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Japan Trip 2003
by Christine Yang

On Saturday, Oct. 11, nine members of the New York Seibukan left for an eleven-day trip to Tokyo and Fukuoka, Japan. Led by Dennis Fink Sensei, the delegation included Bob Freitag Sensei, Patrick O'Toole, Christine Yang, Steve Kao, Ely Bach and his mother Raquel, and Tony and Maria Sirvant. Bill Kinkel Sensei and Steve Edwards followed the main group a day later. Some were going to reunite with old friends, while others were going to meet people for the first time. Excitement and anticipation was felt by everyone, not only because of the trip itself, but because this trip was to mark the 350th anniversary of Sosuishi-ryu Jujutsu. It was an honor knowing that the New York Seibukan was invited to take part in this milestone in the history of Sosuishi-ryu Jujutsu.

Everyone met at John F. Kennedy International Airport Saturday afternoon and boarded the plane for a 14-hour flight, arriving at Narita International Airport in Tokyo early Sunday evening, Oct. 12. Shima Sensei of Shinkage-ryu Kenjutsu, Ogawa Sensei of Aikido, Aoyagi-san of Shinkage-ryu, Kudo Akihiko of Aikido, and Asano Wataru, of Aikido were there to meet us. After hauling our luggage through three different train rides, we finally arrived at our temporary "home", the Taisho Central Hotel. We checked in and went up to our respective rooms, which were small yet comfortable, to unpack and freshen up before dinner. It was a pleasant surprise to find a yukata, a Japanese robe made of light cotton, neatly folded on the bed for the room's occupant. Our welcome dinner was at MoMo Paradise Shabushabu and Sukiyaki Restaurant, where Watanabe Tadashige Sensei, the current headmaster of Shinkage-Ryu Kenjutsu, and Shinkagi-ryu and Aikido members were there to greet us. After a delicious dinner of all-you-can-eat hotpot and drinks, we all returned to our hotel for a well-deserved night's sleep.

Monday, Oct. 13, carrying only an overnight bag and checking our main luggage at the hotel luggage storage room, we went sightseeing. Accompanied by Shima Sensei, Ogawa Sensei, Nagashima Sensei, Kudo-san and Asano-san, we went to Edo Palace, the site of the original Imperial Palace, now a museum. After lunch, we went to Shima Sensei's dojo, where Fink Sensei was asked to teach a class on practical street self-defense to students of both Shima Sensei and Ogawa Sensei. After the class, we took a long train and cab ride to Hayama, a small resort by the beach two hours outside of Tokyo. Hayama is also where the Imperial Family has a vacation home that they visit every year. We spent the night at the "Nikkei", a guesthouse owned by a Japanese economic newspaper company. Bill Kinkel Sensei and Steve Edwards met us there that evening, having arrived directly from the airport. After a delicious dinner and Japanese-style baths, everyone gathered together for a small party. Shima Sensei presented us with a gift called a furoshiki, a large, square cloth made of cotton that can be used to wrap gifts, carry items, or as a scarf. That night, we all slept on Japanese-style "beds", thick bedrolls spread on tatami, or woven mats made of straw.

Tuesday, Oct. 14, after a hearty breakfast, we left the Nikkei guesthouse and went sightseeing at Kamakura City, which is 800 years old. There are many temples there, as well as a giant bell called Ohgane, a national treasure and a symbolic temple bell of the Kamakura Era. We also went to see the Daibutsu Buddha, a giant bronze statue of a sitting Buddha made in 1252 A.D. that weighed 121 tons. After lunch, we went to the Kodokan, headquarters of Judo and watched students practicing on the main dojo floor.

Wednesday, Oct. 15, we went sightseeing at the Ginza, Japan's equivalent to New York City's Broadway and had a buffet lunch. We then took the train to Asakusa, where they had many temples and shopping. That evening we bid our Tokyo hosts a fond farewell and thanked them for a wonderful visit. We continued on to the second leg of our trip, to Fukuoka, home of Sosuishi-ryu Jujutsu. Shitama Sensei, 16th Headmaster of Sosuishi-ryu Jujutsu and several members of the Sekiryukan at Fukuoka Airport greeted us. Everyone was happy to see each other and we were taken to the Sekiryukan, hombu or headquarters of Sosuishi-ryu Jujutsu for three and a half centuries. After a small welcome party and dinner, everyone left with their respective families for "home-stay".

Thursday, Oct. 16 and Friday, Oct. 17, everyone went sightseeing with our own host families. Some went to temples, shrines and restaurants; others went on a boat ride to a nearby island and shopping. Each night there was practice at the Sekiryukan, with each group practicing for the anniversary demonstration. After practice Thursday night there was a larger welcome party, with lots of food, drinking, talking and laughing with friends. On Friday, Fukugawa Sensei, Fink Sensei, Bill Kinkel Sensei, Patrick O'Toole and Steve Edwards went to the Independent Entrepreneurs of Fukuoka, where Fink Sensei conducted a seminar on anti-crime and anti-terrorism tactics of New York City based on his years of law enforcement/first responder and military experience. Friday night we were invited to Kumi's aunt Fumiko's house for a birthday party.

Saturday, Oct. 18, we went back to the dojo for more practice before the anniversary ceremony began. The ceremony took place at a temple near the Sekiryukan, where a memorial service took place for the late masters of Sosuishi-ryu. The anniversary banquet was held at the New Otani Hotel ballroom, where special awards were given to select members of Sosuishi-ryu, including Yoshie Fleming, wife of the late Nelson Fleming Sensei, Fink Sensei, Takaki Sensei, Fukugawa Sensei, Uemura Sensei, and Kido Sensei, for years spent dedicated to training, teaching and promoting Sosuishi-ryu. Entertainment consisted of Patrick O'Toole on the bagpipes playing "Amazing Grace", taiko (Japanese drums), and musicians and singers. Everyone sang the Song of Fukuoka and there was a raffle with prizes for the lucky winners. The party, which was continued back at the dojo, was a great success and everyone anticipated the upcoming demonstration the next day.

Sunday, Oct. 19, everyone met at the Kushida Shinto Shrine in the morning, where the demonstration was to take place there later in the afternoon. A children's judo contest took place that morning and it was great to watch the children compete against each other with heart and determination. The demonstration went smoothly, with mats and tatami placed in the center of the shrine square. It consisted of kata (kumi uchi), with both an American and a Japanese paired off together for each set, and four-person Iai-Jutsu or koshi-no-mawari. Afterwards, everyone returned to the dojo for another celebratory party for the successful completion of the demonstration.

Monday, Oct. 20, Takaki Sensei and Motomitsu Kazuya took us by private bus on a short road trip to Daikanbo. We stopped for lunch at a restaurant on Aso Farm in Kumamoto Prefecture and were planning to go to Aso Volcano, but the volcano was spewing poisonous fumes that day. Instead, we went to the nearby Daikanbo Mountain, which had beautiful 360-degree views of the Japanese hills and countryside. That night Fink Sensei, Bill Kinkel Sensei, Christine Yang, the Takemura family and the Kuono family went out to dinner at a local restaurant, where they had a beautiful Japanese rock garden.

Tuesday, Oct. 21, everyone went back on the bus for another day of shopping and sightseeing. We had lunch at the best ramen noodle restaurant in Fukuoka, according to Kazuya, and the food was indeed simple but delicious, as proven by the long line gathering outside the restaurant. We returned to the dojo to practice the koshi no mawari (iai-jutsu) and a quick sample of Senbondori by Bill Kinkel Sensei and Christine Yang. There was a great farewell party after practice and hundreds of pictures were taken to remember this special trip and everyone we met. Emails were exchanged and addresses were written down with promises to keep in touch. Everyone pitched in to help clean up after the party and bedrolls were taken out. It was decided that everyone would sleep at the dojo on our last night so it would be easier to get everyone to the airport the next morning. Our last night in Japan was a big sleep over party, where everyone was so tired we all fell fast asleep.

Wednesday, Oct. 22, after a hearty, delicious breakfast, Shitama Sensei's mother, who is 92 years old, came down to bid us farewell. We all left for the airport, with our Japanese friends along to send us off. Everyone said their farewells at the airport, with promises to see each other again soon. Although we were all glad to go home, we were all happy with the trip and all the wonderful people we met along the way.