A Travellerspoint blog

Tokyo Kendo

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Morning video:

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From here we went in search of an internet cafe where Joe looked up Shelly's details again, and I looked up details on this supposed Dalai Lama visit, because none of the Nagano tourist information people seemed to know anything about it (very fishy). As it turns out that the Dalai Lama was coming to Nagano today, but he was only meeting with some 200 Buddhist priests at the Zenkoji Temple. Nagano was a city built around a temple, rather than a castle, so it was kinda important historically and spiritually. The temple invited the Dalai Lama to hold prayer at their temple, and then to give a lecture in the city. His public lecture was actually going on tomorrow afternoon at the Big Hat auditorium. So, technically, I had all day today to meet Shelly and her family, and maybe even get to see a real Kendo practice tonight as her husband is an instructor at her 2 little boy's school. We managed to get in contact with Shelly via skype, and she agreed to come and get us since we weren't too far away. So we waited for her, unfortunately, in this nice green area outside the train station (the one you can see from my videos crossing over the streets like the disney monorail); which was the designated smoking area. Here in Japan, they shun smokers, but at the same time as corralling them into designated areas, they make sure they are nicer than the surrounding areas, giving them feng shui for their relaxation with nicotine. Bitter? Who, me? Guess I'm not very empathetic.

Eventually she came on her bike (guess we really were close), and she walked us back through her inner city developments to her favorite donut shop. Here she absolutely refused to let me not get anything, and then to top it off, I couldn't pay for anything I got either.

Once we picked up breakfast for us and the boys, we began walking back to her place. She was astounded by all the stuff I carried, so she insisted we place our backpacks on her bike, and then she could wheel them back to her place. Luckily, she allowed me us to at least help steady and push the bike along. It was an absolutely gorgeous day outside, so it was unfortunate that we ended up spending most of it inside, but it was really nice getting to hang out in a Japanese house with her two little boys, and I think Shelly and I really hit it off with our gossiping about Japan, her sons, and her two nieces back living next to my mom; that we didn't even notice the time. After donuts and coffee (hot coffee, as Shelly made fun of her husban's like of iced coffee. In China and Taiwan it is every important to only drink hot drinks. This is good for your body and keeps you "looking young and beautiful." Shelly made a ta-daaa face while fraiming it with her open palms and batting her eyelashes... yeah, Shelly wasn't your average "Japanese housewife"); I got on the laptop to do a little planning for tomorrow, and then helped Shelly (for what I was allowed) to make lunch. Her two little boys, one about 9, the other about 5, were doing fairly well keeping themselves occupied, but the elder one wanted to pick up some more coloring books from the local store. Holding his little brothers hand and heading out the door, Shelly warned him to be back within the hour otherwise his lunch would be cold. I looked at her in shock, and she quickly eased my worry, telling me that in Japan, children are safe to travel on their own. The youngest boy was even upset that he wasn't allowed to ride on the train by himself yet, Shelly said maybe next year. I had noticed a lot of little children on the trains with us, but I always just assumed that someone put them on the train, and someone would be there to collect them off of it. But no, children in Japan learn to be self sufficient at a much earlier age than we do in the states, and since Japan is a much safer place, it is of no worry to the parents that they do so. And just like she said, the two little boys were back from the store, coloring books in hand, and nothing particularly interesting to report about their travels.

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The older one could speak english, but the younger one was only just learning. The older one could also speak Taiwanese, which was very impressive. Shelly was Taiwanese, but her husband was Japanese, making the boys automatic Japanese citizens. If it had been the other way around, and Shelly was the Japanese side of the family, they would not. That is how strict the laws are in Japan about being a citizen. If the parent is female, then they are not Japanese, they are the father's nationality! This is why Japan is not an immigrant country by any means. She said it was even hard for her living in Japan because people used to be able to tell that she wasn't Japanese once she started to speak, but now she said that they cannot tell she is Taiwanese, so it makes things easier socially. But still, she was way too rebellious and feminist to get close to many of the other house wives, so I don't think that she will stay permanently in Japan. And quite frankly, I think she misses Taiwanese food (it was very good). But she promised to take us to an amazing restaurant tonight after kendo practice.

She said that bringing the boys up, it was always a question of what their nationality should be. The eldest was born in America, so he could pick to be American, but his mother is Taiwanese, so he could choose that, and his father is Japanese, so he could elect that too! But once he choses a nationality, in Japan at least, that is it. If he doesn't pick Japanese, then he can never be Japanese. He could apply for citizen ship in Taiwan or America as an immigrant, but not Japan. The younger one was born in Taiwan. And all of these conversations about life, politics, religion, societal rights, etc, we had while watching the Madonna episode of a show called Glee. I guess it is a show based in my home state of Ohio. I have only ever seen TV commercials for the show, and a few posters with the characters putting an L on their foreheads. It was distracting, no, not distracting... eye catching. It was eye catching, but it never forced you to actually pay attention, so we easily carried on making lunch and talking about the word as we knew it. As seen on the show, the high school cafeteria served edible things Shelly couldn't describe as food. She said this was one of the reasons she didn't want to raise her children in America, she wanted them to know what good food was like... and traveling to Taiwan and Japan, I almost had to agree. They have real real food in Taiwan and Japan. Every dish is absolutely a masterpiece. No tots.

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When the father got home he got the boys ready for Kendo practice, and we all walked down the road to one of the best Kendo schools in all of Tokyo (which makes it one of the best Kendo schools in all of Japan, which then can be extended to being one of the best Kendo schools in all of the world... I was pretty excited). Joe recognized the name of the school, and its head Sense from a book he read at Corey and John's house they rented back in Hawaii called The 47th Samurai:

In The 47th Samurai,
Bob Lee Swagger and Philip Yano are bound together by a single moment at Iwo Jima, 1945, when their fathers, two brave fighters on opposite sides, met in the bloody and chaotic battle for the island. Only Earl Swagger survived.

More than sixty years later, Yano comes to America to honor the legacy of his heroic father by recovering the sword he used in the battle. His search has led him to Crazy Horse, Idaho, where Bob Lee, ex-marine and Vietnam veteran, has settled into a restless retirement and immediately pledges himself to Yano's quest.

Bob Lee finds the sword and delivers it to Yano in Tokyo. On inspection, they discover that it is not a standard WWII blade, but a legendary shin-shinto katana, an artifact of the nation. It is priceless but worth killing for. Suddenly Bob is at the center of a series of terrible crimes he barely understands but vows to avenge. And to do so, he throws himself into the world of the samurai, Tokyo's dark, criminal yakuza underworld, and the unwritten rules of Japanese culture.

Swagger's allies, hard-as-nails, American-born Susan Okada and the brave, cocaine-dealing tabloid journalist Nick Yamamoto, help him move through this strange, glittering, and ominous world from the shady bosses of the seamy Kabukicho district to officials in the highest echelons of the Japanese government, but in the end, he is on his own and will succeed only if he can learn that to survive samurai, you must become samurai.

As the plot races and the violence escalates, it becomes clear that a ruthless conspiracy is in place, and the only thing that can be taken for granted is that money, power, and sex can drive men of all nationalities to gruesome extremes. If Swagger hopes to stop them, he must be willing not only to die but also to kill.

When we got to class it was first only the small children, where the youngest child was still probably the youngest of the group.

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See that little one in the blue shirt? Yeah, he isn't part of the class. He is a baby brother that kept picking up things and running at the class, chasing them like it was a sword, and sometimes, when he could lift one, it would be.

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This kid was a menace, but so cute. The mom was also helped out by several of the other moms, including Shelly, by passing this little boy around to be held, because when he wasn't in someone's arms, he was charging the class.

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One of the drills they did was so adorable, I couldn't help but laugh the whole time. To get their lungs in shape and to work on their endurance, they had to run back and forth between the two far walls of the room, screaming their battle cries at the tops of their lungs! The kids were having so much fun doing this, it was fantastic! Wild eyes, and uninterrupted sprints for about 5 minutes made it for one of my most memorable experiences in Japan.

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Then it was the older kids class, of which both boys participated. Here, they got Kendo swords.

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You see that little one on the right? That's Shelly's youngest. ^_^* So cute and deadly!

My favorite drill they did at the end of this class was the one on one challenge. They lined up in 2 lines facing each other, then the first two in line approached the middle ground holding out their Kendo sticks. Completing the proper bows, the jumped into an on guard position and began screaming at the top of their lungs! The one who screamed the loudest and the longest in one breath was the winner. Yes, many of the kids did turn red in the face with strain. The instructor was particularly proud of one of the little girls in the class for winning, and Shelly leaned into me to tell me that was his daughter.

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Then it was the young adult class, and again, both boys participated. This class about a half dozen adults came to help with. One of them was this really proper sounding British lady. She seemed so off from the rest of the group who were all Japanese men. But there she was, probably about Joe's hight, but less than my weight, long blond hair, and perfect pale complexion, but once she fitted up in all the pads and Kendo helmet, it was hard to tell her apart. They had the children basically beating them in the head for about an hour! The kids got Kendo sticks, lined up against an adult, and then would charge at them, and the adult would bend over and give the kid a perfect target with their heads! This was good training for the kids to get to learn what it feels like to actually get a strike in, and its good practice for the adults to get some strikes against them, but keep focused and unfazed. Occasionally the adult would block their attacks (rather easily), and then give them a nice whack on the behind, but mostly they let the kids win.

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After a break, all the adults came in for their class, and the 2 little boys lined up to drill with them as well! I guess it helps when your father is one of the top instructors of the school. They did, I kid you not, 1,000 high kicks to warm up for the night. I was counting with the instructor as he called out the numbers in Japanese. This part of the class was quite boring, so as they hit kyu-ju-kyu, I figured the next one would be 100, and then they could move on. Nope. Well then, when they passed yon hiyaku, I figured they would only do one hundred more, reaching a nice round 500 kicks. After passing 500, I stopped paying attention to the count. I was grateful when they hit 1,000 and I think the instructors voice was grateful too. For the rest of the class you could tell the British woman was only a beginner as she was only allowed to practice specific sparing drills with her opponents, but it was very interesting to get to see all of them rotating through the different instructors, sparing sometimes quite impressively one one advanced would get paired up with another. But always loud, between the screaming and the stick smashing, I was getting a bit of a head ache. I went out of the room and joined the mothers in the lobby. They were all very impressed that I stayed in there for that long. ^_^* But I loved it so much, and became very excited about joining a Kendo school when I reached Australia. Best of all, I figured out that it was the same sword fighting they used for the light saber duels in the original Star Wars movies! Its Kendo! I leaned over and very excitedly told Joe about my realization, but I guess he already knew all about it.

Grant it, its really bad Kendo, but hey, the movies were really good, which is more than you can say for the prequels that had great martial arts but terrible story line, dialogue, and acting. Especially watch when Obi-wan kinda slaps Darth Vader's sword in little circles with the tip of his light saber. This is a common move that Kendo fighters use, and the move that actually got me to realize that this fight was choreographed by Kendo people in the first place. Its a classic move from the movie, and I believe that they use it as both a method to disrupt the other's planned movements, get the other sword off line and out of balance, and just to plane mess with the other person.

After practice we headed for the restaurant and got a table with its own iron cooker in the center. Shelly ordered for us as her husband got the soccer game on his phone. The two little boys were so excited to watch the game over their dads shoulder while we talked to Shelly. Then when the food came out Shelly would take the raw meat and vegetables, stick them on the hot iron, cook them in seconds, then pass them onto our plates. Every set of plates that came out of the kitchen, I would ask what it was, and Shelly would always reply that she would tell me after I was done with my dinner. This was a well thought out plan that she learned from having her nieces over. Apparently, my favorite dish was cow tongue. Who knew? It was sliced into thin peaces a little thicker than pepperoni, so you couldn't tell from looking at it (ps, pepperoni probably has cow tongue in it). The next in line for favorite dish I had a tie between the stir fried vegetables and the cow tale. Again, it just looked like thick pepperoni, but these ones had a small bone in the center. I probably just grossed out my entire family. ^_^* This is a 3 smiley face blog!

After dinner Shelly showed me where the shower was and a towel I could use because she knew I had to head out early to catch the morning train out to Nagano to make sure I got one of the few standing room only tickets still available to see the Dalai Lama, and then she looked at me surprised as she saw me take up the bed she made up for us on the floor, and Joe took the couch. He told her it was because he had a bad back, we still weren't mentioning to anyone at this point that we were separated. Yes, we could have slept together because of last night and all, but neither of us wanted to. We got our extra day together, which was all we really wanted, and we were sated from last night, so yeah, I think things were really working out very well for the both of us.

PS Thank you to Brittany, for if it wasn't for her, none of these pictures would be here. We forgot the cameras back at Shelly's place, so I took these photos with my phone. For some reason I couldn't or didn't download these pictures off my phone, so they remained there all the way to New Zealand. In New Zealand, Joe used my phone as a watch, and when it was finally time for him to fly home to Canada, he only returned the phone, the charger and usb cable were gone. So with no power to the phone... my photos were trapped. Brittany agreed to take the phone and get the photos off at the Sprint store, or somehow use cables and adaptors they had back in the States.

Posted by - Rain 14:18

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Comments

yay to brittany who worked very hard getting all these pics to vanessa! and yay to vanessa for the cool pics and stories. I love the little tiny child with the sword!

by georgi r

The pictures were no problem. And- I love you "a show called Glee" hahahaha. It's a pretty popular show young traveler.

by BritterBee

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