Monday, January 31, 2011

Kagami Biraki: Nippon Budokan, 10th January 2011

Peter Here;

As 2011 woke up from the winter holidays (Fuyu no Oyasumi), the annual ceremony of Kagami Biraki marked the Nippon Budokan's celebration of the new year on January 10, and the beginning of training. Takagi Sensei had again been asked to represent Karatedo by the Nippon Budokan with Arakawa Sensei since they are the official karate instructor's at the Nippon Budokan's Budo-Gakuen, and once again the Shiramizu group attended to take part in the group budo training session.

Everyone arrived at the Nippon Budokan for 11:30; well, everyone except yours truly- a horrendous misunderstanding about the pronunciation of 10:15 and 10:50 meant I arrived at Tobudobutsukoen station a tad later than I was supposed to (note to self: double check all times in writing in the future). However, the ceremony started at 12:30 and everyone including myself managed to be seated comfortably by the time it started.

The mochi breaking ceremony has been well covered by past interns, but a good further explaination to the mochi and embellishments can be found here:

The round rice cakes were shaped to resemble mirrors because mirrors have been revered in Japan since ancient times and are believed to be receptacles of the gods. You might have seen mirrors set up inside the main halls of a Shinto Shrine. For the New Year, a smaller mochi is usually placed on top of a larger one (sometimes there are 3 mochi cakes in a stack). Sometimes the Kagami-Mochi are further embellished with significant decorations such as a citrus called a daidai (which is a homophone for generation after generation), a spread open folding fan (to symbolize the spreading of your seed), kelp (konbu), which is a near homophone to YOROKOBU (to enjoy). There might also be other plants (all with symbolic meanings) and folded red and white paper (to keep out impurities) used to decorate the mochi.

The reason the hard mochi is broken and not cut is that the SAMURAI avoided using the word CUT, as well as the symbolic action of cutting, especially around New Year’s. Thus a knife is not used, And, even though the Kagami-Mochi is BROKEN, the word WARU (割る), to break, was also avoided (the SAMURAI did their best to avoid being cut or broken!). Instead, an IMI KOTOBA (忌み言葉), a euphemism, is used: hiraku (開く) to open. And thus this custom came to be known as KAGAMI-BIRAKI (鏡開き) the OPENING OF MIRRORS, which sounds very auspicious.

After the mochi breaking ceremony, we assembled outside for a photo shoot. It was pretty cold and windy, so we made it as quick as possible, and then headed inside for the budo demonstrations, or Embu. As was last year, 9 budo was represented at the ceremony: Shorinji Kempo, Aikido, Kyudo, Kendo, Naginata, Judo, Jukendo, Sumo and of course Karate. Each demonstration lasted about 15 minutes and boasted the best aspects of each art: Kempo showed it's Chinese origin with its circular attacks, Aikido demonstrated the use of your opponent's power and the elegance of technique, Kendo was graceful and spiritual, Kyudo displayed incredible focus... each demonstration had superb and enviable qualities.

Karate's demonstration came courtesy of the JKF women's kata team, and the Japan University Championships male team kata champions, with a wonderful performance and bunkai of Kururunfa and Unsu.

The group training followed, with participants from each of the 9 budo styles taking part on the floor. The massive Taiko sounded the beginning and end of the practice, and the twenty minutes between was filled with shouts and enthusiasm, the biggest coming from the Karate area! There aren't the words to describe the feeling of the training- motivation and determination permeated the hall, driving everyone on. Sadly, the taiko signalled the end of the training just as everyone was getting into the swing of it; 20 minutes wasn't enough, even for the kids!

After the training, the 'opened' mochi from the Samurai ceremony was offered in Oshiruko - sweet red bean soup - along with an offering of Sake for the adults. Sake is potent stuff, so after Okano san kindly refilled my glass with his sake offering I could only sip a couple of times before leaving it!

On the journey home Arakawa sensei and I talked about the new year's plans, about the new dojo in Satte, my Shodan test, practising English and Japanese, and where I should start training from next April. We also admired the setting sun, nestling behind Fuji-san in a picture-postcard scene. Inspiring Stuff.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Shiramizu Temple Walk and Start of Year Training, 9th January 2011.

Peter Here,

The frost was well and truly biting when people gathered at Sugito Takanodai park for the annual Temple walk (hatsumode) and start of year training (hatsu geiko) on January 9. Leaving the park at 8:30, we were to walk to Satte Jinja (Shinto Shrine), be blessed by a Shinto priest, and then walk to Asukaru Taikakan (training hall) to begin the year by training all together.

As my toe was still in its cast, I couldn’t walk; however I was determined to take part so I was allowed to take the bicycle instead! As well as not being able to walk the distance, I couldn’t wear shoes yet either, so endured the cold with sandals and socks (a fashion no-no, but it can slide this time):

By the time we walked to the temple, my extremities were well and truly frozen!

Having arrived at the temple, there was a quick ceremony, and we then did 100 punches, followed by 100 kicks. It was a lot harder work that it has been in the past, because of the cold but also because of the holiday too! We then received an offering of sake (well the adults did- no drunken kids, they got lollipops), and made a prayer for the new year.

We then walked to Asukaru Taikakan, the Satte training hall that houses many Shiramizu competitions and weekly dojo training, with a quick pause for lunch and a recharge when we arrived. Richard also came along at that point to, so it was great to see him for the start of training too!

I could only take part in a small part of the training because of my toe, although I really wanted to join in more. Despite that, the energy on display in the room was seen and felt by everyone, from the kindergarten kids to the adult spectators. It just goes to show how great Arakawa Sensei and the rest of the Shiramizu teachers are at motivating everyone!

A great start to the year, and plenty to work on for the times ahead!

Cycling back on the way home, I also caught a very nice view- Mount Fuji in the sunset, all the way from Saitama. Happy New Year indeed!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Internship applications closed for 2011

Thank you to the numerous people from several countries who applied to the internship for 2011. Far more people applied than we expected.

The deadline for applications was January 15 Japan time, therefore any applications received after this date will not be considered, in fairness to those who got their applications in on time.

The short-listed applicants only will be contacted by our office.

We look forward to announcing the selected applicant, and the runner-up, on January 25th.

The 2012 internship selection process will begin in the Fall of this year.


Saturday, January 8, 2011

Update on intern applications for 2011

Richard here,

I've been spending 2-3hrs almost every night for over a week reading applications and replying to people's questions, so to help those interested in the internship, I thought I would clarify a few things.

It seems 3 types of people are applying.
1. The person really wants truly to learn karate in Japan, and the fact there are some part time jobs attached is just a bonus.
2. The person really wants a job, and the fact there is the chance to learn karate is a bonus.
3. The person really wants someone to sponsor a visa for them, and the fact there is anything attached to this is a bonus.

Obviously, we want people in the first category to apply, but we would accept the second category of applicants if their desire to do karate is honestly strong.

People come to Japan to learn karate all the time, and those that stay for more than a few weeks have either saved their money prior to arriving so they can cover their expenses or they find some kind of part-time job, which normally interrupts their key training times and access to the dojo for personal practice.

For the internship, we simply organized a series of part-time jobs so the selected interns honestly keen on learning karate can make a little money on the side to pay for their expenses.

Questions I have been getting include;

Do we offer medical insurance?
No, this is an internship so the selected applicant buys personal travel insurance.

How much should someone budget for expenses like eating out?
Impossible to answer since everyone's spending habits are different, but an intern should be able to survive on 30,000yen a month by preparing most of their own meals.

Can they bring their cat with them?
No, pets are not allowed in the apartment and animal immigration can be very expense anyway in terms of quarantining and health checks at the airport.

Can an intern do other things in their free time?
Yes of course. We hope the interns experience as much of Japan as possible, as long as they keep up their internship commits, like not coming late to their part-time jobs unprepared, etc.

I'm very happy to reply to some of these emails. However, the emails I don't reply to are those with grammatical errors or simply unqualified applicants. The reason is simply that we need an intern with strong and proper English skills since they will be teaching English to many different levels of learners.

Finally, applicants should read the 3 application requirements over carefully. A cover letter exposing the great engineering skills an applicant has does not match the requirements. And all correspondence from the very first email is reviewed as part of each application because we want to choose an applicant who can write and present themselves properly.

Sending email messages that look like mobile phone truncated texts like to one's friends will immediately sink an application.

We do want people to apply and we've had all types of people in the internship. I just hope with these notes from me interested applicants can put a better application forward. I'm not going to give too many hints away as to how to make a great application because we want to see what someone can offer and we want to see how well someone is already prepared for the position.

Again, I will reply to regular questions so feel free to email me anytime.

Richard, Intern Director

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

New Year's Resolutions!

Peter Here!

Happy New year to everyone! I hope 2011 is a marvellous and successful year.

A tradition that seems to span the globe is that of New Year resolutions (shinnen no houfu, 新年の抱負) ; goals you want to achieve, bad habits you want to kick, life decisions to be made, mindsets to change, etc. I thought I would write down my own, so that people can kick me up the backside if I'm not keeping to them!
  1. I will practice Karate every day: This is no different to what I am doing now, but it is good to set it in virtual stone. I will stretch Every Day for at least 30 minutes too, and make sure I keep up with my cardio exercises once my toe is completely fit!
  2. I will practice Japanese for at least an hour every day: I want to be able to read and write too, so I will probably go to a language class this year- something that I didn't get round to doing last year!
  3. I will listen to advice more, for Karate and teaching.
  4. I will make more of an effort to remember names!
  5. I will open a bank account: I usually have a lot of money in my wallet which, when I think about it, can be quite dangerous. A bank account would probably make my life here much easier.
  6. I will prepare for lessons at least two days before the class: Sometimes Monday's lessons are planned on the day because I was busy over the weekend, which means there's less margin for error if I check them. Ideally I would like to make the next lesson plan immediately after the last lesson, so I'll try and do that.
  7. I will complete private projects: I have a couple of websites that are karate-related on the go, but they have been very slow to get started. I want to have them finished by March! Then, any other projects can be tackled without these hanging over my head.
  8. I will get a gold in at least one tournament this year, and at least two more silver: After the amazing training at Shiramizu, I want to get back into winning ways! At least one gold is an absolute minimum!
  9. I will compete and spar with more confidence this year: I started doing this just before injuring my toe, so I look forward to getting back to competition fitness as soon as possible.
  10. I will pass my JKF Wadokai Shodan test this year! This is the big 'Must Do' resolution; if I don't do this then I will be very very disappointed.
  11. I will grade in Aikido: I was starting to really like aikido last year, and the bokken and jo practise was very interesting. I would like to grade or advance a little in it before my time in Japan is over, so I could do something similar back in the UK as well as karate.
  12. Finally, I will find more people to teach English to, and improve the Internship.
I hope everyone who has made resolutions this year will succeed in sticking to them. Good luck!!