Saturday, November 14, 2009

Day 23: Homeward bound

Finished packing this morning, checked out, and headed straight for the station to take the train to the airport. I was a little nervous about the size of the luggage I've got because of my kendo bogu, but it worked out fine. Got to the airport with quite a few hours to kill so I bought a couple last minute gifts using the spare money on my rail pass.

Wandered around the airport a while trying to find a wireless network. Just as I was about to give up and head back to my gate to wait it out, I stumbled on a "Yahoo Cafe" which is a room full of computers with free internet access. Woohoo! Finally got a chance to finish my last few blog posts before I leave (I'll post them when I get back since I don't have the pictures uploaded).

Heading out now to catch my flight. I'm indebted to so many people who helped me here and made sure everything went super smoothly. Thank you, all!

Day 22: Back to Tokyo

On the way down the hill from Akahoshi Sensei's temple today, we took a video of the amazingly narrow, steep road. My video skills don't quite do it justice, but you can get the idea.

Took the shinkansen back to Tokyo today. Once again, Urabe Sensei and his wife were kind enough to come meet us at the station and once again they gave me a gift. They even bought tickets so they could go through the turnstile and walk me onto my train. Really looking forward to seeing them again next summer.

With Urabe Sensei and Akahoshi Sensei at Fukuyama Station:

With Mrs. Urabe:

The view of Fukuyama Castle from the station:

The train ride back was pretty uneventful, though at once stop an entire class of Japanese high school students got on the train escorted by their teachers. They were well-behaved, though, and pretty quiet.

Picked up the kendo equipment I dropped off in Tokyo a couple weeks ago. Repaired and good as new. Now all that's left is to pack and head to the airport tomorrow.

Day 21: Fukuyama

Still haven't kicked this stomach flu entirely. Not being able to eat much is putting a bit of a damper on things.

Today I met Kobayashi Sensei for lunch. It went much better than I'd feared. It took a lot of work, but we were pretty much able to communicate everything we wanted to. Talked a bit about kendo and also about his recollections of Portland. He wants to come back, which would be great.

Kobayashi Sensei was born and raised in Fukuyama so after lunch, he took me around to show me some of the sights. First he showed me the budokan ("martial arts school") where he learned kendo as a child. Outside this school was a shrine and on the way up the stairs to the shrine there is a stone on which Miyamoto Musashi (probably the most famous samurai in history) meditated.

Then we walked to the nearby Fukuyama castle, which is now a museum inside. There was a garden show going on outside the castle so we checked that out too. There was some kind of drawing going on where if you had a museum ticket you could draw a stick and if it had a red tip, you'd win one of the nice chrysanthemums they had there. Sensei walked up and drew one dramatically "ZAAATT!" and sure enough it was a winner. We gave the chrysanthemum to Akahoshi Sensei's wife back at the temple.

View of the courtyard from the castle tower:

Flower show:

That evening, Akahoshi Sensei and I met with Yoshihara Sensei and Okuno Sensei for dinner. Had a nice Japanese meal with fish caught in the inland sea which borders Fukuyama. Both Senseis said they had very nice experiences in Portland last year and they'd like to come back again when Tsuchida Sensei visits next summer. It's shaping up to be another great seminar next year!

Day 20: Joge to Fukuyama

Today Tsuchida Sensei drove me from Joge to Fukuyama to drop me off at Akahoshi Sensei's temple.

Akahoshi Sensei's temple is at the top of a steep hill which is tricky to navigate so he met us in his car at the bottom and we followed him up. Wow, is this road ever tricky. It is by far the narrowest, steepest, windiest road I've ever seen. The road is *barely* big enough for a small Japanese car to fit on and it winds between people's property going up the hill so that you often have a wall on one side and a ledge on the other, both just inches from the car.

From the top, you can see all around the city. Sensei brought us in and served us tea. Once Tsuchida Sensei was on his way, Akahoshi Sensei showed me around a little and let me take some pictures of the temple. He also explained a lot about what the different statues and symbols mean, which I really appreciate.

Main shrine area:

Side shrine:

Where the head priest sits during the service:

Screen at the entrance to the temple offices:

Sensei said a service was about to begin and invited me to come watch. Of course, I did and it was a good experience. Sensei's religion (Nichiren Buddhism) believes in a sacred phrase which they often chant during the service, "Namu myoho renge kyo". I could follow along at this point because Ai-chan and her parents taught me this when we went to Nichiren's birthplace, but for the rest of the ceremony I mostly just meditated quietly.

The congregation there was really surprised to see me, of course. At the end of the service, Sensei brought me up front and said "You're probably all wondering who this is..." and introduced me as his kendo friend from Portland.

It was a really rare opportunity, staying at the temple with the minister, having him explain what everything is, and going to his service. Something I won't soon forget.

That evening, Sensei asked another minister to take me to a nearby kendo practice. This practice is run by Kobayashi Sensei (kendo 7 dan), who many people in my dojo actually know because he visited Portland around 10 years ago. This practice was for sensei's middle-school students so I watched the drills he had them doing and then got to practice with him afterwards.

I got totally dominated, of course, and when Sensei left right away without saying much I thought maybe I'd done so poorly that he was insulted or something. But when Akahoshi Sensei came to pick me up he said that Kobayashi Sensei would be picking me up for lunch tomorrow. Okay! He also said that Kobayashi Sensei told him we wouldn't need a translator. Oh no, I said a few things and now he thinks I can speak Japanese...

Day 19: Hangin' with Mr. Cooper

Sick day today. Tsuchida Sensei took me to the hospital to make sure I didn't have "infuruenza", which I think might mean H1N1 here and not just what we would call the flu. I didn't want to go to the hospital but my hosts insisted. I've heard that they go to the hospital over even minor things here so I guess it's just a cultural difference. Anyway, their tests came back negative which relieved my Japanese hosts.

Tsuchida Sensei and I pretty much just hung out in his office all day today. I updated this blog (see day 18) and then Sensei started getting out photo albums to show me so I showed him some of the pics I have online too. He seemed to really like this (they include a lot of people he knows) and he asked how he could see more, so we made him a Facebook account. :-)

Sensei also gave me a copy of something he wrote a number of years ago which was translated into English. It talks about his experience during the war, some of the things he saw, and really goes into his personal feelings at that time and now looking back. It was really moving and he asked me to share it with people so I think I'll type it up and post it somewhere when I get back.

Slow day, but in the end a nice one.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Day 18: Hiroshima

Had a rough night last night. Up sick a lot and didn't get much sleep. Managed to make the best of it, though, and get through the day by just not eating much.

Today Tsuchida Sensei took me to the Peace Park at the site of the first atomic bomb dropping in Hiroshima. He invited Ikeoka Sensei (5 dan iaido) to come since she speaks some English and she actually drove us around all day. One of her students is a New Zealander who's in Japan teaching English, so she brought him along as well. This was really nice since it gave me someone to talk to and he could also help with some translating.

When we got to Hiroshima, we were met by Yoshihara Sensei (7 dan kendo), who is another of the senseis who visited us in Portland last year.

As I had kind of feared, once we started walking around the area Tsuchida Sensei started talking about his experiences during the war. I was really glad someone was there to translate because he was there when the bomb was dropped. He was only 17 years old at the time, stationed at a base just outside Hiroshima. When the bomb was dropped, he actually saw the mushroom cloud and heard the ringing of the explosion.

He also talked about the fact that he was a fukuryu, which is something I'd never even heard of. Apparently, this was another kamikaze unit that was being trained to defend the Japanese mainland in case of a direct assault. These soldiers were trained to get in scuba suits and literally walk up to incoming ships underwater and then stab the ship hulls with an explosive spear. Because the atomic bombs were dropped and Japan surrendered, this force was never deployed.

This flame was taken from the smoldering ashes of Hiroshima and has been kept lit ever since:

Booths full of paper cranes made by children as wishes for peace. The pictures are actually mosiacs made from cranes:

The bomb was exploded in the air almost directly over this building, which somehow kept the walls intact. It is now kept standing as a memorial:

We went to the museum afterwards, which is about as sad as you'd expect. I think they do a really good job, though, of talking about the war as a tragedy for everyone and not trying to place blame.

After Hiroshima, we went to visit the island of Miyajima. This island is absolutely beautiful. It is considered a sacred home of gods. In fact, the island itself is worshipped as a god so they built the gated entrance to it in the sea.

Ferry to the island:

Tame deer wander all over the place here. These two were really interested in this bakery:

Day 17: Joge

Travel day today. Took the shinkansen from Tokyo to Osaka and then from Osaka to Fukuyama.

At the station, Tsuchida Sensei was there waiting for me along with a couple surprise guests. Urabe Sensei and his wife live in Fukuyama and they came to say hello and give me a couple iaido and kendo DVDs.

From there, Tsuchida Sensei drove me to his ryokan in Joge. He took me to my room, which is rediculously nice. It's two rooms, in fact, bigger than any of the places we've stayed at in Japan.

After dropping my things off in the room, Tsuchida Sensei took me to a nearby onsen which was really nice. After the onsen, we came back for dinner. At this point, I met Tsuchida Sensei's son and daughter-in-law who are the chef and waitress. From what I gather, the three of them run this place by themselves.

We were served a delicious meal with sashimi, tempura, and sukiyaki. Since we weren't able to speak to each other very well, Tsuchida Sensei got on the phone and invited one of his friends over to join us. His friend speaks some English so this let us communicate. It turns out that his friend is also a kendo sensei. In fact, he's the head instructor of the dojo in Joge under Tsuchida Sensei's guidance.