Kendo Tilburg

WaShinKan Japan trip 2017

As most of the people know, WaShinKan organizes a special Budo-trip to Japan for her members every 2 years, started in 2015. Written below here is a recap of our trip, including some pictures made by both WaShinKan members and local people, ie. Delano Kamp, John Potts and George McCall.

WaShinKan Kanji

Our trip begins with buying the famous Dutch “stroopwafels” as souvenirs for the people in Japan. Then of course the departure from Amsterdam Airport to Narita International Airport. Originally we were supposed to have a transfer, but our flight got re-booked to a direct flight! We met up at Narita airport with the bus from I.B.U. as well as one of the students and started our trip to the university. Having some fun conversations, a few naps and some Japanese candy on the bus, we finally arrived in Katsuura around noon.

Having a lot of time, we decided to take a stroll and take a look at all the facilities. As expected from a Budo university, there were a lot of bogu laying around, drying in the sun…

On our first few days in Japan, we decided to check out the way to the Budo-shop (Chiba Budogu) and stumbled across some of Ivo’s friends, who just happen to own a beautiful hotel (Hotel Mikatsuki). Because it was so long since they met, they invited us over for lunch! After this delicious lunch the road continued to Chiba Budogu where we picked out our shinai for the entire stay. The great thing about these local Budo-shops is that you can try a great variety on items, like shinai, and choose the ones of your own preference based on balance, length, weight and thickness.

After the shop it was literally back to school for some learning. The fun part about this class was that it was still given by one of Ivo’s previous teachers. Instead of her regular planned class, she switched the schedule around to teach the students birthday stuff, because it was actually Ivo’s birthday! All the students got to ask questions about the Bekka program at I.B.U. and after that it was writing Hiragana and Katakana. With the classes being over, it was time for the very first practice session at I.B.U. for Kendo! The regular sessions, called Bukatsu or Club Activities, start around 16:30 and usually contain of a warming up session, followed by about 1,5 hours of jigeiko. Sadly, Ivo sprained his ankle in this session, resulting in the fact that he could not train anymore that week…

Luckily the week was almost over and it was time for a good birthday party with graduates dropping by to say hi and party!

The next morning, a Saturday, started off with asageiko (morning practice) from 08:30 until 10:30. Funny thing is that graduates from prior years, and thus Ivo his friends and Senpai, like Shitaya Takahiro came from a different city to hang out. You can imagine the disappointment when they realised that Ivo was unable to do Kendo that week… After a quick shower, we had lunch with Takahiro and then headed off to Tokyo!

Arriving in Tokyo! One of Ivo’s other Senpai, Cristian Farias, also graduate of I.B.U. was waiting for them to have dinner that night at one of the more luxurious conveyor belt sushi places in central Tokyo: Sushi Nova. After sushi we had a few beers in an European pub before we went to sleep.

The next morning we headed off from Cristian’s room to practice at the Dojo that he always trains at. It’s a really great Dojo in central Tokyo.

First off there was a large session where everyone practiced together, with mainly jigeiko-sessions. Afterwards one of the 8th dan Sensei there did some specific instructions and feedback for WaShinKan members only!

And finally we closed the session with some sessions against Cristian, who is a fast and strong Jodan player!

After keiko it was time to roam around a bit through the famous parts in central Tokyo, starting with Akihabara, the electric city center!

And after the day was over, we headed back with public transport, all the way to Katsuura. It’s quite a long drive (think 2 or 3 hours by train) and funny enough we saw some promotion for I.B.U. along the way.

Having arrived late at night back in Katsuura, we just made it in time for a game of Kin-Ball! This crazy sport is played with 3 teams of 4 people and a HUGE ball.

The next morning was Asageiko, or early morning practice. Since it was on a Saturday, the keiko-session was only starting at 09:00. This gave us enough time to do a round trip through the actual village after practice. It’s a great and quite place with some nice houses and even better sightseeing spots along the way.

During the week Delano also hurt his foot (like a good kohai, he followed his senpai’s bad example I guess?) and was out of commision for a while as well.

The next week we had some Kendo sessions where Jonathan and Ivo explained the kata to the Japanese students. Apart from that there were more Japanese classes and in the evening an Iaido session by the great Kaneda Sensei!

After the Iaido session, 2 of Ivo’s Senpai took him out for a second birthday party. And believe me, a lot of fun (and drinks..) were had. The evening went on for so long that it ended up being early morning with the sunrise before hitting the sack!

Unsurprisingly, the next morning was a chilling morning where there was time for a bit of relaxation in the general hall, before heading out to Kyudo practice!

The last day at I.B.U. had come and we hit the road to Tokyo, seeing some weird scarecrows before arriving at Tokyo central station.

Arrived in Tokyo, we quickly headed on the trains and subways to Asakusa, where we stayed our first few nights in the travellers “Sakura Hostel“. Fun fact about these Japanese hostels is that they often have entertainment shows or experiences planned throughout the week which you can join. They are a great way to get into Japanese culture in a fun and interesting manner. On our first night in the hostel they had a little show with Geisha and Samurai Actors, in which the customers of the hostel could even partake! Obviously we all had to try stuff… Ivo tried a traditional game where you play some sort of rock, paper & scissors but it’s called Lion, Hunter, Grandma. Then Jonathan tried on traditional Japanese clothing and Delano joined in on a acted combat where he had to kill some actors!

Cheerful and still in good spirits, we decided to visit one of Delano’s favourite places in Ueno. After a few bites and drinks, we obviously couldn’t let Ueno park be unexplored, including visiting Don Quichotte late at night..!

The next day we strolled through Asakusa and then headed for Tokyo Skytree 東京スカイツリー. This is one of the most iconic buildings (as well as the tallest) in central Tokyo to visit for a great sightseeing spot.

Ivo got an invitation from Nabeyama Sensei to come and practice at Tsukuba university and have dinner afterwards at his place with him and his wife. Since you never decline anything a Sensei asks or tells you to do, Ivo and Jonathan went to Tsukuba to practice!

After practice we headed home in Nabeyama Sensei’s new car…

…and then had an amazing dinner and some beers! We talked a lot about Kendo, about both Nabeyama Sensei and his wife’s career and about their visits to The Netherlands for the NKR’s annual summer seminars!

After the amazing food, it was back to the hostel again!

The next morning it was rise and shine very early for us, since Ivo’s Senpai and graduate from I.B.U. Kato Sensei came to pick us up and have practice at his new highschool!

The evening we met up with Maiko, one of the girls who lived in Tilburg and moved back to Japan! Since we were still in contact, we decided to all meet up and go out for dinner (and drinks & karaoke after that). It was a great way to spend time in local places from Asakusa and we got to make our own Okonomiyaki, a traditional Japanese dish that could be considered a filled pancake with mayonnaise conform European standards!

The next day we did a little bit more sightseeing and in the evening went to a Shabu Shabu restaurant. Basically, it’s an all-you-can-eat concept where there is a boiling pot with water/bouillon that you use to boil vegetables and very thin sliced meat. It really is a great experience and is very tasty!

After the food, we had a few beers at Asakusa’s big entrance gate. When Ivo wanted to throw the beercans away, he asked the local Koban (small police station) if there were trashcans anywhere. They started a conversation upon seeing his I.B.U. shirt and even wanted to take pictures with him. The picture itself however looks more like he got arrested for drinking in public!

And alas, we come to the final day in Tokyo! Before taking the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Kyoto, we quickly hopped by the Imperial Palace in front of Tokyo central station. It really is a sight to see with huge fortified structures around it.

After having arrived in Kyoto, we went to our hostel (called K’s house) and then went off to explore a little bit of the surrounding streets. Kyoto is known for not being bombed during WW2, resulting in the fact that most of the traditional buildings, such as old temples, dojo and shrines are all still intact, with the old architectural style still being very present in today’s housing. It is a beautiful sight and a lot of people go there for this reason. Another one would be the fact that the Geisha and wafuku (traditional Japanese clothing) are still very much alive in this area. Together with the architecture, they represent a lot of the Japanese culture as portrait to other countries.

In the evening the rest of the Dutch delegation caught up with us in the hostel (not everyone has the time or money for a 3 week trip) and we had dinner together in one of the local Katsu restaurant, conveniently named Katsu Katsu. After this we all went back to the hostel and chatted until late in the night with some classical Japanese whiskies from the Yamazaki brand!

Early morning again in Kyoto and we headed out to the temples of Kyoto, of course wearing traditional Japanese clothing as well! There was a lot to see and we eventually headed out into the forest. We kept walking and following mountain trails and ended up where we started, at the famous senbon torii, also known as the thousand red gates temple!

After senbon torii we headed out to probably one of the most famous temples of Kyoto: the Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺). Officially called Otowa-san Kiyomizu-dera (音羽山清水寺), is one of the independent Buddhist temple in eastern Kyoto. The temple is part of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto (Kyoto, Uji and Otsu Cities) and UNESCO World Heritage site. The temple was founded in 778, however its present buildings were constructed a lot later in 1633, ordered by the Tokugawa Iemitsu. There is not a single nail used in the entire structure. It takes its name from the waterfall within the complex, which runs off the nearby hills. Kiyomizu means clear water, or pure water. The main hall has a large veranda, supported by tall pillars, that juts out over the hillside and offers impressive views of the city. We made a picture like most of the people do, and this is probably the most famous view of the temple complex. Large verandas and main halls were constructed at many popular sites during the Edo period to accommodate large numbers of pilgrims, but none as impressive as this one. The popular expression “to jump off the stage at Kiyomizu” is the Japanese equivalent of the English expression “to take the plunge”. This refers to an Edo period tradition that held that, if one were to survive a 13m jump from the stage, one’s wish would be granted. 234 jumps were recorded in the Edo period and, of those, 85.4% survived. The practice is now of course prohibited. Beneath the main hall is the Otowa waterfall, where three channels of water fall into a pond. Visitors can catch and drink the water, which is believed to have wish-granting powers. We however didn’t want to wait in line for an hour (yes, the line for catching the water was this long..) so we only watched people do it.

In the evening we decided to go out for some food with John and Lizet. When we entered the bar that John picked, suddenly a loud shout: “IVOOOOOOO..!!” came from one of the tables in the back. George McCall, founder of Kenshi247 and high school teacher of Otemae Kotogakko! (大阪府立大手前高等学校) came running! We immediately knew we had come to the right bar/restaurant! We had French fries, burgers and a few beers and some great talks.

The following day was all in the spirit of Budo and we headed out to the the famous and historic Butokuden. This martial arts hall was built in Kyoto near Heian Shrine to carry out the legacy of ancient traditions which was started in eighth century capital of Kyoto. It remained emblematically the powerful symbol of esteemed honor and highest integrity where the prominent Japanese martial practitioners aspired to be recognized by the Dai Nippon Butoku Kai. We of course visited for the Kyoto Enbu Taikai, also known as the Kyoto demonstration championships. It’s always impressive to see the 7th and 8th dan people demonstrate their ideas in Kendo. Definitely worth watching!

After the Butokuden, we went with John to the temple that was dedicated to notorious Miyamoto Musashi who was an expert Japanese swordsman and rōnin. Musashi, as he was often simply known, became renowned through stories of his excellent and unique double-bladed swordsmanship and undefeated record in his 60 duels (next is 33 by Itō Ittōsai). He was the founder of the Hyōhō Niten Ichi-ryū or Niten-ryū style of swordsmanship and in his final years authored The Book of Five Rings (五輪の書 Go Rin no Sho), a book on strategy, tactics, and philosophy that is still studied today. Fun fact: We actually missed the temple with Musashi’s statue and went up all the way to the mountains to reach a really gorgeous temple where we got to experience one of the zen traditions of the wandering monks!

And our own Miyamoto Mustachi!

We quickly visited the Butokuden again for George his tachiai, a one-and-a-half-minute battle before the eyes of people from all over the world! After his shiai (and a lot of others) we decided to take a look at the Heian Shrine (平安神宮). It has a relatively short history, dating back just over a hundred years to 1895. The shrine was built on the occasion of the 1100th anniversary of the capital’s foundation in Kyoto and is dedicated to the spirits of the first and last emperors who reigned from the city, Emperor Kammu (737-806) and Emperor Komei (1831-1867). Heian is the former name of Kyoto by the way. A giant torii (gate) marks the approach to the shrine, around which there are a couple of museums. The actual shrine grounds themselves are very spacious, with a wide open court at the center. The shrine’s main buildings are a partial replica of the original Imperial Palace from the Heian Period. After visiting this open court, we headed to the garden with a variety of plants, ponds and traditional buildings. The garden’s most striking features are its beautiful pond crossing bridge and of course many weeping cherry trees. These trees bloom a few days later than most other cherry trees, making the garden one of the best cherry blossom spots in Kyoto around the tail end of the season, which we just missed, since that is usually around mid April. However, the garden was still worth while our visit and we loved to see the beautiful Japanese architecture in both landscaping as well as buildings.

After a quick stop at Tozando’s shop around the Butokuden’s corner, we waited for George and went out to party. A wild night was to follow! We started off with some beers, and when everyone was pretty messed up, George decided to baptise one of the people there! In the middle of the night, in the middle of the river that flows through Kyoto, we undressed and got Jack Champion underwater! The rest of the evening was quite a blur, but a lot of new people, Karaoke, crazy taxi rides and waking up in the convenientstore all happened.

The next day, and for us luckily not that early, we had our official keiko session at the Butokuden ourselves. Intense but short, we had a space at the main training hall for about an hour and a half and did jigeiko with most of the people in our group, including George and Jack!

Then having a quick lunch after hanging out our gear at the local Sukiya we decided to end the day with a visit to one of Ivo’s favourite onsens spots. Close to the onsen in Kyoto live some friends from Ivo and obviously we had to visit! Since pictures of the onsen are not allowed, I’ll add some pictures of the restaurant we went after and how crowded the taxi spot is at Kyoto central station.

The final day at the Butokuden we were mainly waiting to watch friend and famous Kendoka Sumi Sensei. We wanted to watch his shiai since it is regarded one of the highest levels of Kendo in Japan. The fights at the Kyoto Enbu Taikai start with the youngest 6th dan kendoka fighting in fight 001, working our way through the 3 days until the 8th dan sensei fighting with the last fight being numbered 707. Sumi Sensei is in the 701 bracket, one of the last fights of the Taikai! He completely dominated and destroyed his opponent, even both being 8th dan and about similar age. It was a beautiful sight to see all the other sensei fight too, but his fight was by far the best.

After the Taikai we closed the day off with another late night trip through the city center and visited another Shabu Shabu place but this time with John and Lizet. The food is always great in Japan but Shabu Shabu is on its own level.

On one of the last day in Kyoto we decided to go all the way west to Tenryuji (天龍寺), which is the most important temple in Kyoto’s Arashiyama district and Ivo’s favourite temple in Kyoto. It was ranked first among the city’s five great Zen-temples, and is now registered as a world heritage site. Tenryuji is the head temple of its own school within the Rinzai Zen sect of Japanese Buddhism. Tenryuji was built in 1339 by the ruling shogun Ashikaga Takauji. Takauji dedicated the temple to Emperor Go-Daigo, who had just passed away. The two important historic figures used to be allies until Takauji turned against the emperor in a struggle for supremacy over Japan. By building the temple, Takauji intended to appease the former emperor’s spirits. Tenryuji’s buildings, were repeatedly lost in fires and wars over the centuries, and most of the current halls, including the main hall (Hojo), drawing hall (Shoin) and temple kitchen (Kuri) with its distinctive small tower, date from the relatively recent Meiji Period (1868-1912). Unlike the temple buildings, Tenryuji’s garden survived the centuries in its original form. Created by the famous garden designer Muso Soseki, who also designed the gardens of Kokedera and other important temples, the beautiful landscape garden features a central pond surrounded by rocks, pine trees and the forested Arashiyama mountains. The area is really beautiful. Close to the riverbank the city flourished and is also known for its bamboo forest.

After the visit to the temples, the forest and the river, we had lunch at one of the local shops before we all went our own way (in our case to Osaka) and continued our travels in Japan.

Having arrived in Osaka’s J-Walker hostel the next day, we relaxed and had a beer on the roof before walking around the local area.

During our walk we actually came across a poster of a local Kendo club that practiced in one of the school gym’s. This really felt like it hit close to home since we are also a local Kendo club, practicing in the gym of an elementary school. We decided to grab our gear and headed out to what ended up in a fun practice with both juniors, beginners, people of our level and even 7th dan sensei!

The next day we grabbed our Kendo gear and went to Osaka Castle (大阪城) for a closer look and practice at the Shudokan, which is basically the castle’s Budojo!. Its construction started in 1583 on the former site of the Ishiyama Honganji Temple, which had been destroyed by Oda Nobunaga thirteen years earlier. Toyotomi Hideyoshi intended the castle to become the center of a new, unified Japan under Toyotomi rule. It was the largest castle at the time. However, a few years after Hideyoshi’s death, Tokugawa troops attacked and destroyed the castle and terminated the Toyotomi lineage in 1615. Osaka Castle was rebuilt by Tokugawa Hidetada in the 1620s, but its main castle tower was struck by lightening in 1665 and burnt down. Talk about bad luck! It was not until 1931 that the present ferro-concrete reconstruction of the castle tower was built. During the war it miraculously survived the city wide air raids. Major repair works gave the castle new glamor in 1997. The castle tower is now entirely modern on the inside and even features an elevator for easier accessibility. It houses an informative museum about the castle’s history and Toyotomi Hideyoshi. The castle tower is surrounded by secondary citadels, gates, turrets, impressive stone walls and moats. The Nishinomaru Garden, encompassing the former “western citadel”, is a lawn garden with 600 cherry trees, a tea house, the former Osaka Guest House and nice views of the castle tower from below. Unlike most of the rest of the castle grounds, the garden requires an admission fee. The entire Osaka Castle Park covers about two square kilometers with lots of green space, sport facilities, a multi-purpose arena (Osakajo Hall) and a shrine dedicated to Toyotomi Hideyoshi. We met George at the entrance of the castle’s dojo and practiced with the locals!

In the evening we met up with John again, who also went to Osaka. We had dinner at one of the local Izakaya and talked about the invitation from Ivo’s good friend Alex Bennett to come and practice at Kansai University where Alex was practicing.

So obviously the next morning we headed out very early to Kansai University and met up with Alex and his students! Great keiko. Interesting fact for the actual Kendoka who read this: At Kansai University, they start every kendo session with 1.000 suburi. This means that most of the students are already tired before practice start, and still the beat us no problem!

After the keiko sessions, we went back to the Air B&B that we had rented to take a quick brake and then in the afternoon headed out to Otemae Kotogakko, George his high school, for more Kendo!

After the keiko session with George we did a quick round to Osaka Castle and then met up in the evening (which also sadly happened to be our last evening in Japan) with Taeka, one of Ivo’s friends who is a professional Yoga instructor. She travels the world, teaching and learning Yoga and on one of her trips she visited Tilburg and met Ivo and Jonathan. Talking about coincidence!

The next morning, as we are both closing the end of this report as well as the end of our stay in Japan, we packed our gear and headed to the airport. Since we all bought shinai in Japan and wanted to take those home, we had one of the suitcases sealed in with the shinai attached to it. This will count as one item for the airlines (even the shape is kinda odd..) and we wouldn’t have to pay extra. Although we knew it were shinai and a bogu, it looks a bit like a guitar bag, don’t you think?

And finally our late evening arrival in Amsterdam, at Schiphol international airport..!

Thanks for taking the time to read the above recap of our visit in Japan. I want to thank all the members of WaShinKan and Shin Nakada for their stay in Japan, all the Sensei who allowed us to practice with us, both at I.B.U. as well as in Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka. Special thanks to Yukiko Yoshino, Takahiro Nabeyama and George McCall for making this trip possible in Katsuura, Tokyo and Osaka.

Hopefully by reading this story and seeing the pictures, you can get even more motivated for every practice, just as the members of WaShinKan were during their visit in Japan.

Kind regards,

          – Ivo van Roij
          – ヴァン ロイ ・ イヴォ
                   Head Budojo