The Stranger in a strange land.

I never thought I would be a city worker in Japan. This of course adds another dimension to my blog. A whole different set of people to interact with. I am sure this is different from your other expat life in Japan blogs. Even the one who are not teachers, the blue collar chaps and the uppers. Hmmm Although I am also a teacher here, one of a whole different group of people than what most foreigners encounter. Although not understanding a lot of what being said limits my understanding of the people, but that will grow.
They speak to me like I understand. Most of it, I do not. If they are just chatting away and not about work, if I hear the word, ne at the end of a long phrase. I just say “so ne”, or “ne” and they are happy. I do not give the impression that I want to have this long conversation with them, nor that I am not friendly. So they usually stop talking after a few smiles and head nods. Sometimes just “Hmmm” is good enough. Work stuff I figure out. That is stuff that is fairly thought-less to comply with. After a few words, motions, points and replies, I just have at it. “It” being whatever the task is at hand.
I was called again to come work with the “Silver Center” on another landscaping project. LZ was told now, all I have to do when I am free and want to work is to just show up. They will not call. Nice, so I can set my days. Which for me Tues and Weds steady are enough. I need to pursue other …opportunities.
I worked yesterday. Last time it was a park. I trimmed greenery there. This time it was some land that needed clearing. I was assigned a rake and pitchfork. It does not look hard, however in the sun and heat, working the side of a hill, lifting, pulling, carrying, It gets tiring fairly quick. I am in fairly good shape, but this is different muscles used. I was beat when I got home. Good thing I have a low ego , because it would be bruised. I am the youngest one on the crews! These Old gents just go at it. Of course these sempai have been doing this stuff for years. I sat behind a computer, being creative. Now down to the root of survival, physical labor.
Survival, only the strong can survive“…GrandMaster Flash and the Furious Five
The nice part is we get a lot of breaks, seems like 1 every hour. About 10 min or 15 nice. 
I have to remember to bring my camera. Not that the shots, views are all that interesting, but just a different view of part of this area, than what Johnny and Jennie Visitor sees. I am a resident you know. A local, in a small Coastal city, in middle Japan. SO different from the life in the big City of Philly, and from the small country town in Virginia years of youth.
Does not seem like we have been here over a year now! What a long strange trip it’s been.



Tripping/Trip’n : A street word meaning; to contemplate deeply on something, a topic, an action, a situation, person, sometimes to the extreme. Which causes actions or words, which would appear to be “weird” under perceived normal controlled conditions.

I have been giving this whole Kyudo San-dan thing a lot of thought. Perhaps too much. The rank thing in itself is not a biggie. Even more so, less of something to trip about, thinking of it terms of san-dan is really just a purple belt rank in Karate. been there , did that.
However the thoughts go beyond that and are of, what do I want from this, where should my training go, how should I train for the next level. Which is really training for the next two levels. I can see what my other Martial and Chan arts do for my Kyudo, but what is it doing for those others in return. Maybe it is too early for that at purple belt level.
Part of my reason for doing to Kyudo was to better myself as a Kung Fu and Chan teacher. Here in Japan with none of my Shifus around my external martial/spiritual guidance is limited. So I question ( myself) am I getting there ( expanding lessons from Kyudo into Kung Fu teachings ) or I am still working on foundation. I sense this next training period is about refinement. Refinement of technique is a given. How about refinement of spirit. More meditation…sitting or standing. Of course a balanced answer would be why are you separating them. Both equally, as the balance is needed in Hikiwake, the balance is needed everywhere, everything is training. This section of the Kyudo path ( San-dan) could be viewed as Hikiwake.
Sho-dan – Ashibumi/Dozukuri
Ni-dan – Yugamae/Uchiokoshi
San -dan – Hikiwake
Yon-dan – Kai
Go-dan – Hanare
Renshi – Zanshin

Perhaps I am being too philosophical about all this. On the other hand this is part of why I study this and not just go to a gym to keep Physically fit .Well by the time I become a Renshi and write my book it should all be in focus.

like this:

The Spiritual Path of Japanese Archery

“In anyone’s life, there exist many problems and a mountain of unresolvable contradictions….From no matter what angle we look at them, today’s civilization and culture are all filled with danger. That being said, it comes from having progressed without paying heed to the fundamental kokoro (heart/mind/spirit) of a human being. However, if one returns to what is essential and looks within the very root of their kokoro, anyone will find burning there the wish to resolve one’s contradictions at all costs. That is the cry of true kokoro. When one listens to the cry of true kokoro, letting nothing come in the way, no matter what, the determined kokoro to fulfill this wish will be made possible. And that burns uncontrollably like oil on fire. This kokoro, for a human being, is the most sacred thing they possess, and becomes the source to resolve the contradictions of self. In both ancient and modern times, no matter how wise or foolish, there has been no other way to fulfill self than to pass through this kokoro. It goes without saying that for our school of Kyudo as well, this kokoro must be made the foundation….”
From “The Cry of True Kokoro” by Satoshi Sagino Shihan

I watched the film One arrow, One life. I found it interesting. Nicely filmed. So I thought. It was interesting to hear of the technical factor, then those seeking the spiritual quest side as well. The “Zen Kyudo”. I was told early in my career, I would not fit in with a certain group, because this person deducted my whole character from my eMail address with Zen in it. This group was a martial school not a “zen” dojo. Ok, so what is the difference, only thing I have seen is there is no formal meditation time or formal tea. Otherwise the external training is the same.
Yeah, I have said this before, which shows I still have attachments, which says I need more meditation. Yeah I know. I never said I was not a work in progress…
Digression aborted…
So yeah, the part in the film about Umeji was interesting. How unfortunate that temple is so far away. I will though make it part of my Yon/Go-dan pilgrimage to visit there. Perhaps there is even some kind of weekend package or camp. Their group reminds me of the Zen mtn Kyudo retreats. From what I saw on the vid also it reminds me of the two different school I trained at in the States, both outside the Federation like Engakugi. I do like that kind of environment and training, however I do see the value of the Federation “Do”. To be complete and balanced, both sides left and right should pull equally on Hikiwake. I have heard it said “that the pull, the expansion of one’s core, is not just left and right, but also up and down.” Earth and Heaven, we are suspended in the center, merging with a bow, to release Ki into an arrow point.
It reminds me of internal Kung Fu and External Kung Fu the supposed division between Kyudo and Zen Kyudo. In Chan /Zen terms, it is like the Form and Formless faces of Chan practice.
So in Chan terms form and formless are the Kyudo training styles, paths. I at this point need to refine the form. I am lucky to have good teachers around me. I will continue to work on merging with form. The formless still requires the more subtle training, so it will bleed into the form from the bones. I am speculating, that as I continue to work on the principals, the breath, the empty mind of my Tai Chi and Chan training, it will become more known in my Kyudo practice. Eg: Tanten breath, focus on the Hara, spine stretched. Suspended between heaven and earth, mind, calm, alert but attached to only the moment. These are common principals in Tai Chi and Chan ding ( Zazen), which are also in Kyudo.
This deeper training as it is stated in the vid, is the part that will carry back, across into the other Art forms, the formless taking form. That is the quest. I think I am closer to it, that I think I can understand the principal, but can not “name” it. I can not see it, but I can sense it.

A day in the life


It is back to training, on several levels. Really it is all a continuation, the focus just shifts from time to time. Anywho…
I got up and out of the house early on Sunday. I went off to do Tai Chi at the Ginger after doing some Zazen at home. I got there and finished just as it started to sprinkle rain. It was a good session, although short and the killing of maybe only one mosquito.
Then home breakfast and a short nap. Like I said I got up early and it was to be a long day. 
My plan was to go to Kishiwada and do some Kyudo before heading to another part of Osaka to sit in with a new friend’s band at a local club.
When I arrived at the dojo I noticed that the sign-in sheet was not on the reception counter. Yeah I notice things like that, it is training. When I saw this I thought, hmmmm, something was up. However unknown, I continued up to the dojo expecting to find something or nothing. Maybe it was closed or empty.
I was surprised to find it busy.. I said my greetings and found out it was a small event. A Day Kai.? I said Tai Kai but was corrected to a dae(sp) Kai. Not sure what the difference is. It was mentioned I should change and join, I think, that is what was said.
Anyway I watched. I did the watch and learn thing, that I always forget the name of. I spoke with a few people and just observed. I did ask about the length of the Kimono. I had just purchased one and it was way longer than I thought. I was expecting just a jacket , but it was a full length Kimono. I was told that was ok. I also notice a while into the event someone was trying on a Kimono and it also was full length. Ok, I can relax about that.
There was a short meeting after the Dae Kai about the Tai Kai in Aug. I was waved over to join in. My assignment for the Tai kai is to do photography with another person. We are to take pictures for the Home page. Perfect job for me!
After that I took off and headed down to the night club!
On the train ride to the club, I needed to change trains from the slow local one I was on to a faster express. At the stop were I got off to change I notice another guy get off another car. He also had a guitar case on also shoulder. It turns out to be my friend also heading to the club. Yokatta, that took the pressure off me to find this club. We rode the rest of the way together. It was a pretty simple trip.
When we arrived at the club, the owner had not opened yet. I met the drummer outside, he was also waiting. A short while later the owner shows up and we all go it and setup.
The place was small, smaller than I thought. We all talked for a while, then everyone had a task. The Bass player showed up, and a Short while later we were figuring out what songs we had in common.
We played, it went fairly well. They wanted me to sing more, I wanted to play more. I had my set of harmonica and also had my acoustic Bass. Even with the band having a Bass player I figured I could just jam and fill spots. In a way it is like doing Tai Chi push hands. One listens to the other person (s) blend with that, and look for openings. In Tai Chi to attack, in music as well, with sound instead of a palm. In Kyudo it is the Hikiwake, the merge. kai is also searching weakness, spots, adjusting Jumonji, (fingers/cold). The arrow (note) is released to fill the space in the song, in the Mato… or Whatever, I digress
We did a few more songs, some of them sounded pretty good. I started singing a few times on incompatible notes with the song , but I corrected and moved on. The few people there liked what we were doing. We ( the band ) figured in the beginning, there were not going to be people there so we would just play for ourselves. Later people, a few , besides band leaders friends did. They seemed to like the music. A couple of people gave me the standard questions, otherwise everyone was nice. This being a hidden away little bar, so figured these people were the locals. One guy gave me a paper to read we wrote. It said and read like this:
So I look at it and think, What the Fukushoma Is this? I was quiet though and just read out loud. The guys smiles and goes, yeah yeah!
Me: ?????
Him, smiling : better dead than red
Me: ???
Him, smiling : communist, better dead than red!
Me: ohhhhh
He goes off smiling and happy. I have another drink and ticker with my Bass.
The rest of the night was good, we played, and did good on a couple of songs did so so on a couple others. I was unable to hear my Bass, other than me hitting the strings, nothing from the monitor. So that kind of sucked! I had to really pluck the string to hear anything I was playing, so my fingers were really starting to hurt by mid-set. I did not play as much as I wanted. I was trying and experiment for the next Jam in Kobe. Musical wise it was working, but technical wise it was not. I therefore switched back to just doing Harmonica and vocals, like I was doing in the first set.
It was a fun evening. Everyone thanked me for sitting in. I am glad I was able. At this point it is not about making money, it is about playing. The reward is the music and getting out there making it live. This was a comfortable venue. Sort of reminded me of my beginning days in Hollywood, doing cafe houses.
I now have a taste of the local blues bar scene. We did two sets, starting at 7:30. I think we rolled out of there around, 10:pm. I made the train comfortably and had an easy ride home. It is also the second club I have seen that the band members only have to bring their axe ( instruments) , sticks if you are the drummer. Everything is already setup. In the states when we did clubs/bars, anything really, we had to setup and take down. Here and the club in Kobe we walk in, plug on and turn on. Nice! It may not be like this at all the clubs, but it is nice!
I will expand my club exposure next month and visit a known, well visited Blues Jam Spot. I will have a workable song list by then. With some more exposure perhaps I can make a hookup with a permanent band.

The path to Yon-dan

The path to Yon-dan

I went to the dojo today. 
It was a interesting session. Yamashita Sensei was there. I had not seen him since the Shinsa. I wanted to see him to get his phone number for some other Kyudo matters of an International nature.
Anywho…it was my first real class of the new period, the new era as a San-dan.
He congratulated me on passing San-dan check point. Then he started talking about Breath. He said, my breath (kiai) was a good point to have control of as a San Dan or going for San Dan . Not sure which but it came to the same thing. Kiai and eye focus are another key the masters are looking for which testing San dan not just hitting. He said my Kiai was very good. It was the first conformation of cross trading for me. LZ says it shows when under stress like the Shinsa, the calm mind power. However I had not noticed any external effects. My breath for Kyudo is the same for Zazen, or Tai Chi, only the timing is different at places. I did not think so much about breathing I just did what was natural, understanding the principal of the breath and movement. I am guessing this is part of what the Kyohon refers to as developing natural moment. Growing from correct practice.
I read later that coordination of the breath is one of the items examined going into San-san by the judge panel. So what was interesting about Sensei’s comment is that he took the time to explain. Using images of water waves, which were good and bad. Also the strike, pre-strike of a swordsman as a metaphor.
Anyway, it was good to hear some positive feedback on my training. Passing the exam was positive but lacking details. Which is what the Kyudo practice consist of, so feedback should be as well. I did hear when we were making the fee payments, one judge said to the person in front of me, he did good but he should or next work on blah blah blah. To me he said something about seeing someone, doing something, did not get it at first. But it was about my Yumi.
Ok , so yeah. I go to shooting. Yamashita Sensei is quietly watching. I feel him, I sometimes see him out of my side vision. Finally at one point after I shot, he says. there is one thing…are you ready to listen? Of course I said yes. I had been expecting something. He then explains about my bow height at Dai-San, too high. It is causing me to left my shoulders. Then I am using to much arm power to draw Hikiwaki. Use no body power he says. Use the bow power. Pull from the elbows, expand from the center out through the elbows. Stay balanced with the draw and expansion.
So it is back to working on my draw and positioning. I am fairly sure the some issues, a couple at least, I had today are due to working with a different Yumi. Since my takiyumi is under question for use without repair I am using a Carbon. Way different feeling. I could have said that today to Sensei, but I just said; hai, arigatou. Because It sounds like excuses when people do that to me. Give these long explanations on why they did not do as well as they thought, hoped, expected, should have. Perhaps they are just self speculating out-loud.
So, Kyudo, yeah, back to training. Some foundation review and adjustments, and some mid range work. Basically start from the bottom and work my way up. I am officially in the new Yumi mode. I have a couple of people say a Yon-sun Yumi is better for me. Yamashita Sensei says my TakeYumi needs to be reshaped. The Kaicho now says something about my TakeYumi has a weird shape. I thought so before, but he said it was alright, so it let it go. The Yumi Shop says they will work on it but no guarantee, better to go back to the maker. It maybe costly the Yumi is not that great anyway. So I am thinking, sell it. Ebay type sale. Replacement costs will be a factor on what to get. I prefer Bamboo, however do I want to spend for Cheap Bamboo, that may or may not hold up for the next 3-4yrs? Or, a hybrid of Bamboo and carbon fiber, durable, reasonable cost, softer draw than a pure carbon. Or a used bamboo via the internet, Higher quality than a cheap bamboo bow, yet lower price…
Just misc thoughts on the path.
Training at the dojo has started for the Ta Kai next month. I was watching a guy training to be the one in Sharei who gathers and returns the arrow. It looked hard that semi- kneel crunched over position. A couple of Sensei saw me trying a couple of parts and showed me the correct way. One of my dojomate said something that sounded like you are San-san you will have to learn this. I did not think about the formal stuff coming until Yon-dan I guess the intense meter goes up from here.
One last thing before I go into cloaking mode. I have figure out this ranking thing. I figured the “Dan” = black belt thing was a farce. this is how I see it on a equal base with Japanese belt arts.
Kyudo. – Karate
Shodan – Yellow belt
Nidan – Green belt
Sandan – Purple belt
Yondan – Brown belt
Godan – Black Belt
I think this is how it equal values out.

Another door

So now a whole new door of Japan life has opened. Back in the Autumn of last year I registered at a local Silver center. We had a very faint hope I could get some work which having good Japanese skills. I took a free class they gave on tree trimming. It was interesting. Since then I had not heard from them. Well only once to confirm some bank info.

Out of the blue I get a call to start some work. If I like it I could be a regular. I reported for duty at 7:00 am as asked. everyone was nice, I was introduced all around to the different crews. No way I could remember the names. I just call them al Sempai. Most of what was being said I did not get, but the important stuff I did. I was the junior member. Not only in time but in age. I was given a small saw and told which crew truck I was in.
We headed out about 7:30am to the park. Once there my duties where shown to me. I was given a helmet, and a towel. I had gloves so I was ready to go. I also had a face mask since I learned I have allergies here in Japan to this new pollen and stuff. I had a bad attack after doing some yard work for the Aoki’s. Weird it was the next day that I get hit! Anyway, I digress…
We worked for an hour, then took a break. This happened several times, I got the pattern. Every hour a break. Then a hour for lunch. It was not hard work , and lucky not too hot. At lunch everyone ate, then took a nap. I sat in lotus a napped on the first day. The second day I laid down also. I may use this time in the future to do some Tai Chi whilst they sleep.
The work as said was not hard, but toward the end of the day, my arm was getting sore and weak from using the trimmer. Otherwise I was fine.
The day ended at 3:30pm we were taken back to the office. I was asked if I was tired, etc. I said not too bad. Looking forward to a shower, dinner and Chuhai. They got a kick out of that.
These are all older retired guys. I got asked the usual questions. Everyone was nice. I did not feel uncomfortable at any time. So now I am a city worker. Wow, who would have thought. Better than being an English teacher, going by some of the tales I have heard. Not as good of money I think, but less stress and more control over if I want to work or not. Also no kids grabbing my butt! That would not go over well with me at all, they would have to send me home.
I is a blessing to get some additional work. Two days a week would be perfect. I do not want to burn out and I still have other tasks and jobs to do. It is unknown how often this will happen and it also depends on the weather. Rainy days no work. For me it would be perfect just to work on Tues and Weds. I was asked to come in today and Friday, but I said I am busy and to call my wife when I am needed again next week. I was told ok.
So doing this, plus teaching sailing, kung fu, Chan, the private yard work I do, puts us in a fairly comfortable position. LZ is hoping to change jobs soon. She has two interviews next week. If that comes through she will be happy. Closer to home, less stress. Close to her mother for an easy visit. More pieces falling in place for us starting our second year in Japan.
So far everything has been a blessing. We are grateful on many levels and to those who helped make it possible.