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Japan Trip 2006
by Benny Burgos, Dan Grossman


On Thursday, October 19, 2006, seven members of the New York Seibukan left New York for a seventeen-day trip to Japan. The trip entailed five days in Okinawa, seven days in Fukuoka, and four days in Tokyo. Led by Dennis Fink Sensei, the members of this entourage were Ely Bach, Raquel Bach, Benny Burgos, Dan Grossman, Sheldon Howard, and Dan Perelman. This was a second trip for Ely and Raquel; however, it was the first time the rest of the group went to Japan. And, for a select few, it was the first time leaving U.S. soil. Everyone met at John F. Kennedy Airport for the flight. Some of us were there early enough to see the sunrise, and some arrived in time to get the boarding pass. After passing the security checkpoint, we all sat down for coffee and spoke about things we were excited to experience in Japan. The 14-hour flight took us northwesterly over Canada and Alaska before heading south into the Bering Sea and the Sea of Japan.

We landed at Narita International Airport and took a one-hour bus ride to Tokyo’s Domestic Airport, Haneda, for a 2 ½ hour flight to Okinawa. It was about 11 PM local time when we landed in Okinawa. Once we collected our belongings, we were met by Master Angi Uezu, Tsuyoshi Uechi-sensei and Kenyu Yagi-san. After exchanging hearty greetings, we picked up our gear and tossed it into the vans. Uechi-sensei gave Shelly the keys to his minivan and said, “Follow me”. Sheldon had the most interesting experience driving on the left side of the road. In Japan, the turn signals are on the right of the steering column and the windshield wipers are on the left. The windshield wipers kept turning on every time we signalled for a turn. We dropped off our bags at the hotel, and Uechi-sensei took us to dinner. It took a little bit of legwork to find an open restaurant, considering it was past midnight when we arrived at the hotel in Chatan.

Saturday, October 21, 2006
After having breakfast at Camp Foster US Marine Corps Base, we took a fast tour to get a better sense of the location. After returning to the hotel, Fink-sensei received a telephone call from Yagi-san indicating that he wanted to take us to the bullfights in Agena. The hotel owner provided directions that got us lost. A nice Okinawan family led us to Camp Courtney, where we met up with Yagi-san. He then escorted us to the bullfights. Afterwards, we visited Yagi-san’s house for refreshments. In the evening, we met Uechi-sensei, who introduced us to Anthony Volta, who hailed from Rochester, NY. Mr. Volta, a retired US Marine and a practitioner of Isshin-ryu for many years, is now working as a civilian for the US Marine Corps in Okinawa, and is studying under Uechi-sensei.

Sunday, October 22, 2006
We went to Shuri Castle, located in the southern part of the island. From there, we went to Okinawa World, where we visited the Gyokusendo Cave. The park also had a brewery (where we tried habu (snake) sake – sake spiced with the venom of the poisonous snake), a crafts village and a performance plaza where we saw Eisa (Okinawan Folk Dance).

Monday, October 23, 2006
We visited Nago Pineapple Park in the northwest part of the island. An automated tour about the park displayed the various pineapples and orchids. There are over 2000 species of pineapples, differing from edible to strictly ornamental. We were able to sample a number of products (candy, cake, wine, etc) made from pineapples. If we liked something we were able to purchase it.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006
We visited Master Tatsuo Shimabuku’s grave. After paying our respects, we then headed off for Churami Aquarium in Nago. From there, we had lunch at a soba (noodle) house. After dropping Yagi-san off at his house, we made our way back to Chatan where Uechi-sensei was teaching that night; we made it in time for the class. The class covered kihon (basics) and kata.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006
Uechi-sensei and Yagi-san drove us to the airport. Prior to leaving, however, we visited the Budokan (martial arts institute) in Naha, just a few minutes from the airport. The building had three floors of dojo space. While there, we had a brief glimpse of an Aikido class. We also met an elderly Okinawan gentleman who was practicing iaido. The flight to Fukuoka was quick. At the terminal, we were met by Shitama-sensei, Takaki-sensei, Fukagawa-sensei, Uemura-sensei, Katsushige Takemura-san and a host of others. From the airport, we went directly to the Sekiryukan, where we changed and joined the class. Afterwards, there was a welcome party where we ate, drank and socialized. After the party, we were paired up with our respective hosts and sent to our “homestays.” To his surprise, Fink-sensei’s aikido sensei, Morikatsu Fujii-sensei made a two-hour trip to attend the welcome party. They haven’t seen each other in about twenty years.

Thursday, October 26, 2006
We visited the Fukuoka Prefecture Assembly Building as guests of Assemblyman Matsuhiko Shingu-sensei, former Chairman of the Prefecture Assembly. There we were introduced to the present Chairman, Yozo Fujita. After lunch in the assembly dining room, we were given a tour of the Assembly Hall, which was built in 1981. There is a plum blossom hanging in front of the hall, the symbol of the Fukuoka prefecture. After the tour of the chamber, we were shown around Higashi Park, which was nearby. That evening Fink-sensei attended a class at Takaki-sensei’s Onojo Dojo.

Friday, October 27, 2006
We traveled by ferry to visit Nokonoshima Park, which lies to the west of Fukuoka. We took an interesting bus ride on the island to climb over to the other side. Once there, we walked through a botanical garden and came across a small farm, where we were able to feed the animals. We also toured a model of an old Japanese village. At the end of the tour, we had yaki niku – a barbecue. It was an incredible meal where trays of chicken strips, beef, scallops, squid, sausages, squash, cabbage, onions, peppers, and rice. It felt like an endless feast. As we sat down to eat, we had an incredible view of the bay. We were told that this was the bay the Mongols used to plan their invasion of Japan. A swift storm came through the area, capsizing the fleet. Fink-sensei again visited Takaki-sensei’s dojo in Onojo City that night.

Saturday, October 28, 2006
We visited Daizafu Park, where we observed several historical shrines, including the Daizafu Tenmangu Shrine. We also visited the Kyushu National Museum. The museum displayed various artifacts of the 15th and 16th centuries, including armor, maps, tapestries, coins, weaponry, and various religious objects. Fink-sensei visited the Sapporo Beer Brewery with Chizaru Nishino, her niece Satako Kawabe and her husband. Afterwards, Takaki-sensei & Fink-sensei went to the Onojo Dojo.

Sunday, October 29, 2006
We had an afternoon class at the dojo. It was open to the Fukuoka-Oakland Friendship Association (FOFA). Several members joined in for the tai-sabaki exercises. After the class, we had (what else?) a party. We met some very interesting members of the FOFA. They were interested in meeting people from the USA and using their English skills to communicate. In the morning, Fink-sensei visited the grave of his old aikido friend Yoshihiro Inouye-sensei who passed away this year.

Monday, October 30, 2006
Shitama-sensei escorted us to Tenjin shopping district by Fukuoka City Metro, where we explored the underground mall. After visiting a couple of stores, Shitama-sensei treated us to lunch at an Italian restaurant. Fink-sensei along with Takaki-sensei attended the 50-anniversary banquet of Fukuoka Prefecture’s largest automobile driving school where Fink-sensei renewed old acquaintances, such as the mayor, several politicians and distinguished members of Onojo City.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006
This was a personal day for everyone. We spent time exploring the city before returning to the dojo. That evening, we had a farewell celebration.

Wednesday, November 1, 2006
It was a mad dash to the airport in the morning. Everyone came to bid us farewell. It was hard to say goodbye to such good people. The flight from Fukuoka to Tokyo was fairly quick, but with less than an impressive landing. Perhaps before boarding the plane we should have checked for the “student pilot” sticker on the wing. We stumbled off the plane into Haneda Airport and were met by Ogawa Atsushige-sensei and Kudo Akihiko. We’ve heard stories of the train rides; however, this time, we took a bus into town. Unfortunately, the bus didn’t take us all the way: we had to transfer our luggage and ourselves into three taxis to reach the hotel. After settling down, we set out for dinner where we were met by many of Fink-sensei’s Tokyo friends – Masaki Shima, Tsunemitsu Nagashima, Wataru Asano, Toshihiro Yoshinari, Takeharu Kato, Akio Fujii (Morikatsu Fujii-sensei’s nephew), Taro Hagiwara, Hiroshi Kaneko, Shuji Hirayama, Sho Hasegawa, Shigeru Saito and others.

Thursday, November 2, 2006
After having breakfast at our hotel Ogawa-sensei and Kudo-sensei guided us through Roppongi Hills, a very popular area among tourists, in search of a bank. While in Roppongi, we stopped by a police station and Fink-sensei and Shelly met with the police superintendent. After exchanging currency, it was back to the subway. We walked around their version of the Fulton Fish Market and visited the Hama Rikyu Garden and the Ginza. From there, we hopped on the train to have lunch at Tokyo Bay where a replica of the Statue of Liberty is on display; we had a beautiful view of the Rainbow Bridge. For lunch we had hamburgers in a Hawaiian burger joint that reminded us of Ruby Tuesdays. That night, Fink-sensei taught a self-defense seminar for martial artists from various disciplines (karate, judo, jujutsu, aikido, etc) at Shima-sensei’s dojo. This was followed by dinner and drinks at a sushi restaurant close to our hotel, where we were joined by Atsuko Negami.

Friday, November 3, 2006
Ogawa-sensei and Kudo-sensei took us to the Meiji Shrine for an amazing day of Japanese martial art exhibitions. We enjoyed the demonstrations of karate, judo, jujutsu, aikido, iaijutsu, yabusame, jo-jutsu, kobujutsu, and a host of other martial arts. It was fascinating and educational to see the martial arts come together in this park so rich in Japanese history. We had lunch with Ito Manubu-sensei, the current headmaster of the Matsui-ha lineage of Sosuishi-ryu in Tokyo. He is also one of the performers at this annual event. In addition to Sosuishi-ryu, Ito-sensei demonstrated ho-jutsu (art of gunnery). We ended the day by having dinner with Ogawa-sensei and Kudo-sensei at a Chinese restaurant in Akasaka, where Wataru Asano and Takeharu Kato joined us.

Saturday, November 4, 2006
Ogawa-sensei, Kudo-sensei and Asano-san escorted us from the hotel to Narita Airport. This was the reverse of the arrival to the Tokyo hotel trip, where we took three taxis to the bus stop and then the bus to the airport. After getting our boarding passes and checking our luggage, we had breakfast. We bid everyone a fine farewell and boarded our flight back to New York, where we arrived before we left Japan (due to the time difference). Although it is nice to be home, we miss our friends in Okinawa, Fukuoka and Tokyo, who treated us so good and made our visit so rewarding. We look forward to meeting them again.