One of the many images that I had in my head before coming to Japan was that of perhaps a somewhat more 'provincial' style landscape, inbetween the Shinjuku and Shibuya skyscrapers. However when I arrived I quickly saw that Tokyo itself had taken the western style buildings and planted their own images and 'flavour' on them with very few historic buildings existing outside of a touristic setting. At a very casual glance, it would appear that the Capital looks like any other western city, only to have the location confirmed on closer inspection.
On Saturday I was training with Richard at his Seritsu High School as a practice for the Sugito Town Tournament. A couple of days previously I noticed a raised park area near Oji, and asked him about it. He told me how to get to it and as it was only a short walk away and I had the rest of the day to myself I decided to head that way. I was incredibly glad I did.
On the way there I passed some market streets which had an international festival feel about them.
Amid the metropolis, next to a mainline railway and out of sight of any tour guide book, my image of Japan reappeared. A small water park, leading under a bridge and up to Oji Temple via a stairway. It was beautiful, well worth the walk and even more valuable for discovering it without any previous recommendation.
This wasn't the main event though; that was a small walk away, over the main road connecting Akabane to Ikebukuro. in Asukayama Kouen (飛鳥山公園)- which contained a few walkways, a marketplace area (which had a flower market on that day) and a beautiful childrens playground, containing a full-size steam train!
Further in was a set of plaques next to villa buildings and a beautiful landscaped woodland and garden area. I walked around for at least two hours here. A decent blog post that describes the park better than I could is found here. It looks like it will be a lovely spot for the cherry blossom season so I'll be keeping it in mind!
Thursday, October 28, 2010
After the massive events that were the Wado World Cup and the Wadokai National Championships, it was refreshing to return to more local tournaments. The Sugito Machi Taikai showed how 'grassroots' competition is as important to karate as the major events, not just in gaining useful experience for the developing athletes, but also in building relationships and friendships in the local area. The tournament was an open style, which meant we had Wado and Shotokan karate competing together. This would be my first time in seeing Shotokan in Japan, let alone competing with them, so I was excited by this.
Everyone worked together from the first second to make the day go smoothly, setting up chairs and arenas right through to the packing up. It really gives a good indication of what can be achieved in little time when you work hard for each other!
Although the tournament was mainly for the Kids, there was also an adult Male category for both Kumite and Kata. As I had successes with both of these in Japan I perhaps went in more confident than I ought. I knew my Kata was still not up to much in comparison with others, but maybe I thought it had improved more than it actually had; so I was very disappointed to go out in the first round. Kumite wasn't much better, as I was drawn against a Shotokan competitor who beat me soundly 3-1. A let down for myself.
The rest of the Shiramizu entrants did very well, with many of the golds going our way.
Easily the best part of the tournament was making new friends and playing with the kids. There were only 5 male competitors in the tournament and we trained and warmed up together, learning new things from each other, having a few good Japanese conversations along the way. Even in local tournaments in the UK there seems to be a 'privacy' mentality among the co-competitors which restricts conversation a little so this was a wonderful experience. Of course, many of the kids there knew me from the dojo and kindergartens so they were having fun with me too.
Despite the results for me it was a great day.
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Despite being rained off on the Saturday, the weather improved dramatically to make sure Monday's rescheduled Undokai - Sports Festival - was a massive success on a very fine sunny day.
Running from 9am to 3pm, the games got everyone involved, from the pupils, to the teachers, parents, graduates, those yet to begin kindergarten and even me! I was involved for two showpieces, 'Rainbow Jump' (skipping) and Hula-hooping. Unfortunately the hula hoop I was given didn't fit at all, except maybe as a belt, so I looked decidedly foolish in front of the crowd; but on such a happy day I don't think it mattered. I'm just grateful I managed to salvage a small shred of dignity with the skipping. Actually, I probably didn't.
The younger kids had a special guest: Anpanman! He's a very big celebrity here, and helped the kids dance at the Undokai. What a nice guy!
The Teachers were the fastest in the Adult relay, probably from running after all the kids, who, after being chased by the very fast teachers, were incredibly speedy themselves!
The two most impressive events for me were the marching band and the controlled gymnastics- just looking at them from then you forget the age of these children. Comparing it to what is achieved at home, it's unbelievable.
At the end of the day awards were given to best performers and prizes were given to everyone. On such a hot day (25 degrees in October!), all the kids did really well to keep upbeat and lively!
Monday, October 4, 2010
On both September 25th and 26th at Richard's junior & senior high school in Akabane, Tokyo, Seiritsu Gakuen had their Bunkansai (cultural fair).
The different clubs ran demonstrations on a large stage to promote themselves, and Richard's Karate club was no exception. I was lucky enough to be asked by Richard to be part of the presentation as his attacker in the showpiece finale, attacking him with not only punches and kicks but also a knife, a baseball bat and then a bokken!
Check out the video below; thanks very much to Richard for editing it superbly.
With only a week to rehearse, the routine went very well (despite my obi coming undone on the Sunday, Richard covered for me by doing some very acrobatic splits while I readjusted myself), and drew lots of nice 'ooooohs' from the crowd on both days.
I also got to do some board breaking for the very first time in my life!
The rest of the demonstration was the Club performing Shite Kata (Jion by the boy's kata team, and Enpi by the girl's kata team, Enpi which is the Shotokan version of Wado's Wanshu), and demonstrating kumite. Both days saw with lots of smiley faces in the spectators looking at the new 'genki' foreigner following Richard about..
Saturday, October 2, 2010
Arakawa Sensei's family is currently hosting an Australian student as part of an exchange scheme between Sugito and Bassington of 15 junior High School students. Nick is 13 and will be in Sugito until 9th October, so to give him a taste of shopping in a Japanese mall Keiko-san took Nick, Masatoshi, Yusuke and I along to Mallage, near Kuki.
Mallage is a massive shopping complex which caters for almost any shopping need you can think of, with an arcade and cineplex thrown in as well. It is difficult to emphasise the size, it really is... very big.
After having lunch, we went on a large window-shopping spree (which I like, it's cheaper than real shopping), with Nick buying a few Naruto comics at the book store (his Kana knowledge puts me to shame!). Keiko-san then went to do some shopping on her own, while leaving us boys to run riot in the arcade. We played a few games of air hockey, then went on the other machines. Masatoshi, Yusuke and Nick all managed to win prizes! Sadly, I came away empty handed; some things are best left to the professionals.