January and a bit of February
Tuesday 10 January – "Kagami Biraki"
As an opposite of the Karate Bonenkai this event is to welcome the new year.
It started with a practice at 7:30 in the morning (!) with all the Japanese branch chiefs participating too. The event was at the Metropolitan Hotel, and we were about 120 black belts, all ranks up to Kancho Matsui were represented. A few lower grades were attending too. The training was normal basic (Kihon), the same as they start all the trainings more or less with. After showering/changing we gathered in another room, where we got served food and drinks. All the branch chiefs reported status, and at the end prices were given to those who had been most eager to attend throughout the year. Quite attractive prices, as they were nicely framed board containing an eagle in metal, and the Kyokushin Kanku.
In Japan the New Year period is considered the most important time of the year, and 'Kagami Biraki' coincides with its celebration. Ritually it is held on the second Sunday of January and is usually celebrated by offering 'Mochi' (a concentrated round, flat rice cake). Men offer the mochi to their armour; women offer it to their mirrors.
Like many Japanese terms, the term 'Kagami Biraki' has different meanings. The literal translation for 'Kagami' is 'Mirror' and 'Biraki' means 'Open' or 'Opening' as well as abstinence; i.e. to break. The expression translates as 'Open Mirror, Mirror Opening' or 'Rice Cutting Ceremony'. The tradition stems from an old military custom. In the Japanese home, in similar fashion to the dojos, Kagami-mochi (usually a pair of decorated rice cakes) are placed on the family alter. Outside the home, New Year decorations are often hung, and simple decorations (made of bamboo, or pine boughs tied together with straw called 'Kadomatsu') are placed as an offering to 'Toshigami'; a god who is suppose to bring good harvest and prosperity. The text is extracted from: http://www.shitoryu.org/heritage/kagami_biraki.htm
Wednesday 12 January – Kai school starts
Back to “Shukudai” (another word for homework – this organised form of Japanese "schoolslavery") again. At least I now have a feeling for what I can expect. And, yes, the homework is for our own good at the end I believe. First level was really interesting, and I think this one will be as well. After school the entire class went out eating. As quite a few of the people from the first level had quit, and only one new girl joined, the headcount of the class is now reduced to the half.
Saturday 14 January – Tsukiji Fish market / Rock factory
I agreed with Lucia to visit the Tsukiji Fish market. According to “literature” (i.e guidebooks), there has been a fish market since 1590 in Tokyo, but Tsukiji current location was established in 1935. Imagine that some 50000 workers and wholesalers and 14000 retailers come daily to their business and you get the proportion of this market.
We arrived around eight o’clock as we also wanted to see some “action” i.e. some of the auction, bidding and buying that the books described so nicely. And yes, it was impressive with an endeless amounts of stalls. All kinds of fish, octopussy and shells. I guess whatever was on the seafloor is not there anymore as they managed to drag it into to this place.
There were no bidding, and actually the entire market was quite calm. Lot of salespersons but very few customers. Maybe we were to late already? Yes and no. I found out later on the internet that they actually had stopped visitors from watching at the actions as the previous ones actually had obstructed it (!)
I was going to meet Dani and some of his friends later in Roppongi. So I asked Lucia if she wanted to come along. We went out quite late and headed for Fridays to have some food at first. Yes – Fridays, but it is still NOT McDonalds! After the meal we went to a place called the “Rock factory”, where they from time to time have live bands performing. This nights band was the “21 Blades” (don’t let the name fool you, the members were all Japanese). They were actually quite good, playing some of their own songs along with coversongs of among others Red Hot Chillipepper. And the best part was that they had a cute looking female drummer, who handled the drums quite well.
Later in the night I actually got the chance to have a go on the drums, pleasing nobody but myself probably. We had such a good fun at this place that we did not bother to locate the others, and stayed there until they closed.
Thursday 19 January – Lucias farewell party
In the evening the inhabitants of Gokokujii 2 (my apartment), Nicolas and Claire, Celia, Lucia, Helena and me went out to drink on the excuse that Lucia was returning to Italy. That’s the good thing about this place; people leaving all the time = lot’s of parties……. Not a good thing to see good friends leaving, though.
Friday 20 January – Bowling with the language class
Went out bowling the class again. As mentioned the headcount of the class had shrunk to the half, and as not everybody could join we ended up being only four this time. But still good fun, and I managed for once to keep my concentration up throughout two consecutive games. And the score… well, if you knew me well enough you’d know that I would never brag about my score (a nice way to avoid publishing a rather lousy score?)
Sunday 22 January – Some post-Karate activities
After the training some of the people from the club invited me to join them for some food and drinks so we went to a local Isakaya. It was quite brilliant, as they took care of all the ordering of food and drinks, so I could just sit there, waiting to get fed. We drank beer and sake (two kind – one clear, strong and the other sweet and
The session gave me a small déjà vu to the time in Scotland, were it was rather normal to go out drinking after the training, no matter what kind of sports you where doing.
Thursday 26 January - Thai Riori
Today the class went out eating. One of our class mates, Bu is from Thailand, so she was the "hostess" for the evening. She took us to a Thai restaurant near Shinjuku where her father prepared the food for us. What can I say other than that everything was delicious. Some of the dishes a bit more spicy than I am used to (Tom Yang soup for instance). And hearing afterwards that the food was prepared a bit milder, I would imagine some of the stuff to be almost uneatable prepared in the normal way.
Saturday 28 January - "Taikokan"
Thanks to my drummer friend Dennis back in Norway, I decided to visit the "Taikokan" (drum museum) in Asakusa. They had around hundred drums from all over the world. Unfortunately it was not allowed to take any pictures, but the drums had colourcoded dots, so you could actually test the sound of the ones that had the appropriate color code. All kinds of percussion/drums were represented.
Later in the evening I met Edgar (one of my former classmates from Spain) and wife and a friend in Shibuya.
Wednesday 01 February – “Setsubun”
Our teacher explained the tradition of celebrating setsubun during the class as some kind of a new year. “Setsubun” means the last day of winter. And since spring in Japan is defined to begin the 4. of Feb, it explains why they do this on the third, or “new years eve”. The Japanese throw beans to scare away demons, or “oni”. So we did this a bit prematurely in the class. It was quit fun to throw the beans, but of course not that fun to clean up the mess afterwards ;) Also, they have a tradition of eating “maki” (sushi roll) alone while facing “nan-nan-too” (south-south-west). At this time, you should make your “new years wish”. In the picture I am starring as an “oni” along with my teacher Kuwahara, who is very energetic and always in a good mood.
Saturday 04 February - Muse
Went out with Dani, Zaki, Juan and Alfredo. We were supposed to meet a French girl and friends for Karaoke, but being nearly two hours late, and unable to find the place, we ended up going to Roppongi/Muse instead. On our way there we stopped at a “conbini”, and drank 5 bottles of rum with coke. I guess you could say this was the Spanish way of having a “vorspiel” as the initiative came from the Spanish representatives in the group. Muse was crowded, as the last time we were there. Me and Zaki, Dani’s Toshiba colleague had a go at table tennis in the basement towards the end of the night. I guess neither of us had seen that many ping pongs flying around during one game.
Sunday 05 February – Sumo
Went to the Sumo wrestling in Ryogoku. Bought tickets from the language school, and each one of us just went there directly. There were two Sumo tournaments held that day, and as the first one was for the lower divisions, I went there just before the second started.
Before the second tournament started, they demonstrated how the hair of the Sumos were done. From the seat I got, I couldn’t see much, but I recon the entire scene lasted between 5 and 10 minutes, and the model was the popular and famous Bulgarian Sumo wrestler – Kotoshu. Later Then they showed a ritual where the current Yokozuna, Asashoryu from Mongolia, being tied up. Don’t ask me what this was, I’ll just answer it was some crazy S&M stuff, as I don’t know better.
Kotoshu lost for his opponent in his fourth match, while Asashoryu won the entire competition, proving his Yokozuna title worthy. Some of the matches were a bit boring, as they have this 2 minute ritual where they stamp their feets and throw salt 3 times and then end the actual fight after 10 seconds. Other matches were quite spectacular, as they took turns pushing each other from one side of the ring diametrically over to the other. And there were also matches were the smaller Rikishi (sumo wrestler) won the bout.
Sumo as we know it today has evolved into a sport, although if you ask the Japanese, som of them would not agree to this. It is heavily centered around the Shinto religion, and when it was introduced 1500 years ago, it was performed mainly to ensure good harvest. http://mcel.pacificu.edu/as/students/sumo/sumo_site/index.html
I think it was quite nice to watch these men forming a complete circle on the fighting arena. Then it struck me – imagine inviting these guys home for a party. They are probably all nice guys, and they’ll have no problem keeping your complaining neighbour away. However, averaging around 200kg in weight, questions such as “what should you feed them” and “is the house properly insured” would arise.