Nobeoka – Part 3

Nobeoka, Miyazaki, Kyushu

We arrive in Nobeoka after eight hours of travel. Our Japanese host Kai sensei, the founder of our organization and the prime organizer of this international tournament is waiting on the platform for us. He has arranged a fleet of taxicabs to take us to our hotels. He offers a warm welcome to us all as his honoured guests and then we are whisked away to our various hotels and homestays. Some of the younger members of our group are staying with homestay people. What this means is they have room and board and will live in Japanese local residents homes.

Our hotel is the luxurious Merieges Hotel. We were only given the option of staying in this hotel or one other hotel that was of fairly equal quality. This is a four-star hotel with large western-style rooms. I was impressed with the gold plated washroom fixtures. However, I was much more impressed with the night club on the roof. We also had a fantastic main floor dining room and there were a couple of banquet halls, one of which would be hosting our grand finale international banquet.

Our itinerary for Japan is as follows: five days in Nobeoka, three days in Kyoto, four days in Osaka and then return to Toronto. We had planned to use Nobeoka as a base to discover other areas of Kyushu. We were only able to take in one site outside of Nobeoka, as we were so busy being entertained by our hosts.

In Kyoto, we had pre-planned by booking a Ryokan for three days. We would use this traditional-style Japanese home as a base and venture out from there to discover other areas of Japan. We had also pre-booked a hotel in central Osaka. From Osaka, we figured we would be able to travel to Mt. Fujiyama and do lots of sightseeing from this central location. It is good to pre-plan your trip; just don’t get too attached to the idea of making all your plans come true. The overwhelming size of the city of Osaka, a population of eight million, can keep you very occupied.

After settling into our hotel room, we met the team members of our group who were staying at this hotel, six of us in total. The plan was to go to the dojo (training school) of our host and to meet up with other members. Our plan was to have a relaxed, casual dinner together. As one of our team had been to Nobeoka previously, about three years ago he said he remembered where the Dojo was and we could walk.

We walked, we toured the city, we saw some interesting sites and finally realized we were hopelessly lost. We came to this realization at the precise moment that we were walking by a taxicab company. Utilizing my limited Japanese I arranged for two cabs to take us to the Dojo, about a five-minute ride up a winding trail leading to a temple on a small mountain. The door to the cab I was in did not work properly and on one of the twisting turns the door flew open and I almost toppled out of the car. I managed to hold on, grabbed the door and held on tight until we arrived at Shiroyama Park. Happy to have made it, somebody managed to pay the cabs fare and we watched them meander down the mountain.

A karate class was in session, the students, children, twelve and under. The dojo was great, a large open area, wooden floor, and windows all around for much-needed ventilation. It reminded me of a Buddhist temple. There were photographs of many famous karate men adorning the walls. There was a kamiza, an offering to Budha, at the front of the dojo, a small work out area at the back with Okinawan traditional exercise equipment and weights. We were welcome to train there every day and so we did. We made great use of the facilities during our time in Nobeoka. A time I will always cherish.

After training for an hour we went out to a 100 yen sushi house. Nina and I were in agreement that this was the best sushi we had ever tasted. I got the opportunity to practice my Japanese with our restaurant hosts, while we ordered and sampled two of everything on the menu. Actually there was no menu.

We used our NTO guide, which named the most common types of sushi. The sushi chef checked the items on our guide and made them up for us. We finished dinner and thanked our hosts who had treated us to such a wonderful evening. We left the restaurant feeling full, happy and having our first introduction to communicating with Japanese people who speak next to no English. I believe that we did well because we made the effort to communicate in Japanese. My limited amount of Japanese, my tourist guide book and enthusiasm for all things Japanese allows us to have one of what was to be many enjoyable evenings out with Nihonjin (Japanese people).

We awoke at the crack of dawn, sunrise 5:15 am. I got ready to go train at the dojo. Nina and I agreed breakfast would be a good idea and we were eager to check out the hotel dining room. The restaurant offered either a traditional Japanese breakfast or a western breakfast. We opted for the Japanese breakfast, this is the equivalent of a hearty man big breakfast at Denny’s, but healthier. Breakfast included juice, lightly fried fish, fresh fruit, rice with mixed meats and egg as well as tea or coffee. What an incredible feast this was.  If you are planning to go out to perform athletically; it is a very heavy start to the day.

We walked to the dojo, we made a few wrong turns but we made it there without too much trouble. Juge sensei was just leaving, he had finished his morning training. Nina and I trained for about two hours. The dojo had showers and we each shower as we are completely sweat-soaked.

Taking it easy by leisurely wandering around the town we explored the delights of the city. At high noon we decided to duck into what we think is a library but is, in fact, the local community centre. We have happened upon another fantastic find; a group of women were training in traditional Japanese dance. We bow into the large hall where the women are dancing and we sit on the sidelines taking it all in.

Beautiful costumes, colourful kimono, some of the women are using fans, they are moving with beautiful fluidity. I see elements of the martial arts in the movements, especially the way they use the fan, flicking it out fast toward eye level or using a cutting motion from down low to up high and then reversing it, reminding me of a sword cut that we practice.

Japanese traditional dance (Nihon-buyo) forms draw their inspiration from kabuki dances or the kamigata-mai style of the Kyoto area. Both dance forms favour elegant movements, with the body’s centre of gravity being kept fairly low, also common in martial arts. To accentuate movements and add more expression, dancers often use small objects like a folding fan, hand towel or parasol. A kimono sleeve also makes a good dance prop.

Traditional dance has evolved into different styles, or schools, about one hundred and twenty in all, with a total following of several hundred thousand people. The organization of each school takes the shape of a pyramid, with a master, or iemoto at the top. The iemoto grants qualified followers the right to instruct students, who form the base of the pyramid. This pyramid idea is also how martial arts organizations are set up. 

Later in the day, we met up with our young training partners who are staying at the homestay. We meet the homestay parents the Imaya’s, a very nice couple who befriend us. They invite us over for lunch, and we have a very nice time. Nina gets invited to a demo on Ikebana and actually participates in the flower arranging. The Imaya’s neighbour teaches Ikebana, a class is taking place the next day and we are welcome to participate. Nina and another couple attended as I was required at the tournament venue to help prepare the facility for our event.

The plans that we had for venturing out on our own while in Nobeoka don’t really pan out. We are so busy in the town and there is a very busy schedule, what with the tournament and the seminars. Some of the top-rated Japanese teachers of various traditional martial arts will be leading the seminars. The tournament went very smoothly, Canada won a lot of metals, we came second to Japan. That evening after the tournament a huge party was held for all the guests. The banquet was held at our hotel room, we arrive late, it is a very formal affair with the guest being announced as to what country they represent and then being led to there table for dinner.

A grand time is had by all, it is really wild to see the elderly Japanese masters relaxing, singing karaoke and having a fun time. Did I mention the barrels of sake? So much sake – oishi – delicious.

The following day is a bit more relaxed, all the teams perform demos. Camera crews are on hand recording everything and the tape is to be made available to anyone who wishes to buy it.

We find out later that another big party is to be held that evening, it is a buffet-style dinner at a restaurant on the outskirts of town. The demo turns into a chaotic affair for Team Canada as Sensei and two members of the team have to visit the hospital. We fear one of our teammates may have a concussion from an accidental strike to the head. Fortunately, it is not a concussion, simply too much sun and not enough water, combined with a strike to the head by a bokuto –  a wooden sword. The remaining team members carry on and perform demonstrations to the delight of the Japanese audience.

The day’s events come to a conclusion with our Japanese hosts thanking us for attending and hoping to see us at the next tournament to be held in 2007. This would mark the end of the recorded part of the tournament and the following day will be devoted to seminars starting at 1:00 P.M and concluding at 5:00 P.M. This would be my favourite training time and for the most part, I train Jodo with Iwameji sensei.

There are two scheduled after training group parties. The first evening’s banquet took place upon the conclusion of the seminar and happened at the large banquet hall in the hotel we stayed at.

The last group party was at a remote site that we got to via shuttle bus arranged by our hosts.

The feast that we enjoy this evening is an experience for the senses; the food, the music and camaraderie,  just fantastic. The mood at this party is much more relaxed than at the previous party. We can truly let our hair down and release the formality of training with these high ranking martial artists. We must have sampled every variety of sake and sushi at this party. The party ends and we catch the private shuttle back to our hotel alongside the masters.

Nina and I get up early and taxi off to the JR station to make travel arrangements for the following day we will venture off to Kyoto. Our tourist guide book comes in handy, we simply pencil in our destination and the time we wish to leave. As the book is pre-written in Japanese, the requesting of two train tickets is simple. We have booked our trip to Kyoto with no problem what so ever. We venture back to the hotel. On the way, we discover a temple at the top of a small hillside park.

Imayama Park is home to the statue of St. Kohboh. The temple at this site is very interesting as it also lists the temples that are found throughout Japan. So if you visit this temple you can pay your respects to all the other temples at the same time, approximately eighty temples.                     

We spend the rest of the morning touring the opposite side of the town, eventually arriving at the Citizens Gym for the seminars. The seminars are most enjoyable, with a very light work out and instruction in the finer points of the various martial arts that we are studying.

My favourites are with the soke of Mugai Ryu, Shiokawa sensei and Shindo Muso Ryu Jodo, as well as training with Iwameji sensei. The seminars conclude with a round of applause for all involved and promises of seeing each other again in the not too distant future. I give Shiokawa soke and Iwameji sensei some small parting gifts in way of thanks.

The rest of the evening is spent relaxing. Nina and I wish to invite the Imaya’s out to dinner, but they have arranged a dinner for us at their home. We give them some small gifts that we have brought from Canada.

Prior to leaving for Japan, I purchased five Jazz CD’s featuring Canadian Jazz artists (Columbia House special), as well as packages containing small Canadian flag pins for hats and lapels. They were very appreciative of this small token of our friendship. We had a very nice time, we bid them sayonara and promised to keep in touch, as we had traded contact information.    

For more of my adventures in Japan read part 4.

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