In battle, if you you make your opponent flinch, you have already won.

On Saturday, April 7th, I took my first kendo ranking test–1kyu–and I passed. It was one of the most terrifying and nerve wracking things I have done in a long time. I felt so out of my element. I was putting myself far, far out of my comfort zone.

Kumamoto is known within the Kendo world as being a great place to study the practice. So many great high schools here who have won many national championships; so many individuals here who have one championships as well. Kumamoto is the very city where Miyamoto Musashi lived a good portion of his life and wrote The Book of Five Rings. The teaching here is strict and even the test, which varies from prefecture to prefecture, is a little different than other places where things are usually the same. I have been to Miyamoto Musashi’s grave and I have been to the very place he meditated and wrote his book–all here in Kumamoto City.

The day of my 1kyu test came about and I was a nervous wreck. Heck, the day before I was nervous. I understand that it may not be a good reason, but I was to be the only foreigner there at the testing–and I didn’t want to be the only foreigner. The moment I arrived on the day of the test and made my way down to the floor anyone who was able to see me on my way stopped in surprise, some even stopped whatever conversation they were having and just stared in surprise. Being the only foreigner there kind of puts a lot of pressure on you. People want to see how you do and are curious of how you do it. I was nervous. Very nervous. I wanted to do well, and I made many mistakes, but I passed.

The first part of the test had something called kirikaeshi which we had to perform twice, after that was something called uchikomi where the other person opens up specific hits on their body and the other is supposed to properly go for those openings and hit them. After those two things you recenter yourself and you start the shiai (match). In 1kyu it doesn’t matter who wins or loses. You just want to attempt to properly make cuts and hold your ground with good form.

If you pass that portion of the test you are allowed to move on to the second part of the test: the kihon kendo kata. In this portion of the test you are placed up against another person and perform specific kata. There are two sides to these techniques. One person is motodachi (loser) and the other is kakarite (winner). I got lucky in that sense because I ended up being motodachi. Motodachi actually started off being the hardest one out of the kata for me to learn, but in the end became the easiest. I performed my kata without any mistakes and that felt great.

The process was long. I was able to enter the budokan at 8am, things started around 9am and I sat around waiting to go on for almost three hours. I was #81 of 82 people! All in all, I finished around 2:30pm. My teacher was there watching, which made me even more nervous, but I tried. After the last part of the test was finished and while everyone was waiting for the results my teacher congratulated me on passing shodan before the results had even been posted.

After everything was said and done Kevin, Yuji and I went and got ramen and followed up with some ice cream to celebrate. It was a good day and I was very glad when it was over. My teacher is already pushing towards shodan which is in a month. I am already afraid, but if I really do intend to do shodan I will have to push myself harder and harder.

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Japan’s 8.9 Earthquake 2011

I have been watching the news since early morning about the earthquake in Japan. The damage is insane. I also know someone who lives in the Miyagi prefecture about 30-40 min away from Ishinomaki City. As everyone is aware, the phone lines are either down or overwhelmed so it’s difficult to contact anyone in Japan. I am also under the impression that power may be out in the area as well, so it would be difficult for my friend to reach out to his friends and family back home in America. All we can do is hope he’s all right and he didn’t leave his town that day to go closer to the coast.

I have another friend stationed down on the tip of Honshu that extends out to Kyushu. He hasn’t updated his facebook, blog or logged online so I hope he’s okay. I heard that his city received 6 foot wave tsunamis so hopefully he was able to evacuate if he was in a danger zone. Then again, he may not have power either in his area–so I hope whatever is going on that he is fine!

Japan has it’s hands quite full at the moment. Searching for missing persons from the tsunamis up in Miyagi prefecture, handling the nuclear plants continuation of overheating and leaking radiation, picking up the pieces in the areas that they can that were affected by the earthquake and attempting to get through the debris that the tsunami caused. The death toll rises by the hour and it doesn’t make anyone feel any better about the issue. My thoughts and wishes go out to the people effected by this horrible disaster and I hope that they are safe and someplace warm.

My grandmother called me early this morning asking if I had heard about the earthquake and tsunamis, and we talked a little about the issue. Where I will be living was not anywhere near where the epicenter was located or where the tsunamis hit. The coast in Kumamoto prefecture had a warning/advisory in effect, but the people from my school informed me that everything is fine there and that the day when on with business as usual for the city.

Am I shaken up from this horrible event to the point where I will change my plans? No. I am still going to Japan. I am still moving there–however, I have realized the importance of learning about earthquake and tsunami precaution and how having a plan when things go down is important. I will definitely be getting myself an earthquake precaution kit complete with hardhat in the event something happens down where I’ll be.

Job in Japan

This April I start my new life in a new country with a culture very different from my own. I may have been to Japan in the past, back in 2008, but I have never been to Kyushu. I have always only stayed on the main island of Honshu. There are a lot of interesting things about Kyushu and Kumamoto City that I think I’m going to have a lot of fun with. For example there is the largest active volcano in the world practically within my back yard (exaggeration… it isn’t THAT close), Mt. Aso. Kumamoto also served as the shooting place for the Last Samurai battle scene from the movie The Last Samurai with Tom Cruise. Kyushu also has a lot of hot springs one can visit, as well, and the beach is a site to behold.

This will be the place where I talk about my life experiences, show pictures and videos of daily life in Kyushu, Japan, and do my best to show Japan as real as I can show it. Food, culture (festivals), entertainment, public transportation, the sights and the sounds… If you’re interested in learning about Japanese culture and Japan, feel free to subscribe and stick around. I’m not one to usually write in Japanese, but I may talk about the language gaps I have noticed and words that are awkward to me.

これから、日本語をもっと勉強するつもりです。最近、私の日本語が悪くなりますけど、問題ないでしょう。日本に行く時、私の日本語の本を連れて持ってるつもりでしょうね。とにかく、ようこそ。どうぞよろしくお願いしますね。

P.S. Up until I leave for Japan my posts will talk about my daily life within my fleeting days of living in America. They may include information I have learned about relocating to Japan, the things I need to prepare for, etc., and they may include my time I spend with friends and fun times.

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Japan, I’m coming back.