Path to the Heart of the Flower (III)

From The Magick & The Mundane » Bujinkan by Shawn Gray

In Part I and II of this adventure, I wrote about how I made my way to Japan in 1990 to teach English, pursue Karate training, and look for ninja grandmaster Masaaki Hatsumi. I had arrived in Japan in early August, and now, finally, in October, after getting settled into my apartment, teaching schedule, and Karate training, it was time to set off in search of the ninja master.

Getting information about ninja masters wasn’t as easy in 1990 as it is today. There was no Internet, at least not as we know it now. I remember writing letters home that would take a week to ten days to get from Japan to Canada, and a ten-minute phone conversation to connect with family cost me $100. The only information I had to base my search on was contained in two books on the ninja that I had brought with me to Japan. Both of these books were authored by the same American student of the grandmaster, and both of them pointed to the Iga region as the home of the ninja clans. Eager to meet Hatsumi Sensei for myself, I made plans to visit the area, the city of IgaUeno, located in present-day Mie Prefecture.

To plan the trip from Hiroshima to IgaUeno, which took around 6 hours at the time (I assume travel times have shortened in the time since), I went to the tourist information centre in Peace Park in central Hiroshima, about 200 metres from where the atomic bomb was dropped in 1945. (I had lived across the street from this location the first month I was in Japan, before relocating to the suburbs, and had been able to see ground zero out my kitchen window.) While the lovely ladies at the desk looked up train connection options, I watched televised footage of the carnage that was going on in Kuwait at the time. Saddam had torched the Kuwaiti oilfields, prompting George Bush Sr. to order the invasion that would drive him back to Baghdad.

Train information and tickets in hand, I was finally ready to make the trip. It was only a weekend trip, two days and one night, so I packed light, but made sure to take my two ninja books with me for reference. I got as early a start as possible, and made it to IgaUeno station early on the Saturday afternoon, images of the mystical ninja floating in my teenage head. Exiting the station, the reputation of the city as the home of the legendary shadow warriors was immediately apparent.

Iga-Ueno Station - October 1990

Iga-Ueno Station – October 1990

I couldn’t bring myself to pose behind the mask. I was looking for the real deal, not a propped up wooden cut-out for tourist photos.

From the station, I made my way to the ryokan inn where I would be spending the night, checked-in, and then excitedly made my way to the ninja museum, where I was sure to find the next clue in my search for Hatsumi Sensei. The ninja exhibit was fascinating, complete with purple-clad kunoichi female ninja agents, a creaking nightingale floor, hidden compartments, and trap doors. But I was really after information about the living master himself.

Proceeding into the museum proper, I slowly made my way past the many exotic artefacts, pausing to inspect them, unable to decipher the Japanese descriptions. Approaching one glass display case, I stopped in my tracks – I had seen something that I recognized. Underneath the glass was a partially unfurled makimono scroll. I had seen this very scroll before – there was a photo of it in one of the books I had brought with me! I excitedly ripped open my pack and quickly leafed through the book until I found the corresponding image. There was no mistake – the photo in the book was of exactly the same object I was looking at, as if I had taken it myself only moments before. This was a valuable clue in my search – it provided a link between what I had read about the ninja warriors and the exact place where I was physically standing in that moment. Surely a meeting with Hatsumi Sensei himself was only moments away!

I flagged down one of the few staff floating about the place, and in my awkward Japanese asked about Hatsumi Sensei. Her response was a blank expression. Hatsumi Sensei? Bujinkan? Another blank look. When I persisted, she wandered off to find a more senior person who might know more, and soon returned with an elderly gentleman. Between my dreadful Japanese and his attempts at English, he made it known in no uncertain terms that he knew nothing of the whereabouts of Hatsumi Sensei or of anything regarding the Bujinkan organization. I couldn’t believe my ears. I had come all this way to find him. And the photo in my book was proof that I was on the right track! How could the staff not know anything? I tried again to get more information from them, but they simply shrugged, and as the afternoon waned, I left the museum, crestfallen.

On the way back to the ryokan, I tried to make sense of what had happened. I was obviously at the right place – the photo in my book was proof of that. There could really be only one explanation. The staff had lied. There must have been some invisible, unspoken test that I had unknowingly failed and, having been deemed unfit for acceptance into ninja training, I had been sent away empty-handed. From what I had read of the elusive ninja in the books by the American student (who, by his own account, had managed to gain acceptance into the clan himself), it was likely that they were watching me right now, monitoring my movements. Maybe the ryokan staff themselves were also in the employ of the clan. Perhaps if I conducted myself well, someone would appear and tell me that I had passed the test after all. These were the thoughts of a 19-yr old from a small Canadian country town, brought up on fantastical ninja books and then transported into the mystical homeland of the ninja warriors, only to be denied in the end.

No ninja appeared at the ryokan that night. Or the next morning. There was little else to do but have a look around IgaUeno, including the castle. Photos were not allowed inside, but I did take a picture of an old palanquin from the doorway. This would have been carried on the shoulders of two retainers, the person of importance, such as a regional feudal daimyo lord, seated in the red box-like structure in the middle. I also got a shot out across one of the tiled roofs – tiled roofs are very exotic – and one of the castle moat, which conveys the mystique that I had come to associate with the image of the ninja through the books I had read.
Iga-Ueno Station - October 1990 Iga Ueno Castle - Palanquin Iga Castle - Roof Iga Castle - Moat
The day was passing and it was time to return to Hiroshima. No ninja having appeared, it was with a heavy sigh that I boarded the train and watched the misty mountains of Iga pass slowly out of sight.

I may have waited just a bit too long for the ninja to appear – I missed my connecting train in Kyoto. It was already late at night by this time. It was dark and the temples were closed. The only thing I found open was a portable ramen noodle stand close to the station. I had a bowl of hot noodles to console myself and, as I had little extra money, curled up to sleep on the concrete sidewalk in front of Kyoto station, using my pack as a pillow. It seemed an appropriate finalè to the ill-fated trip. I caught the first train back to Hiroshima the following morning and just managed to make it to my first English class on time. It would be another four-and-a-half years before I finally caught up with the legendary ninja master…


The Meaning of ‘Shihan’

From The Magick & The Mundane » Bujinkan by Shawn Gray

What does the title Shihan mean?
This blog post is in response to a question that I received on Facebook the other day:

I’m surprised every time I see people in the Bujinkan title themselves as Shihan. If I’m not mistaken you never present your self with -san added, this is only used when addressing others. So would not the same thinking apply to Shihan?
I’m not sure when people started doing this, maybe when they got tired of “just” having 15 dan? However, this are just my own thoughts, which very likely can be completely wrong [:)] I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on this. Maybe this could lead to yet another great and educational blog post of yours?

In the Bujinkan martial arts, the title “Shihan” has come to be used to refer to anyone ranked Judan (10th degree) and higher. Many people seem to think that it was always used this way, but it actually used to be used differently. So for this blog post I’ll be discussing what the word Shihan means in general, and how it’s come to be used the way it is in the Bujinkan.

師範

The word Shihan is generally defined in regular Japanese as instructor, teacher, or model. In Japan, there are various groups, organizations, or situations where both Sensei (the much more commonly used of the two terms) and Shihan are used, and in such cases Shihan is generally used to mean senior instructor, senior teacher, etc. This is common in the martial arts, but both words are  often used in other areas of Japanese life as well.

As far as the use of the word Shihan in the Bujinkan martial arts goes, the term was originally used to refer to the senior Japanese students of Hatsumi Sensei. That much is common knowledge, but many people I’ve spoken with over the years were unaware that Shihan was also used to refer to the senior Japanese students even before they reached the rank of Judan. Even now many people don’t seem to be aware of this – most people seem to think that the title is synonymous with the rank of Judan and up – and indeed, in a large sense, this is the meaning that it has taken on over the years. However, the senior Japanese students of Sensei (and two foreigners that I know of – there very well could be more) were called Shihan (by Hatsumi Sensei himself) before they reached the rank of Judan.

Over time, as the senior Japanese instructors began to reach ranks of Judan and above, they of course continued to be called Shihan. As time passed, foreigners began to associate the title Shihan with the colourful Judan patch. As more time passed and foreign students also began to reach ranks of Judan and above, they started to call themselves Shihan, thinking that it means a rank of Judan or higher, and perhaps desiring a new title after having already “achieved” the title of Shidoshi way back at Godan. Eventually, people began to think that having one of those Judan patches on one’s uniform makes one a Shihan, and this has become the default understanding that we see in the Bujinkan today.

In Japanese culture, just as with a title like –san, a title like Shidoshi, Sensei, or Shihan is not something that one applies to oneself. It is not something one puts on one’s business cards. It is not something that one uses to refer to oneself in class, or on one’s own website, or in email or other correspondence. It is something that others apply to you out of respect. In speaking of respect, it is my opinion (because this is the way that my teachers taught that it should be) that one should not force one’s students to call them by any particular title. This is something that should come naturally from the students’ side. If someone wants to be a Sensei or a Shidoshi or a Shihan, it is more important to act like the type of Sensei or Shidoshi or Shihan who deserves that title. In simple terms, respect is something that should be earned rather than demanded.

It’s important to realize that the word Shihan doesn’t just refer to a number on a rank certificate. This is one possible reason that Hatsumi Sensei refers to good Shihan (meaning that also, by unspoken implication (quite important in Japanese culture), there are not-good Shihan as well). In speaking of good Shihan, Sensei is indicating that it is more than just a numerical value written on a piece of paper. It is something other than simply that. There is a reason why we have both the numerical grade names (Judan, Juichidan, etc.) as well as the title Shihan. Through observing the people and the circumstances in which Hatsumi Sensei refers to people as Shihan, it is my opinion that he is using the title with an expectation that the person indicated is willing and able to take on positions of leadership and responsibility within the Bujinkan organization. More than just a numerical rank grade, it is a title that acknowledges leadership. These two things, rank and leadership, are not at all necessarily the same. Simply because someone is a skilled martial artist doesn’t mean that they are ready, willing, or even able, to take on a role of leadership in the Bujinkan and assume the responsibilities of service (let’s not forget that leadership is service) that are required of a leader. True Bujinkan Shihan are able to act as leaders and role models for others, leading by example and inspiring others to become martial artists of true ability, humility, integrity, and sincerity. These abilities don’t come from a rank number, but from a heart set on the true values (価値観, kachikan) and virtues (武徳, butoku) of the martial arts.

I hope that this article has provided some insight into the meaning of the word Shihan, particularly with regard to the history of the use of the term within the Bujinkan and how it relates to leadership in the organization.


Koppō & Kaname: The How and the What of Bujinkan Martial Arts

From The Magick & The Mundane » Bujinkan by Shawn Gray

Time has flown by since my last blog entry, and I’d like to thank the readers who took the time to share their comments here on the blog and share links to it on Facebook. Your feedback indicated that there’s still an interest in the personal histories of people who’ve devoted significant chunks of their lives to train at the fountainhead of Bujinkan martial arts in Japan, and at the same time several readers mentioned resonances with their own martial quests, creating new links and points of comparison. In the time since, life has continued to be challenging and exciting. Taxes, Training and Translation work have occupied much of my time, and I also made the decision to close down my guest apartment in Noda as of the end of April. (There were a number of reasons for the closure, but rest assured, the original guest apartment in Abiko is still available.)

Right after making the apartment move, I left Japan for six weeks to visit family and instruct at a number of Bujinkan seminars in Canada (“Sakura No Kaze” in Vancouver, and then at Bujinkan Manitoba in Winnipeg) and the U.S. (Bujinkan Sanami Dojo, Austin, June 9/10, and in Denver the following weekend). During the Q&A session at the end of the seminar in Winnipeg this past weekend, there was a question about the differences between the concepts of Koppō (骨法) and Kaname (要, also pronounced Yō). Afterwards, the seminar host, Adam McColl, asked if I’d write a blog post about it, and so here we are. :-)

The Bujinkan training theme of the year in 2000 was Kotō Ryū Koppōjutsu (虎倒流骨法術). The regular way of writing Koppō uses the kanji meaning “bone (kotsu) method (hō),” due to the characteristic use of the body’s skeletal structure in Kotō Ryū. Kotsu and Hō combine phonetically to make koppō. In his own characteristic style, Sensei often used a double meaning of kotsu that year to convey an important aspect of the year’s theme. It happens that, in Japanese, the kanji for kotsu meaning bone (骨) can also be used to mean “knack, skill, trick, secret, or know-how.” Sensei used this double-meaning to emphasize the importance of gaining an intuitive understanding of how a technique works – the knack or trick to applying a given technique well.

It’s interesting that now, twelve years later (one cycle of the Chinese zodiacal calendar – both 2000 and 2012 are years of the Dragon), Sensei has chosen Kaname as the theme. I went into some detail about the meaning of Kaname in a previous blog post, and I won’t repeat all of that here, but the relationship between the two terms Koppō and Kaname is an interesting one. Whereas Koppō relates to how a technique works, Kaname relates not only to how a technique works, but to its essential, defining characteristics. Koppō relates to method, Kaname adds the element of essential identity – it includes not only the way of applying a technique, but the essence of the technique itself.

Another important point to note is that the name of the training theme for 2012 includes the word Mamoru (護), which means to protect. Another reading for this same kanji is Go, as in Goshinjutsu (護身術), “self-defense“. In the name for this year’s theme, the kanji are written together as Yōgo (要護), meaning “to protect the essence.” In the previous post on Kaname, I discussed various things that essence can mean in this context, but in comparison to Koppō, the method to a technique’s application, Yōgo tells us that not only is it important to be able to make a technique work, but that there are essential points that are necessary for it to work properly, and that although variation, or henka is an indispensable concept, there are certain defining characteristics that are to be preserved. Although we can make (or even “force”) a technique to work, its essence is lost if the essential points are not preserved. To learn budō properly, we must not simply fall back on henka as soon as we run into difficulty – to do so would be laziness. We should take the time and make the effort to learn the techniques of our art correctly and thoroughly, discovering, understanding, and integrating the essence of each waza so that we can not only practice Bujinkan budō properly, but also, as teachers, responsibly preserve its essence as we transmit it to the next generation.


Path to the Heart of the Flower (II)

From The Magick & The Mundane » Bujinkan by Shawn Gray

In Part I of this article, I wrote about how I became involved in Japanese martial arts and the reasons for my growing interest in all things Japanese. I arrived in Japan in August 1990, the 45th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. My 1st month in Hiroshima was a time of adjustment – and many social faux pas (which continue to this day!).  In time, I took over the majority of English classes offered by the small English school where I was working, which was run by an American Christian missionary and his family. In fact, I myself had come to Japan on a “religious activities” visa, sponsored by an American missionary organization and the small country Baptist church in which I spent most of my youth. The church had a history of almost 200 years–and I was its 1st ordained missionary. :-)

I still hadn’t realized at the time what a monocultural environment I had come from. Most of the people who lived in the rural Canadian province where I was raised are of Anglo-Saxon descent-there were very few people of other ethnic and cultural backgrounds (although that has changed a lot in subsequent years, from my understanding). But for me in the 80′s, I knew almost noone who wasn’t a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant. There was one Black girl in my elementary school (who had been adopted by a Caucasian family), and the 1st Asian person I met was when I was around 15 years old. The 1st Japanese person I met in my life was when I was 19 years old, a few months before I left to go to Japan. She had married a French Canadian man in the city where I started college, and keen to talk to our anthropology class about Japan. When she found out I was about to go to Japan, they invited me over to their home for dinner. Wow–a real-life Japanese person! How exotic! (And Buddhism, wow – you mean there’s more than one way to look at the world?? :-)  )

Now I was on Planet Japan. People still had 2 arms and legs, but so many things were so very different from the small country town where I grew up. But I was open-minded and hungry for knowledge and experience -I began to carry around a dictionary and notepad with me wherever I went. When I heard something I did not understand but sounded useful, I would either look it up on the spot, or make a note of it to look up in the dictionary later. I would try to do this with at least one or 2 words per day, and then use those words in real situations as many times as possible that same day. This is how I learned Japanese. I never studied the language in school.

The summer in Hiroshima is unbearably hot-especially for Canadians. I grew up playing ice hockey on frozen rivers. Here, temperatures were in the high 30s centigrade, but the worst thing was that humidity. By 8 or 9 o’clock in the morning, you were already covered in sweat. I got used to walking around with my clothes sticking to me like what felt like “saran wrap.” Not the easiest thing to get used to. The weather very slowly began to improve by September, and since I was now into the swing of things with my work schedule, it was time to get my Japan martial arts training under way.

Through my karate instructor back in Canada, I got the contact details for the closest instructor in my style (Chito Ryu). Kanao Sensei lived 2 hours away by train, in the city of Fukuyama. Since that was too far for me to travel in time for regular weeknight classes, he agreed to meet me on a weekend. His cousin spoke some English, and was the facilitator for our 1st meeting. Kanao Sensei was a 4th Dan at the time, which in our style meant that he was a senior instructor. There were no easy black belts in our style. In fact, if you weren’t Japanese, you weren’t even allowed to get a black belt in Japan in Chito Ryu.

Kanao Sensei graciously agreed to teach me on the weekends. I would take the train two hours to Fukuyama and he would teach me at his home, in the garden behind his house and in his car garage if the weather was bad.  Sometimes I would stay overnight and we would train both days. We did a lot of Kata training, and a lot of Makiwara training, which involves punching a target over and over, and over and over, and over and over, hundreds of times. For untrained fists like mine, the target, a post or tree, was wrapped with rope made of rice straw (Maki = to wrap; Wara = straw – sometimes thin boards were substituted, as shown in the photo below). After a few dozen strikes, my tender knuckles would split and begin to bleed, and after a few hundred repetitions, the straw rope would be covered with blood. Sometimes this was followed by knuckle push-ups on the concrete floor of the car garage. Kanao Sensei didn’t seem to mind getting my blood on the floor of his garage, and I would often go back to Hiroshima with my knuckles covered in bandages, which made for great conversation in my English classes the following week. Call it masochistic if you will, but it certainly did foster a spirit of determination, focus, mental control, and perseverance.

Kanao Sensei worked at the Fukuyama City post office, and without really realizing what was happening, before I knew it I was postmaster-for-a-day, and was interviewed by the local media, appearing in the local newspaper (photo below – Kanao Sensei is on the far left). There weren’t many foreigners around those parts in those days, and it appeared that they found me to be just as exotic as I was finding everything about this new country to be. It was quite an experience for a 19-year-old with only half of a college education, from a town of 3,600 people on the other side of the world, and as life goes, it was shaping my future much more profoundly than I could have guessed at the time.

Having now become used to my work schedule, and having established a relationship and training regimen with Kanao Sensei, the next thing to do on this great adventure was to track down Masaaki Hatsumi, the legendary ninja master. I say “track down” because it was still before the Internet, and ninja masters were not advertising. I had no address, no phone number, no connection with anyone who was training with Hatsumi Sensei. All I had was a couple of books by Stephen Hayes, and the only location mentioned in the particular books that I had was the historical region of Iga, currently known as Iga-Ueno, in Mie Prefecture, about 6 hours by train from where I was living. And so, once my schedule allowed it, in October of 1990, I set out for Iga in search of Masaaki Hatsumi.


Path to the Heart of the Flower (I)

From The Magick & The Mundane » Bujinkan by Shawn Gray

February 9th was the 20th anniversary of my first day of training in the Bujinkan. I mentioned it on Facebook, but was encouraged to write a series of blog articles about a bit of my martial arts history and how I found the Bujinkan and made my way to Japan to train with Hatsumi Sensei – to approach the heart of the flower that is Japanese martial arts, budo. I’ve always found it fascinating to hear stories of the adventures of my Sempai here (Mark Lithgow, Michael Pearce, Mark O’Brien, Andrew Young, and Mike L) and, now in my 17th year in Japan myself, I thought it would be fun to look back over the years, and in remembering, share some of that with the readers of my blog.

Black Belt Magazine – Feb 1984

Like many of us in Bujinkan, I was originally attracted by the ninja image. It was 1984, the same year that I started karate practice. In the small town of 3,600 where I grew up in Eastern Canada, there was a Chito-Ryu Karate club, which I joined after 9 years of ice hockey. I quickly came infatuated with Japanese martial arts and would frequently go to the magazine rack at the local gas station to check for the latest issues of martial arts magazines. It was on one of these visits that I found Black Belt Magazine, Feb 1984 issue. I was young. I was impressionable. I was hooked.

But how was a young New Brunswick lad supposed to access this ninja training? I was in junior high school. I couldn’t go to Japan. I couldn’t even go to Dayton, Ohio. But I could join the Shadows of Iga Society and Robert Bussey’s Warrior International as a correspondence member, so that’s what I did. I also got hold of some Japanese split-soled tabi boots and shuko hand claws and spent a lot of time running around in the woods climbing trees and sneaking up on unsuspecting neighbours and making blowguns from copper pipe. Luckily, I survived. Sometimes that rather surprises me.

I kept up with my karate practice quite seriously, entering and coming home with trophies from a number of provincial tournaments. I was invited to go to the Canadian national championship tournament, but it was held in Vancouver, 4,000km away, and I was in high school. I entered a local college and took liberal arts courses, and in my second year was presented with the opportunity to take a year off my studies and go to teach English in Japan. It was a dream come true, needless to say, and in August 1990 at age 19, I got on a plane and flew to the other side of the world, from a town of 3,600 to a city of 25 million.

I somehow managed to find the people that were meeting me at Narita airport. They had come by car to pick me up, and I remember that traffic was absolutely gridlocked all the way back to Tokyo. A trip that would take an hour by train took us six hours by car. After having already traveled through a 15-hour time difference in 24 hours, it seemed to take forever. We finally arrived at the organization’s Tokyo headquarters in Shinjuku, where I stayed for the first 3 days for an orientation program. Shinjuku is one of the major Tokyo metropolitan centers and one of the biggest train stations in the world, and having come from such a small town it amazed me that I had to look straight upwards to even see the sky. There were so many skyscrapers and so many people and so much concrete and so many wires and lights and sounds – I was at first afraid to even go exploring outside alone because I thought I’d get lost and never be able to find my way back (most of the streets in Japan don’t have names). The city seemed to go on forever. This wasn’t like visiting another city, or even another country. It was like visiting another planet entirely. Planet Japan.

Atomic Bomb Memorial, Hiroshima

After the 3-day program in Shinjuku finished, I boarded a Shinkansen high-speed bullet train bound for Hiroshima, where I had been placed to work as an English teacher. The ride took around 5 hours from Tokyo back then, I think (it might be a little quicker now). The train sailed along so quickly and smoothly it felt like I was riding in an airplane. I was going to be one of the first occupants in a newly-constructed apartment building that was going up near the place I’d be working, 30 minutes out of central Hiroshima by bus. Since construction wasn’t finished yet, I stayed in an apartment in downtown Hiroshima for the first month – right across the street from Peace Park, ground zero for the atomic bomb that had been dropped there 45 years before. I could see the famous bombed dome monument from my kitchen window, and would often go walk through the park to sketch, practice my haiku, or just people and pigeon watch. When I saw something interesting, I’d sketch it or write about it in a journal. (I didn’t blog it. I didn’t Facebook it. I didn’t Twitter it. It was pre-Internet, and life was good.) Peace Park also had an international cultural center where I could get travel and tourism tips in English, and also watch news on TVs with English subtitles. I remember taking the 30-minute bus ride in to Tokyo to keep up with the first Gulf War (the Bush’s first attempt at Hussein) on their TVs. They also had a library with a lot of English books about Japan – but you couldn’t check them out, you had to read them in the library. It was here that I discovered Japanese author, poet, playwright, actor and film director Yukio Mishima, and with my interest in Bushido, the way of the Samurai, I was fascinated to discover that his failed coup d’etat and suicide by ritual disembowelment occurred literally 2 hours before I was born. (The things that fascinate 19-year-old Bushido enthusiasts!) The library also had a copy of Yoshikawa’s Musashi, the life story of the famous samuraiwarrior. It was quite a thick book, and since I couldn’t take it home with me, I went back again and again, gradually working my way through it. I was completely enamored with bushido, the samurai code of honour.

One of my first memories in Japan, while settling into my English teaching schedule and still living across from Peace Park, was of one of my neighbours – an interesting American guy named Richard (no, that’s not him in the photo, that’s me, trying to teach English). After I’d been there some time, Richard announced that he was going on a trip to China and asked me if I’d look after his place while he was away. Turns out while he was in Hong Kong he found out that there was a film production looking for extras and he applied and got a part in the film. The movie was Kickboxer with Jean Claude van Damme. (Richard is the reporter who interviews “the champ” after the match right at the beginning of the film.) I wasn’t much of a movie buff and didn’t realize what a big film it was until later. I later moved out to my apartment in the suburbs and we eventually lost touch, unfortunately. I should look up his name in the movie cast members and see if he’s on Facebook. That would a riot. (I wonder if he signs autographs…) Another interesting memory was the time that he told me that he was going to be away for a couple of days to go talk to someone regarding a misunderstanding that he was having with a gangster who thought he was seeing his girlfriend. I was supposed to call the police if he wasn’t back in 2 days. I hadn’t even been in Japan a month yet and already I was making such interesting friends. :)

I soon got into the swing of things with my weekly schedule of English classes – class size varied, but I think overall I had 90-100 students per week. After the work schedule was sorted, I started getting to know my way around my new neighbourhood bit by bit and began to explore the wonderful, exotic treasures of Japanese culture: go,(the board game), sado (tea ceremony), shodo (calligraphy) and, of course, budo, Japanese martial arts. The first thing on my list for that last activity was to make contact with my karate sensei – and the next was to track down the ninja master Masaaki Hatsumi.

(To be continued in Part II…)