self esteem (especially as both Louise and Erica delighted in telling me about former intern #2 Paul’s unfortunate first day of training, involving his dogi and overdoing it a tad). So thankfully Thursday was attacked with vigour as Erica took me to Nerima, and my next job. The day passed by swiftly, the kids were great, and afterwards we checked out the bright lights of Ikebukuro, playing a few games and having a couple of drinks along the way to celebrate such a successful day.

this is a challenge/accident/hospital visit just waiting to happen. I wonder if my insurance would cover this?

Friday looks like it will be the busy day. Louise picked me up from the guest house a 7:45 and caught the train to Himemiya, where we were picked up by the kindergarten bus. The look on the kids’ faces as this hulking figure got on their bus was comical to say the least, although I repaid said comedy by cutting a humiliating figure of trying to sit on one of their ‘child sized’ (read: very, very, very, VERY small) seats.

The actual day of teaching was to be different than usual, as it was a goodbye to Louise, as well as a ‘birthday’ assembly (happens once a month to celebrate everyone who has a birthday in that month, which is lovely I think). Louise took a general class of over 30(!), and also introduced me to everyone.

A very beautiful setting!

After that was the two English classes at Shirayuri, and then assisting in Arakawa Sensei’s junior class. Eager to make up for Tuesday’s embarrassment, I also took part in the High School training, which is very fast paced! But, after a couple of months I really hope that I’ll be able to match everyone in terms of performance and not flooding the floor with perspiration.

The weekend, hurrah! On Saturday I had the chance to recharge my batteries, and finally adjust to the Japanese time zone. Rested, Louise and I headed to Asakusa, where we visited the temple district and wandered the streets with one of her friends; my first bit of sight-seeing was well rewarded.

Asakusa in Tokyo

After that, we headed back to Sugito and to route 4 to introduce me to several important (and frankly amazing) shops, before heading home to get ready for the evening’s training session.

The improvement from Tuesday’s session to this evening’s class was really notable for me- no collapsing, no feeling completely drained- and although it was apparent that my actual ability lies far below my fellow black belts, the goal didn’t seem that impossible anymore (just very difficult). I gave as good as I got in kumite, wanting everyone to know that I was serious about being here and giving it my all.

As it was to be Erica’s and Louise’s last Saturday session, the class finished by ‘100 man kumite’, where they have to stay in a circle as people continually spar with them. They both did very well!

After this, we Interns decided to check out a local sushi bar, which was awesome!

The Sunday was the first big event: the Shiramizu Welcome/Goodbye party. This has been well covered by Richard Sensei, but just to add that it was one of the best parties that I’ve been to, and everyone was really warm and welcoming. The leaving speeches were touching, the presents incredible, the food delicious (well, Natto aside), and the atmosphere electric. I managed to speak and introduce myself to lots of people, with lots of “gambatte!” and “gambarimasu!” (“Do your best!”, “I’ll do my best!”).

The alcohol flowed, and for the remaining revelers the evening was capped with a visit to the nearby Karaoke bar. Unfortunately, by this time my voice had given out, I had been fighting a cough from Wednesday and so my renditions of Billy Joel and Sinatra hits were well below par.

12am hit, and with the startling revelation that work started at 8:15 the next day, we all retired for the night, filled with song, food, and maybe a little bit of Sapporo draught.

No comments: