Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Seiritsu's 36th Cultural Festival

Louise here,

On Sunday Richard Mosdell (internship director) invited Erica and I to the school he teaches at, Seiritsu Gakuen Junior & Senior High School. All weekend the school had its cultural festival. The first and second year students set up stalls and entertainment in their home rooms, while various performances were put on in the middle of the school, on a stage on the school's tennis courts.

Seiritsu's cultural festival: main stage

Erica and I wandered around the school a bit, and had a go at a quiz that we didn't understand either the questions or answers (luckily it was multi-choice, so we could point and grunt). Strangely enough we didn't do very well. We also met Nick Smith, a turbaned, fortune-telling international teacher. My fortune was 'Fix your uniform', and I'm still waiting for inspiration about what it means.

We watched some very interesting hip hop on the main stage (one routine was done to the theme music of 'Pirates of the Caribbean'). Then came the event we'd all been waiting for: Richard's karate club demonstration. Five girls performed Empi, a Shotokan kata similar Wado's Wanshu. Then after a rather amusing demonstration of kumite rules and how to get penalised, two kumite bouts were refereed by Richard. Finally, they demonstrated board-breaking, Richard finishing it with a flying side kick and a spinning roundhouse kick.

Richard in full flight

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Kai seki ryori

Erica here.

Last weekend, Louise and I were treated to a traditional Kyoto type dinner by one of my English students. We were told that this type of cuisine is called Kai seki yori which loosely translates to Tea Ceremony Cuisine. All the waitresses there were dressed in kimonos and we were seated in a room with a low table and sliding door.

The meal consisted of 2 appetizers and many small entrees including sashimi, tempura, soup that came in a teapot and many other dishes I cannot recalled the names of. At the end, there was pound cake and ice cream for dessert. Not only was each dish, delicious but the presentation was beautiful. Regrettably, we did not get any pictures because we ate all the food before realizing we should have taken some pictures. Maybe next time!

Friday, September 4, 2009

2009 Japan Wado Kai Championships - Erica's report

Erica (in her Shiramizu t-shirt) in front the tournament sign which states;
''dai yon-ju-go kai wadokai zen-nippon karatedo kyogi taikai''
''45th Annual Wadokai National Athletic Championships''

Erica here.

The second day I got to Japan, I was told that I had been entered into the Wadokai National Championships. At the time, I still had 2 months to prepare so I was not as nervous as I should have been. But time went by very quickly and before I knew it, it was the weekend before the tournament already!

Like Louise, I had not participated in a tournament for quite some time. I think the last one I entered was while I was still in high school (which is about 7-8 years ago). The mandatory preliminary kata for my division was Kushanku and I practiced it at every class before the competition.

Unlike Louise, neither my kata nor kumite scores very close to winning. In fact, it was quite the opposite. All 5 flags in kata were for the other girl and in kumite, I lost 6-0. In all fairness, my sparring partner went on to winning gold for kata. These results were expected, so I wasn’t too upset. I know there is much I need to work on and that is why I’m here.

It was a little heartbreaking to see some of the younger kids burst into tears when they didn’t make it to the next round because you could tell that they had trained very hard and put all their efforts in. Even some of the older competitors shed tears when they didn’t make it through. I guess those are the ones who had very high expectations for themselves.

The second day, we were at the Nippon Budokan and I was a spectator. It was fun sitting with all the parents and watching the different rings and cheering as members from the dojo were up. Before the demonstration performed by Shiramizu members, there was a mass warm-up where all the competitors were lined up and lead by Arakawa Sensei. After that, they all did kata which was really cool to watch. At the end of the day, although none of the Shiramizu competitors received gold, some of them went home with silver and bronze and each one of them knowing they had done their best.

All competitors participating in Pinan Nidan

Masatoshi getting his hair done by Yuki before the competition

Group picture!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Grand Fuji-san Expedition

Louise here,

This a rather belated and rather long blog of a very important event I took part in straight after the Wado-Kai Nationals (drum roll please): the international assault of Fuji-san. Our team consisted of Carl (holding the banner for England), Chris Heinmiller, our Canadian friend, and myself (from the land of the long white cloud). For better or worse, we decided to climb through the night in order to catch the sunrise from the top. We caught a bus from Shinjuku station, arriving at Fuji-san's Kawaguchi-ko-guchi Hachi-gome (Eighth Station). After mucking around for a bit, doing important things like buying walking sticks and taking photos, we set off into the unknown at 9 p.m.

The Culprits at Base Camp (L-R: Carl, Louise, Chris)

As it was dark by then, we were relying on our trusty head torches for guidance. It wasn't too difficult however, as we could've driven a car down the track, it was so wide. Nonetheless, my fellow team-mates began to cast aspersions on my route-finding skills, as the track went down the mountain for a little way. They shouldn't have worried: the path soon began climbing, and didn't stop climbing until the top.

Chris and one smart salesperson

We had fun at every hut we passed, persuading Chris to spend money on getting his walking stick branded (each hut had a different brand to prove that you'd reached it). Sometimes we were helped in our persuasion by a hut attendant.

Does this mean they sell hot water along with something else unspecified?

After midnight, we began to be joined on the trail by all the people who'd stayed in the huts spread up the mountain. We spent a lot of time trying to get in front of groups who were moving slower than the pace we wanted to go. By about two or three in the morning, the trail was one mass of people, with a slow queue on the inside, a slightly faster queue in the middle and the people like us who were overtaking on the outside. I must say it was one of the most surreal experiences I've had climbing a mountain, doing it at the same time as the population of a small town. Looking back down the trail, there was just one long line of lights zig-zagging up the slope, broken up by the bigger lights of the huts.

We arrived at the top at 4 a.m., and sat for an hour watching the dawn develop and the sun rise. It was quite cold by that time.

The sun appears

Superman strikes again

I think that we probably climbed too fast, and with the high altitude and lack of sleep, I wasn't feeling too well at the top. We had intended to walk most of the way around the crater rim to the track we were going to take down, but we decided it'd be best to lose some altitude as soon as possible. So we took the short way round, and after getting diverted a little by rocks and taking photos, we started down the Gotemba-guchi track.

Cool rocks + Carl

Over the edge

Now, why weren't we going back down the track we came up, along with the rest of Japan, and why had we chosen the longest track down? Well, the attraction of the Gotemba-guchi track was the sunabashiri, a giant sand slide that stretches maybe five kilometres down the lower slopes of the volcano. Besides falling, this is the fastest way down the mountain.

After taking two hours to cover one and a half kilometres, stumbling over loose rocks, I was beginning to worry that it would take all day to get to the bottom. But then …. we reached the sunabashiri.

Scree walkers' heaven

Imagine gliding smoothly down over an ankle-deep bed of small stones, the cool wind in your face and dust in your eyes, a barren landscape stretching on either side, and in front of you the track disappearing over the edge and into the clouds. Then imagine getting to the bottom and being covered in dust (yes, literally), with sore knees and stones in your shoes (if you didn't wear gaiters). That was the sunabashiri. We covered five kilometres in one and a half hours. Grand total: seven hours up, three hours at the top, three and a half hours down, zero hours sleep. Woo!

Climbing Fuji-san was certainly an experience of a lifetime. We probably did it the hard way, climbing when normal people are asleep, and I don't think I'd do it that way again. However, we saw the sun rise from the top of the tallest mountain in Japan, and had a lot of fun on the way.