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A Winter in Tokyo


Editor’s Note: One of the things
that we at EBJI take pride in is our ability not only to
bring many visitors from around the world to our dojo,
but also for our members to have the opportunity to go
around the world. In the past, some of our members have
traveled as competitors representing the country to
international tournaments. In other cases such as Dan’s,
however, our members have traveled to learn about culture,
language, and people in other parts of the world. The
great thing about Judo is that it gives all of us around
the world a common language with which we can all
communicate together. With the contacts we had, we were
able to set up a trip for Dan that was a once-in-a-lifetime
experience that he will remember the rest of his life.
And, everyone in EBJI and the local Judo community have
reaped the benefits of the knowledge he brought back and
the growth that he experienced. In this way, everyone
benefits and learns. Isn’t that what it’s all about?

In the summer of 1995, I was fortunate
enough to represent EBJI and Daiheigen Judo Yudanshakai
at the 2nd annual USJI Coaches Conference.
While there, I made many new friends and ended in a
conversation with someone who had recently returned from
a several month visit to Japan. This particular
conversation got me thinking. I was wondering if it would
be possible for myself to make it to Japan for such an
extended trip. Quickly, I dismissed the thought. After
all, I couldn’t really speak the language (beyond judo
terms), I couldn’t read or write at all, would have to
leave my job, and I probably could not afford such a long
trip. Still, the thought gnawed at me. I figured, why not?
Maybe I could take a shorter trip to save money. As a
computer programmer, I didn’t need to be at home to work,
I could work anywhere, as long as I brought a computer.
And, I thought, maybe I could arrange some kind of stay
with judo folks. These thoughts pushed me to further
approach the subject.

One night after practice, I asked
Sensei Matsumoto about the idea I was forming. He
informed me that he had many friends in Japan and that I
might be able to find a place to stay for little or no
cost. Another meeting, this time with my boss, yielded me
a computer for my work. A couple months of planning went
by and Sensei Matsumoto informed me that he had made
arrangements for me to stay at Kokushikan University in
Tokyo, and that the instructor there, Sensei Nakajima,
had lived in Australia and spoke fluent English!

In the beginning of January, I was off
to Tokyo. After a 12 hour flight, and a customs check, I
had to figure out how to get from Narita Airport (in
Chiba) to the other side of Tokyo. Luckily for me,
another American was going the same way as me, and he
lived in Tokyo as well, so he new the rail system and
could speak Japanese. After four hours, I arrived at
Kokushikan University and was settled in my dorm room. I
had nine weeks in Japan, and I intended to make the most
of it!

Within a week, I had a routine. I ran
with the Judo team in the morning, worked in my dorm room
until lunch, then went to eat. After that, I would run
errands for Sensei Nakajima and go back to work. In the
evening, there was judo practice. I spent most days
practicing with the Kokushikan team, which is famous for
its mat work. I also went to the Kodokan for judo
practice and kata training, and to a couple private dojos.

During this time, I also set aside one
or two days per week to see the area. I rode trains
everywhere. I visited the Hard Rock Caf? in Roppongi,
the famous park in Ueno (where people go to watch the
cherry blossoms), the Tokyo museum, the famous Electric
City in Akihabara, and the sumo hall.

In the middle of February, another EBJI
family came to Japan to visit family in Nagoya. I booked
a shinkansen (bullet train) ride to meet them in Nagoya
and also to meet Sensei Otani, who was a guest of EBJI
for a year in 1994 and 1995. We met in Nagoya and met
Lily, Alan, Lonnie, Mei Mei, and Amy at a restaurant (owned
by Lily’s brother I believe) for a party, and we had a
Korean BBQ lunch the next day. Afterward, I got to see
some of the sights in Nagoya before heading back to Tokyo.
I saw the Tokugawa art museum (beautiful works), and
climbed the Nagoya TV tower to the top! I wanted to see
some other sights, but I had to get on the Shinkansen
back to Tokyo.

The beginning of March, I made
arrangements to go to visit Sensei Otani for a week in
his home of Okayama. To save money, I made my way to
Okayama by bus, leaving Shinjuku station at 9pm and
riding nonstop for 11 hours to Okayama station! During
this time, I continued to run in the morning (with the
Okayama Shoka University Judo team) and practice judo. I
also visited many sites in Okayama, including the
Karakuen garden, Okayama castle, and the famous Seto-Oohashi
(sister bridge to our own Golden Gate Bridge). One day we
drove to Hiroshima, where we saw the Hiroshima Peace
Memorial, which was an ominous reminder of the tragedy of
the atomic bomb. In Hiroshima, I also first tried
Okonomiyaki, which quickly became my favorite Japanese

Near the end of the trip, we spent two
days sightseeing in Kyoto and Nara. During these two days,
I saw so many incredible sites from the Great Buddha in
Nara, to the breathtaking Kinkakuji (Temple of the Golden
Pavilion) to temples and rock gardens. I managed to take
many pictures and send home postcards from these places.

Then, upon returning to Tokyo, I was
off again. This time to visit another instructor friend
in Saitama. Sensei Takeuchi (who is now an EBJI guest for
a year) invited me to stay with his university for a few
days, so I ventured off yet again. The trip to Saitama
was short, though. Only two days and two nights which
included a judo practice, a run, and a fitness clinic.

Upon returning once again to Tokyo, I
made arrangements with friends to go souvenir shopping,
as I was leaving the next week. Returning back to
Kokushikan, the instructors there had decided to take me
to dinner for a going away party, so a bunch of us (must
have been 12 or 14 of us!) crammed into this little whole
in wall restaurant/bar for a final good-bye.

All was not over yet. I could not leave
Japan without going to visit Sensei Iida in Kamakura. So,
two days before leaving, I took another train off to
Kamakura to spend the day up there with Sensei Iida.
While in Kamakura, we did see the great Buddha (second in
size only to the one in Nara), but he also took me to one
of the best places I had yet to see. Only a 5 minutes bus
ride from downtown Kamakura, there is a small bamboo
forest, and in the middle is a small clearing with a
little bamboo shack serving tea. When you sit amongst the
trees, warm tea in your hands and listen quietly, the
only thing you can hear is the soft noises of the insects
and the running water of the nearby creek, a far cry from
the hustle and bustle Japan normally offers.

Two days later, I was back home. Tired
and jetlagged, I went to judo practice and sweat (which
made me feel better), and the next day, I woke up at 5am,
so I went to work. Getting into the office, I set off the
silent alarm. When the police showed up, they walked in,
looked at me and said "Oh, you’re back! Welcome Home!"
and then we started laughing… I was truly home.

A few days after coming back, one of my
judo friends was asking me about training in Japan, and
what was the most memorable part. I told him that I
remembered going to the famous Tenri University. We had
just stopped to say hello (as Sensei Otani went to Tenri)
and I had no Judogi. Sensei Fujii asked who I was, and we
were introduced. Without a word, he brought me a Judogi.
Without further ado, I had donned the Judogi and joined
the workout. It was very close to the All Japan
University tournament and they were training very hard. I
can’t remember being thrown so often or so hard at any
time in my life. After practice, Sensei Fujii took us to
lunch, and he commented to me "You have very good
ukemi", and I laughed, and he explained, "This
is good. This means you have very good judo. Do not stop
practicing and you will become very strong." It made
me feel good to have a four-time world champion comment
on my judo… And as I sat there, listening to Sensei
Fujii and Sensei Otani talk, I realized that this whole
thing, it’s all about judo. This incredible experience,
an incredible LEARNING experience (I even picked up a lot
of Japanese!) was all because of Judo. If not for judo, I
would never have thought of going. If not for the area
and the instructors that I have had, I probably never
would have had the opportunity to go. It is unfortunate
that I cannot write here in a few paragraphs what was a 9
week life experience for me. However, if anyone would
like to ask me about my trip or see pictures, please feel
free to ask… Maybe it will prompt you to do this too…
Just like talking with the guy at the conference prompted