Tuesday, November 30, 2010

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...

Peter Here,

I love Christmas. It's my favourite time of the year without any doubt, even though I am more of a warm weather person. But while Japan seems to be treating me well by not subjecting me to freezing weather as yet, I have been curious to find out how Japanese people and families celebrate this time of year, as they do have the festive day- but not the Christian historical background.

While eating together at the Flying Garden after training on Wednesday, I asked Arakawa Sensei and Suzuki Sensei how they spend their Christmas, and what they eat on the day. It turns out that Japan's Christmas is more focused on couples and young children than in the West, but they still love eating the Christmas chicken and Christmas Cake (Strawberry Sponge Cake to be precise). Some people have the occasional potatoes and some trimmings, but both Sensei looked a little taken back when I explained to them exactly *how* much a regular UK family chomps through on the big day (and subsequent days too). I also let them know that I wasn't a particular fan of Christmas Pudding (although I had to describe it as 'cake', as pudding is completely different here), because it was a little to rich for me. They assured me that the Japanese Christmas Cake is much nicer, so I look forward to trying that out!

So, the Japanese celebrate Christmas in purely a commercial form, but it is intriguing to see how similar it still is to the way we celebrate at home. I myself am 'agnostic' so Christmas doesn't hold any religious meaning for me. However, it must be said that the traditions brought over (the tree, decorations, big feast, giving of gifts) are more in line of the pagan winter festival than the traditions left out (carol services, Nativity plays, midnight mass, etc.).

One thing that can be said though- Japanese LOVE decorations. Some restaurants are already sparkling with tinsel, some houses are already ramping up their electricity bill with house lights, and generally the shops are all celebrating like they do in the UK; by trying to sell things!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Full Day Ahead: Aikido, Gardens and Odaiba

Peter Here,

One of the many things I wanted to do while I was in Japan was to try another martial art, preferably a traditional one. Despite Oinuma-san's suggestion that I try sumo (I'm NOT fat!!), my friend Makiko is a 1st Kyu in Aikikai Aikido. As her dojo was in Kasukabe, she suggested that I come along for a session and see what I think. Aikikai Aikido is run by Haruyoshi Horikoshi (堀越春芳) Sensei, 7th dan, who has travelled to countries such as USA, Brazil and Australia teaching Aikido. We had a wonderful conversation prior to training, and his english, although a bit limited comparing to Arakawa Sensei, was eloquent, friendly and very polite. The website for the dojo is here (japanese only).

I had a great time, and it was enlightening to see how different and similar the principles are. Aiumi-ashi is used, as is Irimi, but other steps are introduced too, controlling your opponent by seizing their grab and turning your body to give you the more powerful position. They also practised Jo and Bokken Kihon, which was a first for me.

I also went there with a view to seeing what I could use for my karate practice; the slower pace meant I can be more aware of how my body is moving, so that I may speed that up for the more explosive karate movements. Center-line, balance and natural movement are all central concepts of both styles so I can see a happy marriage between the two.

Horikoshi Sensei was very welcoming, and I managed to introduce myself to everyone properly and have a little conversation too. I look forward to going there again!

After class, Makiko and I went on a sightseeing spree. After not seeing much of the Hamarikyu gardens last week with Oinuma-san I wanted to go back there again and explore it more. I was very glad I did, it is a splendid garden and incredibly beautiful; all the pictures in my camera couldn't do it justice.

After wandering around the gardens for two hours, we then headed for Odaiba. Odaiba, once a man-made fort island made in the Edo era, is a fantastic shopping and entertainment district. Heavily westernised, the view and buildings would not look out of place in America. Indeed, there is even a minature Statue of Liberty there!

However, the peace and quiet, and the walk along the man-made beach always contains the uniquely Japanese sense of safety in the city. More information on Odaiba can be found here: http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3008.html

We took in the sights (including a Christmas aquarium!), took a lot of pictures then headed back home on the Spacia train from Asakusa (an express train more like the type in England but better run and more relaxing, which you pay an additional fee to board on top of the distance fare). After all that walking we thought we deserved a little comfort!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

An international Evening: Sakayuri Sensei's international party

Peter Here,

I always love meeting new people from many different countries and backgrounds, so when Arakawa Sensei told me about Sakayuri's International Party on Saturday, November 20th, I leapt at the chance. It was a group of 9 people including me, but only one other was a native English speaker; the rest were from Taiwan and China. This meant that the only way to communicate was through Japanese!

We started off slowly, a mixture of shyness and unfamiliarity slowing the conversation a little, but after a quick trip to the local Supermarket (Mami-mart, or 'まみマ-ト') for supplies and alcohol, we started to loosen up a little and soon everyone was happily talking.

People were a mixture of university graduates, undergraduates and language students on a work programme, and it was interesting to hear how different everyone's story was to mine; after hearing many people give their reasons to why they are in Japan it always strikes me as how unique and special the internship is.

Eikaiwa (English Conversation) teachers appear to come to Japan because they have little keeping them in their own, or the lure of the high-paid teaching tempts them in. But I see that a lot of these people don't have anything to aim for, to try and attain here. University or language study students do have that, but their life is experienced more in a microcosm inside Japan, rather than being given the ability to be more involved in Japanese Life. The Internship offers a goal in itself and gives plenty of opportunity to achieve personal targets, such as tournament results or grading, but further to this it is all done in a totally open and supportive atmosphere. You are involved in Japan, not closed off from it, which helps make new friends and immerse yourself in the culture. It truly is something great.

Because many of the guests were with home stay families in nearby Miyashiro City the party didn't run too late, but enough was drunk and eaten to make sure everyone had a great time and left full of food and conversation!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Parklife: Kindergarten park-safari in Iwatsuki

Peter Here,

As well as teaching in the 'peek-a-boo' English lessons at Lolipop Kindergarten on Friday the 19th, I was very lucky to be taken on a school trip with the 'nen-cho' (oldest year, 5-6yr olds) classes to Iwatsuki Koen (Park).

The park was beautiful, with a zig-zag red bridge across a large pond. If there was a stereotypical image in my mind of how countryside Japan would look, it would be this.

We trekked through the narrow lanes, into a clearing and then played 'exploring' through bamboo thickets and hide-and-seek. It was brilliant, as it took me right back to my Scouting days, and gave me a chance to quiz the kids on what the words for trees, leaves, animals and such were in English, without reaching for my flashcards. Then they were asking me what other objects were too in Japanese. Some of them were even asking me without prompting! Between us we learned both English and Japanese for Pebble (小石, Koishi- which literally means 'little stone, or Ishi 石), Cedar (杉材, Sugi-zai), Leaf, (葉, Happa), Spider (蜘蛛, Kumo) and lots of others.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Jishuren: personal training

Peter Here,

The Shiramizu Karate ethic is always that of hard work in practices, and then self practice to perfect what you've been told in class. In some UK clubs certainly students learn at class, go home and then come back to the next class and learn some more, without any practice at home.

If you did this with a musical instrument, imagine how long it would take you to be any good at it! Why is karate any different?

So, especially for higher grades, I think it is very important to not just go to scheduled lessons (of which there a few), but also train on my own as well. Particularly since the big tournaments have past the intense kumite/cardio workouts are less, so I tend to go for a run and exercise in the apartment to keep the stamina up and then use the dojo between classes on a Monday, with lessons Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. I do feel guilty that I should train on my own there more though! Judging by my last two tournament results, I definitely need it...

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Exploring Tokyo: a day out with Oinuma-san and Family, 14th November

Peter here;

I was treated to a wonderful day out with Oinuma-san and his family on Sunday, November 14th, as we headed to Tsukiji Fish Market, the Monjia Street festival and the Edo Tokyo Museum.

We got to Tsukiji by train via Asakusa and took a 'Water Bus', which looked charmingly Art Deco and arrived at the 'Water Gate' of the Hamarikyu Gardens; an Edo-period Japanese garden formed on a man-made island. We only walked past the gardens, but what I did see looked very beautiful, and I made a mental note to come back again.

Tsukiji Fish Market is traditionally best seen in the very early morning (because that is when all the fish arrives and is sold), which wasn't practical given the young age of Oinuma-san's family, but the market place was still brimming with life well into 11am, where we toured the stalls and stopped in for some very fresh sushi. Without a shadow of a doubt, it was the best sushi I've had yet!

While it was very tempting to eat the market bare, we were heading to Monjia Street to taste their food too!

I found a small website article on Monjia Street to tell you more about it:
"Monjayaki and Tsukudani are the most typical of Tokyo's "shitamachi" fare. Tsukishima is said to have more than 70 monjayaki shops and on weekends is thronged with people from Tokyo and even the suburbrs[sic] who come to savor the local delicacies. Tsukudani, prepared by stewing seafood in soy sauce and sugar, is also a typical type of Japanese keepable dish and was born in Tsukuda in the Edo era. There are still shops that preserve the secret recipe, attracting an endless stream of people who come from far off in seach of this treat."

When we went it was a festival day, so we were greeted by lots of music and a carnival atmosphere, accompanied by street dancers wearing either an awful lot or, er, not very much...

I would like to live here!

The Edo Tokyo Museum was a short train ride away. I wasn't expecting the size of the building though, it was massive!

Inside was amazing too, and seeing Edo-style buildings and models was a really joy- I love this style of architecture and it's fired me up for going to seek out more!

There was plenty of hands-on things to do as well, so thankfully the kids were just as entertained: particularly the grown-up ones...

Night soil buckets!

We finished the day tired and happy, with a long sleep on the Asakusa line back to Sugito. A big thank you to Oinuma-san and his family for such a wonderful day!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Internship applications now being accepted for 2011!

Spread the news!

We are still accepting applications for our 9th intern at the Shiramizu Karate Club in Japan.

The application deadline for those wishing to be Intern #9 is January 15, 2011.

The 9th internship will run from April 1, 2011 to March 31, 2012, with the possibility of an extension.

The intern teaches English at various locations to earn money while training at the dojo almost everyday. Each month they participate in tournaments, seminars and other events. In addition, they assist with foreign guests, contribute to the 'Intern Blog' and help out wherever possible in the dojo. Interns also study Japanese at community center language classes run by volunteers. Lastly, they are responsible for training the next intern over a two-week shadowing period at the end of their own internship.

Shiramizu is located in Sugito City, Saitama Prefecture, which is an hour north by train from central Tokyo. It is a full-time dojo with over 450 members run by the popular Takamasa Arakawa Sensei. Shiramizu is one of the most active karate dojos in Japan, and it has warmly accepted previous interns who have all had once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

There is a small furnished apartment for the intern near the dojo. The income earned from teaching English covers all basic living expenses. Interns are encouraged to use their free time to expand the list of English classes and private lessons while utilizing the dojo for personal training.

A few Shiramizu members meet the new intern at the airport (Narita or Haneda) upon their arrival to Japan and they'll also see them off at the airport at the end of their stay.

While the internship accepts applications from anyone regardless of karate experience or style, JKF Wadokai members will be given preference. In previous years, several non-Wadokai members have been selected.

We are looking for someone who exudes positive enthusiasm, who would like to get involved in as much as possible here and who is going to enhance the internship program further.

Upon completion of the internship, we are hoping to see the graduate continue to further their karate development upon returning to their home country, hopefully working towards being an instructor themselves.

All applicants should understand that if selected they must be able to commit to the full internship time period of 12 months, no exceptions.

Applicants must possess a native level English ability since the selected intern will work as a professional English teacher.

Minimum requirements:

Age: Between 20-30 years old (the legal adult age in Japan is 20yrs old therefore the internship is set from age 20).

Education: Minimum English-as-the-main-language high school graduate. An applicant with some post-secondary education of any type is preferred, while recent university/college graduates are ideal.

English language teacher training is an asset. If an applicant has none, then at least they should be willing to take a short (1-2 days) ESL/EFL instructor's course in their hometown at their own expense prior to coming to Japan.

Work experience: Experience working with children. Actual English teaching or tutoring and /or coaching sports experience is a bonus.

Karate experience: Any level of karate experience is ok. As mentioned previously, when two applications are similar, Wadokai members will be given preference.

Non-black belt holders should feel encouraged to apply because being a black belt holder is not a requirement.

If the selected applicant for the internship is from another karate style, they may of course feel free to attend another dojo of the same style in Japan, but they have to commit to going to the Shiramizu dojo to train twice a week to maintain the internship program's interaction with Shiramizu members.

There are about 6 main tournaments in the year the intern will be registered for through Shiramizu. Participating in tournaments and seminars is part of the internship experience.

Previously visited Japan: Due to Japan being quite different from other countries, it will be an asset for applicants who have visited or lived in Japan.

Visa: There are two options.

1) If the selected applicant is from a country in the
working holiday program (English-speaking countries are Canada, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Australia, Ireland), then that visa will be used, the person has never had a working holiday visa before. The Shiramizu Director will guide the selected applicant through the application process which they apply for by themselves to their nearest Japanese embassy or consulate in their home country where their passport is issued.

2) If the selected applicant is not from a country in the working holiday program (for example, the USA or South Africa), or they have already had a working holiday visa, then Shiramizu will apply for a
cultural visa (bunka katsudo visa) for the new intern and upon receiving a cultural visa letter of eligibility from Japanese immigration, the dojo will mail this document to the applicant to take to their nearest Japanese embassy or consulate. Then that embassy/consulate will make the final determination whether or not to issue the visa, and if everything is ok, it will be stamped into their passport prior to coming to Japan.

Both visas take a few days to weeks to process. Upon being stamped into the applicant's passport, the applicant needs to enter Japan within 3 months to activate the visa or it will expire.

Of course, applicants with legal status already in Japan may also apply.

Final application procedure: While highly unlikely, due to the chance the selected applicant may be denied a visa for some unknown reason (i.e. inability to acquire a passport in time or criminal record in their home country), a runner-up for the internship will also be selected and informed of their runner-up status. The first selected applicant must apply for their visa just under the 3 month mark prior to coming to Japan, so that if they are denied, the runner-up can be informed with enough time to prepare to apply for a visa while getting their things in order to come to Japan.

This procedure makes it fair for everyone applying, while also keeping the internship going. This internship has many responsibilities, for example the various English teaching commitments, so it is important the internship program doesn't fail to keep these commitments going.

Therefore, if you are seriously interested in this internship, please follow these instructions.

Please note that all correspondence with our office will be considered as part of the application

process. Also, should someone be selected as the runner-up or make the short-list, it is important

to understand that should this person apply again the year after, their application ranking will be

higher as determined by the selection committee.

We require;

1. A one-page cover letter. This cover letter must emphasize how you fit the requirements of

this position and what it will mean to you to become an intern.

2. A one-page resume. Please list educational achievements from high school onwards,

experience working with children, any teaching ESL certification, relevant skills for this

internship and any karate experience. Plus please include two references listed on the

bottom of the page including telephone and email contact information.

3. A ‘passport-style’ head and shoulders photograph. This is standard for all job applications

in Japan and it can simply be taken with one’s own personal digital camera. This

photograph will be used to announce the selected intern to the dojo and English schools.

Please only send small file size documents! For example, do not send any large picture files!

The use of proper English is reviewed for all aspects of this application!


A short-list of selected applicants will be contacted for a telephone interview, or an in-person

interview for those in Japan. The selected intern and the runner-up will be announced prior to

January 25, 2011.

We look forward to hearing from interested applicants. The sooner people apply, the sooner interviews and reference checks can be done.

The selected applicant will receive a detailed handout prior to arriving in Japan explaining everything related to the internship.


Richard, Internship Director

email: karateintern at gmail dot com

Friday, November 12, 2010

Just keep smiling: Kasukabe Jazz Day, November 6th

Peter Here,

Something to learn in Japan is that, even if you are at death's door with a common cold ('風邪', or 'Kaze'), if you make a commitment to do something then by gum you should do it. This is why, even though my head was full of coldy nonsense, I co-MC'd the Kasukabe Jazz Day on 6th November.

A little background to this situation is that I go to Kasukabe every Thursday to meet some Japanese and Gaijin friends that I've made. This is essentially my Japanese lesson every week, it is in a very relaxed atmosphere and a beer or two helps the language come along nicely. I've even advanced my Kana thanks to these guys! One person that I met of an evening in October was the organiser of the Jazz Day event (Maezawa-sama), and happened to ask whetherI liked Jazz music. As I had just finished a rendition of Frank Sinatra's 'I get a kick out of you' on the Karaoke machine, I said that I loved Jazz music. It was then decided that I would MC this event (maybe nodding and smiling at this point did not help).

I turned up at 10am, to find the park area (Yondaikoen, the 4th park) filled with seats for 1,500 people and a massive stage, accompanied by equipment for recording and live web streaming. I had underestimated the size of this event by some way! Four bands were playing: Swing Bears (スイングベアーズ), BSU Jazz Orchestra (ビッグスイング フェイス・ジャズオーケストラ), Dream Swing Kingdom (ドリーム スイング キングダム), and Crystal Jazz Latino (クリスタルジャズ・ラティーノ).

It was my role, along with my co-
MC (who was dressed in Cosplay to help attract the event) to introduce the bands in English as well as provide a little 'Gaijin genkiness' to the day. As it happened I wasn't doing much talking at all, and was practically wheeled in just to say the name of the band in the perfect English accent. It made me feel a little bit like a token gesture, but it was fun all the same. Furthermore, as my throat was caked in cold I'm not sure how much I would've been able to talk anyway.

The bands were fantastic, with several big numbers that everyone recognised. Stalls of smoking Yakitori (skewered meat), fresh coffee, beers, roasted nuts and soba noodles scented the air with a festival aroma (apparently- my nostrils weren't working), and the trees themselves were exploding in turning leaves ('Koyo'). It was a beautiful day, and even though I felt like dying at times inside, it was hard not to have a smile on my face- especially with so many friendly people about.

After the last band had played their encore and everyone started to leave, I talked to one of the band conductors and Maezawa-sama about the day. As I was nodding and smiling to the conversation (I was understanding it, honest), it was agreed that for the next Jazz Day (April next year), I will actually sing two songs on stage with the band; 'Sinatra's I Get A Kick Out of You', and one other.


Friday, November 5, 2010

Alumni Paul Atkin ties the knot!

Richard here,

I'm happy to report that Internship alumni Paul Atkin married his girlfriend Natsumi Tanaka on October 11 in Maui!

Paul met Natsumi while he was an intern and she followed him to Canada after he graduated from the program (or he begged her to go with him, who knows).

Congratulations to both you! It looks like your wedding by the beach was incredible.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Friendly Fight: Tobu Friendship Taikai, 3rd November 2010

Peter Here,

November 3rd was the Tobu Friendship Taikai. While still a 'local' tournament, this was a much bigger event than the Sugito Taikai last month. Held at the Satte City Gymnasium, the competition was open to more styles, including Yamaguchi-Ha Goju Ryu. It was great to see familiar faces as well as meet new ones!

The unfortunate part of the day was that I had been stuck down with cold, so I wasn't performing at my best at all (it's a good excuse, honest!). My group was only four people, and I had beaten the opponent I was drawn with in the Saitama Wadokai taikai in July, I should've done better than I did. However, my timing was off and I was kicking too high, meaning that I missed some vital 3 point shots and he pulled of a convincing win using little more than gyakuzuki. So, more basics training required for me. I also need to look at how I'm training on my own to see if there's any way of increasing speed and reflexes as I'm feeling slow.

The better part of the day came from watching the rest of the tournament. Shiramizu did well as always, Arakawa Sensei's son Masatoshi, Rikuto and Uchida-san being notable winners in their category. There were even a fair few all-Shiramizu finals!

The event was very well put together, with ample support as always from the families making a very enthusiastic atmosphere. At the end of the tournament there was a raffle draw for prizes using serial numbers on the back of the event programs (a very good idea I thought), with a few happy people leaving the event with a Ceramic heater, Adidas sports bag and a bicycle!