Back in Tokyo
We went from Hiroshima back to Tokyo again with the Shinkansen. With just under 4 hours, including a change, the trip was our longest trip with the Shinkansen, but, as already mentioned, driving the Shinkansen is very pleasant. Of course we sweetened the ride with incredibly tasty bentos. Thanks to a very good internet connection and unlimited data volume, we put on headphones and watched YouTube videos. Unthinkable on German trains 😉
In general, Japan is of course a paradise when it comes to mobile internet. Except for Miyajima, we had excellent internet reception everywhere. Even in the countryside on Shikoku, there were no connection problems. On the contrary, when Kevin wanted to phone his mother via WhatsApp connected to WiFi, he was forced to switch to mobile data at some point, as the mobile connection was much better than the WiFi in the inn. Germany still needs to catch up here.
When we arrived in Tokyo, we went a bit out of the city center, to Edogawa. Edogawa was more of a residential area away from the hustle and bustle of Shinjuku or Shibuya. Here we were quartered in an AirBnB. The special thing about it was that it was the only accommodation where we actually stayed with someone from the local area in their private household. Our host’s name was Fumi, and he was around mid-30s and worked as a parcel delivery man. He lived in a pretty, by Tokyo standards, quite large house, whose cupboards were adorned with many small anime figures. Upstairs there were two rooms that he offered in AirBnB and thus earned some extra money by doing so. On the day we arrived he was still working, but left us the keys so that we could make ourselves comfortable. Since it was already quite late in the afternoon when we arrived, we decided to stay in Edogawa and have a look at the immediate area. We walked down towards the water where we came to a place with the wonderful name of Pony Land. Unfortunately it was already closed and the ponies weren’t there, but we could still enter the area where there were at least a few rocking horses. We continued walking on the embankment and when it was getting dark, we had a wonderful view of the Tokyo skyline from there, which was a great sight. We ended the evening with our last ramen for this trip and with gyoza, Japanese dumplings.
Aikido training in the Hombu Dojo
I have been doing Aikido, a Japanese martial art, since 2016. The special thing about it is that, unlike the other common martial arts, it is purely defensive. That means that one primarily learns to defend oneself and not to attack. Aikido is sometimes frowned upon among martial artists because of this defensive attitude. I understand very well where such a view comes from, but I have to say that the people who think this way have simply not understood Aikido. The word Aikido is made up of three components: Ai = harmony, Ki = energy, Do = path. The enemy’s attacks are repelled by absorbing the energy of his attack and redirecting it against him. For this to work, you have to react well and remain steadfast but supple, in the context of Aikido one speaks of feeling the center and acting from the center. Of course, this is far from easy. Therefore it takes a long time to learn Aikido. Under the 1st Dan (so to speak, the black belt) one cannot speak of really “being able” to do Aikido. Therefore, it seems ineffective to outsiders, which is of course not true. Aikido was founded in the 20th century by Ueshiba Morihei, often also called O Sensei. His dojo, i.e. his combat school, is still in Shinjuku today and it is still run by the Ueshiba family. The dojo is called the Hombu Dojo and is practically the Aikido headquarters and the headquarters of the Aikikai Foundation, the style that I also train in Germany.
Encouraged by Claudia, my trainer, I wrote an e-mail to the dojo a few days beforehand with the question of whether I could take part in a training session. To be on the safe side, I had already taken my Aikido suits with me from Germany. To my delight, my email was answered positively. So the next day I went to Shinjuku early in the morning to take part in the morning training at 7:00 am. From the outside, the dojo looks quite inconspicuous. Inside, at the staircase, one is greeted by a painting of O Sensei, in front of which everyone bows briefly before continuing to walk. What struck me as really positive was that everyone here had perfect English skills. This was probably due to the fact that many foreigners also visit the dojo, of whom I was also one that day. A middle-aged Japanese woman spoke to me in the locker room and introduced herself as Mori. Her English was also absolutely impeccable. She had noticed straight away that I was here for the first time and so I became, so to speak, her protégé. She took me to her side and told me where we had to go and where we had to bow and how. She was really very open-hearted and kind and I am truely grateful to her for the help, as it made a lot of things easier. The training itself was led by none other than Mitsuteru Ueshiba, O Sensei’s great-grandson. Even if the training was in Japanese, there wasn’t really much talk, but mainly demonstrated and imitated.
I have often heard stories from the local aikido club about the unbelievably hard and strict training at the Hombu Dojo, but I cannot confirm that. Of course you were in awe of the location and the coach, but the training itself was incredibly similar to the way we train here in Germany. So I knew all the techniques and there were only minimal differences, such as that if you as a Uke, as an attacker, are on the ground at the end of a technique, you really always have to tap. Another difference is that at the end of the training you go to all the people with whom you have trained and bow and thank everyone again separately. Afterwards everyone cleans the dojo together, which is not a big additional effort, because everyone really lends a hand and on the other hand shows a kind of appreciation for the place and for the people who train here. I would wish for something like that in Germany too. After training, Mori took a photo of me in front of the dojo and I thanked her before we parted ways. All in all, it was a great experience and should the opportunity arise, I would like to train here again.
One last animal café
After the training, I met up with Kevin and we set out to spend our last day in Tokyo. First of all, I went to a martial arts supply store, as I wanted to buy a hakama, a kind of combat culottes, for my next aikido exam. The shop was recommended to me in the Hombu Dojo and even if the owner claimed to not speak much English, he could advise me in fluent English.
Next we went to an animal café for the last time and this time to a very special one. We went to the Tokyo Snake Center, a snake cafe. The café was on one of the upper floors of one of the skyscrapers. At the beginning the employee pointed to a shelf with several smaller transportable terrariums in which were quite small specimens. We decided on a black and white striped California chain snake named Xile. We chose a place to sit and in addition to the drinks menu, the employee placed the terrarium with Xile in it on our table. We could now watch her in peace while we ordered and consumed our drinks at the same time. Afterwards we were allowed to choose one of the larger snakes in the back of the shop and take them on our arms or around our necks, which Kevin didn’t dare to do. Meanwhile, the employee was busy taking photos with our cell phones. What we noticed positively about the café was that the snakes apparently also had days off. There was another area, which one was not allowed to enter, with more snakes in slightly larger terrariums. There was a sign that informed that the snakes had their days off and that the lines in the café were always rotating. With all the concerns about animal welfare in Japan, it was nice to see that people are actually thinking about it. Of course, this cafe isn’t perfect either. The terrariums could be a bit bigger and the whole concept is of course questionable in certain places, but I don’t want to give up hope that Japan will also take a step forward in terms of animal welfare in the future. At the end of our visit, the employee held out heart-shaped stickers and asked us to indicate on a photo wall which snake we liked the most. We both chose Xile;)
Next we wanted to go to Akihabara again to do some good shopping towards the end. On the way there it was revealed to us again how big Tokyo is. So we passed completely unknown parts of the city, such as a kind of Korea Town with a lot of K-Pop merchandise and numerous Korean restaurants. When we arrived in Akihabara, we went to Coco’s Curryhouse one last time, this time in the Halal version, as it was on the way.
Rugby World Cup in Japan
It just happened that on our last evening in Japan the opening match of the Rugby World Cup, which this time was hosted by Japan, took place. I played rugby the entire time of my bachelor’s studies in Duisburg, that is, for three years, and during that time I really learned to love the sport. So I was thrilled when I saw the advertisement for the World Cup on our first visit to Tokyo. Even if the opening game was in Tokyo, the tickets were of course already sold out. Therefore we went to the public viewing, which took place in a hall in the city center. Even if we were there in the early afternoon, it was already well filled with people. In addition to a small kick-off program where a few Japanese moderators tried to keep the crowd excited, there were photo areas and smaller games where you had to throw rugby balls into a goal, for example. The seats were already taken when we arrived, but there was still some space on the floor at the edge of the hall. We were able to get hold of very good seats here, but it was still several hours until kick-off. Admittedly, neither of us wanted to hold out that long. So we decided instead to try out the various games on offer and take a closer look around before we returned to Edogawa, stocked up on dinner in the supermarket and then went to our accommodation. There was a room there that was once a bar with a television hanging from the ceiling here that we could use. So instead of staying in the hall for hours, we made ourselves comfortable and watched the game from Edogawa. Shortly afterwards, Fumi joined us and we talked a little while we watched the opening game between Japan and Russia (Japan won 30:10). One of the things that we really thought was a shame was that as a foreigner you hardly have any contact with locals in Japan. Therefore it was more than cool that we were able to spend our last evening with a local. We spoke about our experiences of the last few weeks, talked about Germany, Japan and rugby. That was a really nice last evening, which brought this holiday to a worthy end. Satisfied, but also sad that it was now over, we fell asleep that evening.
I leave out the question of whether a trip to Japan is worthwhile, as the answer is an absolutely obvious yes. The question here is much more: is Japan really as great as expected? The short answer is here too: Yes! Japan is a breathtaking country with an exciting culture, great sights and, above all, many little things that you don’t miss when they’re not there, but which you absolutely learn to appreciate. So nothing shouted “Welcome to Germany” in our faces more than our delayed ICE, which pulled into the train station somewhere, so that we had to run to the right door with our luggage, only to sit in a wagon with drunk football fans for the rest of the journey while all train toilets overflowed and the smell of vomit hung in the air.
An important question that I asked myself before our trip was whether Japan can actually still surprise us. The question sounds a bit strange at first, but Kevin and I, as anime fans, have been studying Japan and its culture for half our lives. So we walked across the country and thought: It’s like in an anime! Admittedly: Yes, there were those moments. But Japan was also able to surprise us. Above all, when we left the big cities in the direction of Koya-san or Shikoku, Japan was able to present itself to us from a completely different side, which was no less exciting than Tokyo, Kyoto or Osaka. In addition to the sheer size of Tokyo, Hiroshima in particular surprised us positively in the category of big cities. It is unbelievable how beautiful a city can be that represents one of the darkest events in human history. Another point that has come up a lot was the food, which is just terrific – even the plane meal! On the way back we flew thanks to code sharing with All Nippon Airways were we were served excellent Japanese food. The station bentos and even the supermarket food were delicious, too. I don’t even need to start with the “real” food in the restaurants at this point. So is everything great in Japan? Of course not. Even with rose-colored glasses, we noticed a few things negatively. As delicious as the food was, after a while we longed for fresh fruit and vegetables, which unfortunately were very expensive because most of them were imported. I have already addressed the completely inadequate animal welfare several times in this blog. Unfortunately, Japan has a lot of catching up to do here. Last but not least, the Japanese society is probably not one in which one wants to live permanently. Not only the fact that the classic Japanese are more cautious and that it is difficult to make contacts, especially as a foreigner, but also the well-known poor working conditions with long working hours and little vacation are decisive factors here. One of the things that quickly strikes you when you’re on a Tokyo tram is that almost everyone is wearing the same thing. Most of them wear dark trousers and white shirts, so that as a foreigner with colorful T-shirts you will be noticed twice. There doesn’t seem to be much room for individuality in Japan. Nonetheless, Japan is a near-perfect vacation destination and hopefully this will not be our last trip here.