I was lucky to have made many Japanese friends during my time at University who in turn introduced me to others when I was in Japan in the summer of 2008. I spent a night with Reiko’s family in Ibaraki-ken, not far from Tokyo. Her father, Shiina Sensei (Sensei is teacher in Japanese), is a Kendo teacher and he showed me the kendo part of the house. He has SO many kendo related equipments: the wooden sword you use for training, the real sharp ones as well and the Japanese archery related things.
The high school where we were going to for kendo is the same high school Reiko, her sister and father attended. The drive up the hill where the school was situated would have been covered with sakura (cherry blossoms) during spring. I have to come back. Walking up to the dojo, I could hear people shouting but it stopped when we got there. We bowed before we entered and Reiko helped me out in my first kendo wear. The top inner wear is similar to taekwondo although there are strings which you have to tie really tightly and the pants was just something really complicated with two very long things which you’d have to wrap across your tummy. Thankfully, Reiko’s mom , K-chan, was there to lend me a hand. I felt like I was choking. It was so tight. Reiko’s was all white. My top was white with a blue bottom. Shiina Sensei’s was all blue.
At first we were just watching and I couldn’t understand what were the kids doing. It looked like the exact same thing over and over again, but it wasn’t. Only after I tried doing it did I appreciate kendo, the same with all other sports/martial arts perhaps. I got a private lesson with Shiina Sensei who told me to strike the dummy at the men (head) and do (side stomach). Everything the kids were doing were all part of the techniques.
Now about the levels called dan – there are 8 and you can only get your first after 3 years and the second after another 3 years. Don’t quote me on this but I know it’s a long period. And Shiina Sensei only got his 7th about 10 years ago. How is that for being extremely dedicated to one sport?
I asked K-chan why her husband loves kendo so much and she mentioned that he said that he wants to use it to save the world: philosophically, how kendo would shape your mentality and soul and how it would bring peace to the world. I was mostly watching during the 2 hours I was at the dojo. When the kids were having their break, Reiko and I had to do the shouting and striking the dummy at the commands of men and do with her dad in front of everyone. I was so embarrassed about having to shout and I didn’t even really have a clue about what I was doing. But I did everything I was expected to do and was later told by Shiina Sensei and even the kids that I have talent in kendo. REALLY?
We headed back to Reiko’s around 5pm. After showering, K-chan helped me into a yukata. It felt so nice to have someone dress you up. Wearing the yukata was a highly complicated process. Even Reiko couldn’t wear it on her own. I wonder if wearing a sari is this complex. K-chan even made my hair up for me. She tied them up in little knots and pulled it all back into a little bun.
We left after Maghrib with the first stop being a supermarket where we bought tempura for my dinner. We were having dinner at the high school with all the kendo kids who were sleeping over at the school for 2 nights. Since they were having curry rice with chicken for dinner, I ate soba with Reiko. My first tsumetai soba (cold soba) tasted great. I love cold soba. Sitting across us were two guys who were a year and 2 years younger than Reiko, who were back just to see the kendo training. They spoke English with me, enough to have a decent conversation.
At the end of the meal, every single person in the room had to say something including myself. While the rest were probably saying something about what practice that day meant to them and how they could improve the next day, I just smiled and did my hajimemashite (pleased to meet you for the first time) speech and in what had to be sentences full of grammatical errors, I managed to say that it was amazing seeing their practice earlier, how amazing I thought they were and I thanked them for letting me watch them in action. Never did I imagine I’d have to speak Japanese in front of a room full of people in my first week in Japan!
After that, we went outdoors for our own little private hanabi (fireworks) festival and I felt like a child again. It brought back memories as we’d play with fireworks during Eid as I was growing up in Malaysia. We then came in again for crepe with canned fruits and ice cream for dessert. I sat together with the 5 girls and Juliet, the half Irish half Japanese girl helped do all the translating. Juliet was amazing. Her friends were very impressed with her English.
They said they were sad I wasn’t going to spend the night there together with them to which I was really shocked, but at the same time touched and honoured to hear. They invited me to their room where there were futons laid down with their things just about everywhere. We chatted for over half an hour on just about everything: what they do for fun during weekends, do they go to cram school, about kendo, other sports activities, etc. We took pictures together at the end and I gave them my email address, saying I’d send them the pictures and they should email me in English which would be good for them. I took pictures with Shiina Sensei and the 3 girls before we left the school.