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TRAVELOGUE OF THE NEW YORK SEIBUKAN 2008 JAPAN TRIP
By Bill Kinkel and Emily Raghubir

Sunday, April 20
This year’s New York Seibukan cultural trip to Japan was our dojo’s fifth which has become a biannual event over the last ten years. This trip, we spent 6 days in Okinawa and 9 days in Fukuoka. Led by Dennis Fink Sensei, the members of this group were Bill Kinkel, Rondy Angoy, Emily Raghubir, Gabe Ortega and Jimmy Koutroumanos. Jim McGrath (rounding out seven) was to meet up with us in Fukuoka. This was Bill’s third time to Japan and Rondy’s second. We left JFK Airport for the 14-hour flight that took us over Canada and Alaska, down the Bering straight to Tokyo. After arriving at Tokyo’s Narita Airport we transferred from the international terminal to the domestic terminal where we caught our 2-½ hour flight to Okinawa, birthplace of karate and the home of Isshin-ryu. We landed at Naha Airport at around 8:40 PM, Monday night (due to the time difference) where Uechi Tsuyoshi Sensei and Uehara Kunio greeted us. Uehara-san trains in Shorin-ryu. After grabbing our bags we headed north to Chatan. We dropped off our bags at the hotel and then went for a late dinner before going back to the hotel and hitting the hay.

Tuesday, April 22
After having breakfast on Camp Lester Marine Corps Base (Fink Sensei was able to sign us on the Military Bases, as he is retired from the military after 32 years of service) we met up with Uechi Sensei for a little tour of the southern part of the island. We went to the Okinawa Prefectural Museum and afterwards we did some shopping in the various shops in Naha, capital of Okinawa. Afterwards, we took Uechi Sensei to lunch on Camp Foster Marine Corps Base. Then later on we went to Uechi Sensei’s dojo at Camp Foster, where we trained. After the class we went to the American Village in Chatan for dinner.

Wednesday, April 23
We went to Camp Foster for breakfast this time and afterwards returned to the hotel, where one of Uechi Sensei’s black belts, Yagi Kenyu met us along with Tamai Fumiko, who teaches Aikido at Camp Foster. They were to be our tour guides for the day. With Yagi-san at the wheel we headed north this time to Nago were we visited Pineapple Park. First we took a tour of the park, which displayed various types of pineapples. After the tour we went inside the building where we were able to taste various products (candy, cake, wine, etc.) made from pineapples. Any product that we liked, we were able to purchase. Then we had Maru Taka Soba (noodles) for lunch before visiting the Orion Beer Brewery (Okinawa’s very own beer), where we took a tour of the brewery, culminating with tasting the product. No better tasting beer then fresh at the brewery. Yagi-san (who is in his late 70’s) was tired and asked Rondy (the Kamikaze Kid of New Jersey) to drive for a while. On our way back to Chatan we visited the Ryukyu Mura where we watched an Okinawan Folk Dance show that was very interesting, as you can see various dance moves that resemble karate and kobudo (Okinawan weapons). Later that evening Fumiko took Fink Sensei to the Okinawa City Budokan where he was introduced to her sensei, Yamaguchi Iwao Sensei. The rest of the crew went to a local pizza place for dinner.

Thursday, April 24
Breakfast at Camp Foster again. Fink Sensei and Uechi Sensei had a meeting, so the rest of us went back to Ryukyu Mura to shop and see part of the show that we missed the day before. Rondy feeling confident after driving the day before and not crashing into anything or anyone drove the whole trip. That night, we went to the Camp Foster Dojo to train again. Afterwards, we went to a Korean barbecue restaurant that had no Koreans in the place. What a switch from New York, where most Japanese restaurants (with the exception of Manhattan) are run by Koreans. The food was very good, however and the Orion Beer was even better.

Friday, April 25
After breakfast at Camp Forster, Uechi Sensei met us at the hotel. We then went to visit Shimabuku Tatsuo Sensei’s grave where we placed flowers and paid our respects. After that we went to Zakimijo Castle and Katsuren Castle. We also visited with Shimabuku Eizo, Shorin-ryu master and younger brother of Tatsuo, founder of Isshin-ryu karate, at his home. Then we went to the home of Tokumura Kensho Sensei, an old acquaintance of Fink Sensei. They haven’t seen each other since 1985. Tokumura Sensei was a student of Shimabuku Tatsuo Sensei for many years. He has a small but beautiful dojo next to his home, where he now practices Goju-ryu Karate and Kobudo. Tokumura Sensei was a gracious host, we sat in his beautiful home watching old karate videos, and he and Fink Sensei were reminiscing about the old days training with Shimabuku Sensei. Tokumura Sensei told Fink Sensei that they are Isshinkai (1st generation) brothers, as they were both students of Shimabuku Tatsuo Sensei. He then said that all generations thereafter are Tomo(friends)nokai. After we bid Tokumura Sensei good-bye we stopped by the location of where Shimabuku Sensei’s Agena dojo was located years ago. Fink Sensei described the dojo and the area. He showed us where a little shack was located where he had his sais (Okinawan weapons) made. That evening Uechi Sensei had a farewell dinner for us. In attendance was Seibukan Shorin-ryu headmaster Sensei Shimabukuro Zenpo, a personal friend of Fink Sensei, as well as Uechi Sensei and his wife, Yukiko, Yagi-San, Uehara-san and Tamai Fumiko. The food was great and the drinks were endless, a perfect way to bid farewell to friends.

Saturday, April 26
Uechi Sensei and Uehara-san picked us up at the hotel to take us to the airport. On our way, we stopped at the Shureido Martial Arts Supply store and the Okinawa Prefecture Budokan in Naha, where we observed various martial arts being practiced. At the airport we bid Uechi Sensei and Uehara-san good-bye and boarded our plane for the hour and a half flight to Fukuoka, home of Sosuishi-ryu Jujutsu. We landed in Fukuoka at 3:45 PM and were met by several people from the Sekiryukan (as usual) to include Shitama Manzo Sensei (16th headmaster of Sosuishi-ryu), his son Shusaku, Takaki Masanori Sensei and his son Shozo, Uemura Kazuyoshi Sensei, Kido Yutaka Sensei, Motomitsu Kazuya, Mayumi and Katsushige Takemura, their daughter Hiroko and our very own Kuroki Tomoko, who lived in New York for several years. After a very short drive to the Sekiryukan we were shown our rooms and unpacked awaiting the welcome party that was to begin at 7 PM. With the exception of Emily, who stayed in the home of the Takemura’s, we stayed in two apartments above the Sekiryukan. Fink Sensei stayed in Shitama Sensei’s apartment in the back of the dojo, however. Just after the party began Jim McGrath showed up, as any self-respecting Irishman would. As everyone that’s acquainted with him knows, Jim has very thick skin, you can call him anything you want, but just don’t call him late for a party. There were several old friends of Fink Sensei in attendance. Also in attendance were members of FOFA (Fukuoka Oakland Friendship Association), as Fukuoka and Oakland are sister-cities. FOFA helps to foster and promote cultural awareness, understanding, and friendship between the people and cities of Fukuoka and Oakland. One may wonder what does this have to do with New York? Absolutely nothing! However, Fink Sensei met them during his last trip to Fukuoka and they are a wonderful group and they enjoy interacting with the Sekiryukan and practicing their English with its “overseas” guests. They prepared much of the food for our welcome party and we are very grateful for their hard work, as well as the energy and charm that they brought to this party.

Sunday April 27
Shitama Sensei, Fink Sensei, and other close friends and family members of Takaki Shozo had a long and busy day ahead of them. As Shozo and Yuki were already married, this was to be their wedding ceremony to be held at a chapel and parties to follow. Japanese weddings consist of four phases: First, they register with the government. At that time they are actually married. Second, they have a ceremony, which could be months afterwards. Third, they have a formal reception following the ceremony. And fourth but not least, they have an “after party,” where they go out with their friends to a club or bar, in an informal setting. Fink Sensei was asked to make a speech at the formal reception, which was translated by Kazuya. Another highlight of the affair was a jujutsu demonstration performed by Shusaku and Kazuya. The rest of us went sightseeing with Tomoko, Michiko (Tomoko’s Aunt), Kazuko (Tomoko’s sister) and daughter Natsuki. Also along were Sakie and Fumiko (Tomoko’s cousins). They took us to a beach and a nearby island that had a tower that we climbed to take great panoramic pictures of the area. Afterwards, we had a buffet style lunch. On the way back to the Sekiryukan, we stopped off to meet Tomoko’s mother and took a short tour of her parents’ home and beautiful garden. Later that evening, we all joined Fink Sensei and Shitama Sensei at the “after party” for Shozo and Yuki, which included many of their friends. There was plenty of food and drink. They also played bingo, and even some arm wrestling matches. Kazuya couldn’t resist having Jimmy Koutroumanos get in on the action. Jimmy took the right-handed title for the night. Later we went our separate ways with Emily leaving with Mayumi and her daughters, Hiroko and Aoi, whose home she stayed in for the week. Fink Sensei left with Shitama Sensei and Jim McGrath returned to the Sekiryukan to tend to his jet lag. Bill, Rondy, Gabe and Jimmy K., were off again with Shozo, Shusaku, Kazuya, and their friends to try their vocal cords at karaoke.

Monday, April 28
Monday started with breakfast at the Sekiryukan. We had some free time before an afternoon class so we walked and shopped locally accompanied by Shusaku, Kazuya and Kifuji Yoshihisa. Rondy left us for a couple of days to visit with the family that hosted him a few years ago when he lived in Osaka for a year. Before returning to the Sekiryukan, we had lunch. Once back at the Sekiryukan we joined Shitama Sensei for a 90-minute practice. We had the pleasure of training once again with our friends from the Sekiryukan under the watchful eyes of Shitama Sensei. This is always a highlight of our visits to the Sekiryukan. That evening we also had an opportunity to practice with the children’s judo class. The children’s class was a tough workout including many exercises never experienced by most of us. Later we had dinner at a local Yakitori Restaurant with Shitama Sensei, Uemura Sensei, the Takemura’s; Mayumi and her husband Katsushige, their daughters Aoi and Hiroko, and Tomoko and her sister Kazuko. As always, the food was plentiful, and we had opportunities to exchange lots of stories and have many laughs. Uemura Sensei asked Fink Sensei to go outside with him. To his surprise, Yokayama Masakazu, who is a sergeant in the Fukuoka Police Department was outside with a police car and a driver, as he was on duty and was unable to join us for dinner. Mas was the All-Kyushu Judo Champion a few years ago and is still a very strong judo-ka. He had some gifts and a book about the Fukuoka Police Department that he gave to Bill, as his photo was in the book, which was taken when Mas visited our dojo in New York and stopped by Bill’s Police Stationhouse.

Tuesday, April 29
This day is a national holiday in Japan, as it is the birthday of the current emperor’s father, who passed away in 1989. We had breakfast at the Sekiryukan with Shitama Sensei, Shusaku, Kazuya, Mayumi and her husband Katsushige-san. After breakfast, we set out on a trip arranged by Inaba Masaki Sensei and some of his friends. We drove to an area where we were able to dig up young bamboo trees suitable for cooking. Accompanying us was Uemura Sensei, his wife Michiko and Tomoko. Our friends showed us how to dig up and strip the outer layers of bamboo exposing the inside that is edible. We took some great pictures of all the action. Fink Sensei gave a few demonstrations on his own way of removing bamboo trees, with the help of his karate training. Next we went to a nursery where we were able to sample some of the sweetest strawberries we had ever tasted. From there we went to see a “Japanese style” house that Inaba Sensei built. It was beautiful and very impressive. We then went to lunch before returning to the Sekiryukan to relax. About 4 PM we practiced the koshi no mawari (Iai jutsu of Sosuishi-ryu). For some, it was the first time they used a katana (sword). After class we were shown how the bamboo is prepared, seasoned, and cooked. That evening we enjoyed dinner with many members of the Sekiryukan, sampling the fresh picked bamboo. A few of us tried chicken and liver sashimi (as in raw), and many other delicious foods.

Wednesday, April 30
Once again, our day started with breakfast at the Sekiryukan. We then ventured out locally, shopping and checking out the sites. At 1:30 pm we gathered for a class where we practiced Sosuishi-ryu’s kumi uchi (kata). After practice, we took taxis along with Shitama Sensei, Fukagawa Ryuki Sensei, Inouye Masaki Sensei, and Uemura Sensei to Fukuoka Prefecture’s Assembly were we met Shingu Matsuhiko Sensei, chairman of the Sekiryukan. He is also the chairman of the Fukuoka Prefecture Liberal Democratic Party as well as the former chairman of the Fukuoka Prefecture Assembly. Shingu Sensei gave us a tour of the assembly building which had a large beautiful lobby. After having tea in his office, he took us onto the Assembly Chamber floor, where only members of the assembly are permitted. He joked that for the next 15 minutes we will be honorary members of the Assembly. All visitors are normally required to visit the gallery. We were told by some of the assembly aids that this private tour is a rarity, especially given personally by Shingu Sensei. To our surprise, one of the assembly aids was an American interpreter who was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. We were permitted to take photos throughout the tour. Afterwards, Shingu Sensei took us to a private room in a restaurant where we had a spectacular dinner, which consisted of many fancy traditional Japanese foods including squid that was not only raw, but also still alive, or at least still moving. Accompanying us for dinner was Shitama Sensei, Fukugawa Sensei, Inouye Sensei and Uemura Sensei. During dinner, Mas (Yokoyama) stopped by briefly to say hello. After dinner, Emily returned to Mayumi’s house, Jimmy K returned to the Sekiryukan for an early night. Lets just say the partying and food got the best of him, the rest of us stayed out and continued drinking, laughing and having a great time.

Thursday, May 1
After breakfast we did some shopping at a six-story mall. Kido Sensei, Mayumi, and Hiroko took us to Dazaifu City. Dazaifu means Government-General Headquarters. It was established approximately 1,300 years ago and ruled all of Kyushu for a period of some 500 years. There you can tour many historical sites including the Dazaifu ruins, the Mizuki (Water Fortress), Kanzeonji Temple, Chikuzen Kokubunji temple, and Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine. That evening we had dinner at Takaki Sensei’s house. Joining us that evening was Takaki Sensei’s wife, Setsuko, his son Shozo, Shusaku, Kazuya, Shozo’s younger sister, Noriko her husband Prakash and their children, and Kifuji-san. Lots of food and drink were served including an Indian curry dish that was very spicy but delicious. Shortly after dinner we headed up the street to a local bar, where the owner, Fukuoka Michiko a friend of Takaki Sensei, knows Fink Sensei for many years. She is always happy to see him. We continued the party, eating, drinking and singing karaoke. The entire bar was reserved just for us.

Friday, May 2
This day began again with breakfast at the Sekiryukan. Breakfast time was always full of stories and laughs about the day before. Shortly after breakfast we practiced the koshi no mawari (Iai jutsu). We all looked forward to these small classes where we had the opportunity to review the koshi no mawari and kumi uchi directly with Sosuishi-ryu’s headmaster. Later we were off again this time with Kido Sensei, Shitama Sensei and Kazuya. Kido Sensei planned to spend the day with some friends of his. It began at the home of the Kakumae family, which was about a 45-minute car ride away. When we arrived Kakumae Gensaku and his wife greeted us then gave us a tour of their traditional Japanese home. We then sat around a kagizuru (fireplace) in the center of one of the rooms where they demonstrated the proper way to perform a “Tea Ceremony.” After lunch (Japanese bento) they asked us to sign a guest book and we noticed that some of our friends had been there before on another trip. We then went to another room where Mrs Kakumae dressed Emily in a kimono. Little did we know that the rest of us would be experiencing this as well. Some of us had no problem fitting in the attire while others looked like the kimono was ready to tear at the seams. Jim McGrath modeled what appeared to be the “mini kimono”. It was apparent that not many Japanese are as tall as he is. We then visited the City of Karatsu. There we went to a building that housed and displayed 14 hikiyama (floats). These floats are pulled on four-wheeled carts while people play flutes and beat drums during the Karatsu Kunchi Festival. These floats are huge, elaborately painted pieces of art. They come in many forms including lions, dragons, a red snapper fish, and a killer whale. They weigh in at over five tons. We then visited the Karatsu Castle. The construction began in 1602 and took seven years to complete. There is a museum inside where old samurai armor and sword blades from the Karatsu Domain feudal-period, among other old artifacts on display. After leaving the castle, we had some refreshments at a coffee/tea shop. The owners of the shop encouraged us to try our hands at calligraphy, and leave the finished products as a memento of our visit there. That evening Jimmy K. and Gabe participated in the adult Judo class. They had a wonderful experience training with some very strong Judo players. We went our separate ways for dinner. Fink Sensei went to Onojo City with Takaki Sensei. Bill, Rondy, Jim Mc. and Tomoko went shopping and met Shitama Sensei and Uemura Sensei for dinner. Emily met up with Fink Sensei at Takaki Sensei’s Onojo Dojo for the children’s Judo class and then they went to dinner at the Takemura home where Ampika, Kifuji-san’s wife, who is from Thailand prepared various types of Thai food. Jimmy K. and Gabe went to dinner with Shusaku, Shozo and Kazuya.

Saturday, May 3
Shusaku and Kazuya joined us for breakfast. Then Kifuji-san joined us for Iai practice. After practice we walked to the Don Taku Festival, which is held during Golden Week (one of Japan’s three busiest seasons; a week that consists of four national holidays). Many people were dressed in traditional attire, parading up and down the streets and performing dances and other street shows. There were so many people (an estimated two million) in the streets that we could barely walk. We found ourselves off the main street and looking for some cool refreshments, deciding it would be best to stay off the main parade route. We then went shopping at “Canal City,” a huge mall with a canal running through it, hence, the name. There were every kind of store you could think of. We took a break for lunch, which was Wendy’s and beer, while sitting outside the mall enjoying the sites. Our group split up after lunch, some choosing to go back to the Sekiryukan, while others stayed back and continued shopping. Later, at the Sekiryukan, Watanabe Sensei, a former student of Shitama Shuzo, Sosuishi-ryu’s 15th headmaster, came to visit. Watanabe Sensei, in his 80’s sat with Shitama Sensei and Fink Sensei and the rest of us and talked about some of the history of Sosuishi-ryu and the Sekiryukan when he trained there years ago. That evening, Shitama Sensei cooked dinner. He prepared a delicious soup made with wild boar meat. There was also a curry dish made “Japanese style.” That evening, Emily returned to the Sekiryukan and stayed there until the end of the trip. Jimmy K. and Gabe toured the town that evening, while the rest of us had a much-needed rest.

Sunday, May 4
Following our breakfast at the dojo, which this time included Emily, we practiced the kumi uchi with Shusaku, Kazuya, and Yoshihisa. During this class, Shitama Sensei had Jim McGrath perform all of the kata, each set of the kumi uchi with a different partner. Little did he know Fink Sensei recommended him for promotion to sanmokuroku, and thought it would be great if Shitama Sensei presented him with the certificate personally, as he has done several times in the past. After practice, most of us did our last minute shopping, as this would be our last opportunity to do so. Tomoko took Rondy, Emily and Jimmy K. to a Japanese Coast Guard demonstration. Later that afternoon, Shozo came to the Sekiryukan to practice with us. He had a busy week and was unable to join us in training on the other days. Fink Sensei demonstrated goshin-waza (self-defense techniques) on our Japanese friends. For some reason they enjoyed the pain that was being inflicted on them. Bill and Shozo paired off and practiced all the kumi uchi. Following the class, we set up the dojo for our farewell party. This party, as always, would be a grand event. Everyone who took part in our visit came to bid us goodbye, or as they say in Japan, “see you again.” There were various types of food to include a barbecue, plenty of beer and sake. What more can you ask for? Inaba Sensei and his friends Aoyogi-san and Mori-san did an outstanding job in preparing the food for the parties. Shingu Sensei also came and gave a speech expressing his happiness with our visit and the continuous strengthening of the bond between the New York Seibukan and the Sekiryukan established years ago by Fink Sensei and Shitama Sensei. Fink Sensei and Shitama Sensei also gave speeches expressing similar feelings toward their four-decade long relationship and referred to each other as brothers. We were presented with several parting gifts as we continued drinking, and laughing until the wee hours. The younger generation had a great time playing the Wii video game together.

Monday, May 5
It was an early rise after a long night of partying. We had breakfast together one last time. Members of the Sekiryukan started arriving slowly to see us off at the airport. The list is just too long to mention and out of fear of leaving someone out we will opt not to attempt to mention them all. It is always difficult saying good-bye to these wonderful people, so instead of saying good-bye, we always say, “see you again.” We arrived at Narita Airport in Tokyo at 1:45 PM, changing from the domestic terminal to the international terminal, just the reverse of what we did at the beginning of our trip. We had a 4-hour layover until our flight back to the “Big Apple.” So what else could we do in preparation of the long flight then to drink Japanese beer and eat soba? We arrived at JFK Airport the same time that we left Japan, due to the 13-hour time difference. This was a wonderful, rewarding, enriching experience that we will always cherish.