My Japanese Life (Part One)

Long time readers of my musings, of which I suspect there are actually very few, will know that this blog started out as 外忍者 – gai ninja – or “sneaky foreign person”. It charted my journey through tourist, homestay guest and eventually working out in Japan for two years whilst training in karate, and I shared photos, funny anecdotes and the story of day-to-day life. Since this is, according to Blogger, my 1000th post, it seems like a good time to look back through my photos (it would, as you can imagine, take far too long to look back through my blog posts, but you can do so with the Archive section on the right) and do a selected highlights.

I went to Japan in October 2008, having got fed up of working in marketing agencies in London, bored with the work/drink/sleep life I was living, frustrated at not being able to do more karate, and hungry for a new challenge. Originally I had a ticket to go for a month, with the intention of studying Japanese on a homestay scheme (living with a Japanese family) in Tokyo. I ended up extending that to two months, then decided that I liked it enough to get a job and stay, which is what I did.

I was planning to condense those few years into one post, but the combination of having done lots of travelling, (thus having lots of photos) and being incredibly indecisive has meant that I’m going to split it into three: my first few months as a student, tourist and homestay guest, my two years as a teacher and karate student, and my final month or so as a tourist again.

I hope you enjoy the ride as much as I did :)

After my first day…

Senso-Ji

…and night…

Neon

 …in Tokyo, it’s fair to say I was hooked at the outset.

I did a lot of sightseeing and wandering around

 Up the stairs

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Before meeting up with my awesome homestay family, my home for the next month. From left to right: Kousei, Kentaro, Daijiro and Yukiko.

Meet the family!

Since I couldn’t find a dojo in my style nearby, I started doing Shorinji Kenpo with Kousei

Shorinji Kempo dojo

Shorinji Kempo dojo

And going for food and drinks afterwards ;)

Out for Korean BBQ after training

Had a lot of fun with the boys, when language was never a barrier (when they know the words “get up”, “sit down” and other basic commands, learnt from their English classes, you are pretty much putty in their hands)

Holding on

My days were spent learning Japanese and exploring. For two months I was in college for four hours a day…

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…and in the afternoons went sightseeing with friends, walked around the local parks or just relaxed in an internet cafe.

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Weekends saw trips to places like Kamakura…

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…and Nikko, home of the “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” monkeys:

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As well as some very beautiful countryside, which I probably wouldn’t have seen much of if it weren’t for the insistence of Agneta, who was up for a good hike.

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Clear day

Any martial arts fan has probably read Angry White Pyjamas, the story of an English guy who signs up for the intensive years training programme at the central Yoshinkan Aikido dojo in Tokyo. One of my friends, Sam, actually did just that after reading it. I was lucky in that one of my friends in college was doing some training there, so I was able to come along and watch and get some photos of the guys in action.

Aikido technique - cropped

After a month with the Suzuki’s, it was time to move on to another homestay family, also with the surname Suzuki! This time it’s Hiroko (the mum) and her daughter Misaki. A very different experience – single mother, different domestic set up, had travelled more.


Hiroko and Misaki

Through the wonders of the internet, I met up with Lawrence, who trains in my style of karate, and started doing more of that, including getting the opportunity to train with Takagi Sensei, who is one of the most senior instructors in Wadokai.

Takagi Sensei's dojo

After finishing college and leaving the homestay, I bought a JR Rail pass which gave me free travel on the shinkansen – bullet train – across Japan.

I wanted to go to Japan’s three top gardens (日本三名園 or Nihon Sanmeien) in the country, and having already been to one, headed to the second, my favourite – Kenroku-en in Kanazawa.

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Whilst these gardens manage to look very natural, going early in the morning meant that I got to see just how much work goes into making them look like that:

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I went to more gardens, as many as I could, and this one, also in Kanazawa, was in my top three. Hard to capture from a photo what a beautiful space it was.

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Went to Himeji, home of the best preserved castle:

Himeji Castle

Then to Kyoto, to Ginkau-ji – the gold temple (actually a replica since the original was burnt down by an angry monk!)

Kinkaku-ji

Got to see more traditional gardens, a lot of which were Buddhist-style gravel gardens.

Ryogen-in

Met up with Agneta and her friend Andy and had an epically fun and drunken night in Kyoto, which ended up with us at this tiny jazz bar, listening to live music and chatting to a monk from one of the temples! (The bald-headed guy on the left).

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Spent some time snowboarding in Hakuba (about 300km northwest of Tokyo) at the start of the season

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….where I met some awesome people, including Cassie and Emma.

Cass and Emma

Then it was Christmas time so I flew back to England, over Mount Fuji

Fuji-san from the plane

There was lots of snow.

House in the snow

But more importantly I got to spend a few weeks with my family before flying back to Japan again!

Da Fam

To be continued…

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