The nature of the thing

For the New Year a short entry with a martial arts philosophical spirit. Some time ago I heard two things from my Sensei, related to kendo, but most likely to all martial arts. First one was, that when practising, one has to fight according to his nature. If he does not than he cannot make a real progress. The second one was, that after putting on men, we are all equal (if by any chance a non kendoka is reading this: a “men” is the kendo helmet). The two things connect of course, meaning that even, or maybe especially with people with higher grades, someone should fight without any restrains or self doubt.

My fellow kendokas may anticipate, what was my question just after. What about tsuki (again, for an unlikely non-kendoka, a thrust to the throat, considered an advanced technique, unpleasant for the opponent if not done properly)? Can I do it when fighting with senseis? The answer was: yes, of course, just be prepared for retaliation.

I am always prepared for retaliation and I was since my second attempt to tsuki. It is not difficult to figure out why since the second. I am often so prepared, that after my attempt, successful or not, I become so tense that the following fighting is close to useless (apart from defending from the opponent’s tsuki, the activity somewhat orthogonal to the spirit of kendo). Should’t I be? Should a normal fight just continue? In terms of the fight itself, of course. However there is another issue - the feeling that I did something inappropriate, present from the very first attempts. No such feeling should exist if I understand the teachings of the sensei correctly. But I am not sure if everyone practices in the spirit of these teachings.

Some time ago, before I heard those teachings, I won an ippon shobu with a 7-dan sensei with a tsuki. He decided it was a proper point, so it must have been. However, since I was not sure if it was appropriate, I decided to ask. He told me, that if it is a proper tsuki, it is perfectly fine for me to do it on a sensei. A few weeks after I was on a beer with three Japanese, one 5-dan, two 6-dans. My action must had been seen and remembered, for they asked me themselves, what was the reaction of sensei to my tsuki. In general they seemed quite agitated about me doing a tsuki on a much higher grade. It is not the first and surely not the last contradiction that I will see in Kendo.

It seemed like they would never tried themselves. However I see people practicing here, that try. They just fight differently. Maybe that is the difference in nature? But then it should be well understood by everyone and no such questions should happen. But if someone explicitly tells me to focus on something, is it not going against the nature? I guess not, since it happens quite often to many kendokas. So what one’s nature during a practice fight? The question for the new year.

The influence of altitude on English speaking capabilities

I had to move to a new apartment, which involves lot’s of work and paperwork, especially in Japan. And, as usual for a foreigner without a knowledge of the language in any way close to acceptable, each of those is a challenge and may turn into an adventure. One of the tasks involves de-registering yourself in the office of the city you were living in and registering in the new one. The secretary in my work called the Nerima-ku office and asked if the registration can be performed in English. The answer was positive. So I arrived at the hall, quickly sought out the information desk, showed to the woman an explanation what I should do, written in Japanese by the secretary, just in case. It was not necessary, for the registration desk person spoke quite good English. So I received a map of the building and was pointed where to go to the second floor to register and then where to on the third floor to change my health insurance data.

After a moment of awkward struggle at the first floor, I was pointed to the machine from which I had to take the number for the queue and the proper desk. I was the only one waiting so it went quickly. The woman that received my form and a gaijin card gave me those simple instructions in understandable English, although she asked if I spoke Japanese. The level of English at the second floor was definitely worse than on the first floor in the reception, but enough for the task that I had to do.

So I walked to the third floor. The universal method of a looking-lost-gaijin worked again and I was quickly intercepted, this time by a man. I don’t even remember, if he asked if I spoke English. Probably not, because at some point our conversation turned into a literature-based one. I thought that I knew the Japanese word for “tax”, but somehow I heard “import” and could not figure out what “import” has to do with a health insurance, but it occurred to be tax in a bilingual manual for the new dwellers of Nerima-ku.

The last person did not speak a word in English, the second one spoke a little, the first one spoke quite well. So in this case the language capabilities dropped with the altitude above ground. Not enough points to tell if it was linear dependence or not. I should visit other city halls and find out if it is some kind of a universal law, or maybe just my luck. I can only hope, that I did not have to pay my insurance until last week - I thought that I understood something like that, but decided that if I will have to pay, I should receive something by mail. In the worst case I will receive by mail a… fine.

Struggling right on a bicycle

Today I was stopped by the Japanese police for the first time. The irony is that I was stopped when I thought I was doing everything perfectly fine, while a moment ago I was breaking all the traffic rules, as I have learned from biking Japanese people. Happily pedalling I heard a siren signal and a harsh voice communicating something in Japanese from behind. Since there was no one around me, I suspected that the voice message is addressed to me. So I biked to the walkway and stopped in front of a small police station - koban. The police car was just riding to that station and I got caught in the last few meters of its trip.

So now there were two policemen in vincity - one leaving the car and one standing in front of the koban. The one exiting the car just shouted “abunai!” - “dangerous!”. Then the second asked me in half english if I understood what “abunai” means. I confirmed, he started to laugh. I continued to the one from the car, who said in half english something from which I could conclude that bicycles should ride on the left side of the road. Encouraged by English I started to explain in this language, that I wanted to turn right and in that case… He just went “eeeeh!” waving his hand and continued to the station. The second one had slightly more interest in me, probably being bored ad amused. From what he said I concluded, how I should take a turn right on the bike in Japan. First it was hard to believe for me, but than I confirmed it with two other Japanese people, for whom it was obvious.

The situation is sketched on the picture. I move close to the left of the road. When a second lane, for turning right, appears, I move to the left side of that lane and if no car is coming from the opposite direction I take a right turn. Exactly in the same way that a car would do, just taking care to be close to the left side of the lane all the time. That is how it would be done probably in most European countries and is shown by the red arrow.

However, in Japan I should bike all the time on the left side of the left lane, pass the road that I want to turn into, stop, allow all the cars on all the lanes in all directions to pass and then ride across the original street to the street I was going to turn to. Well, while this is safely doable if there is a pedestrian passage, I think it is quite dangerous when there is no. And still I have some doubts how to utilize this rule in some slightly different turning configurations. Remain to be seen, perhaps again explained by an amused policemen.

Definitely, on this crossing I will obey the rule because of the voncity of the police station. How did it end? Just with “ki o tsukete” - “be careful” and a wave of a hand.

Powder from cabin

The “smell of kendo” is somewhat popular term among kendokas, and maybe even more among their non-practicing girl/boyfriends, wives, husbands or parents. Recently I became aware of a method to replace that smell with a smell of green and yellow autumn forest. My enlightenment started when I came back from my long round-the-world trip. The first thing I have noticed on the part of my tare extending from a tight shelf was the fact, that it was uniformly covered with white powder. I started to wonder, if there was any major cleaning or other works during my absence, which I was not aware of. However, moment of realization came after I removed the whole bogu from the shelf. The white powder was mold. The whole armor was more or less uniformly covered with mold, even the plastic parts of do. So I spent a significant part of keiko washing out the mold with tap water outside of dojo. So when I stood there happily splashing fluids on my kendo-toys, incoming kendokas where stopping and either asking me first, what has happened or realizing from the very first moment and exclaiming “kabi!”. This was usually followed by a laugh. So I laughed too wiping my tears, and learned a new word in Japanese, which obviously means “mold”.

The next keiko the situation repeated. Mold redeveloped, although in slightly smaller amounts. I have been given an advice to wipe the bogu with clean tenegui and try to dry it after keiko. Helped a little bit. However, most helpful was finding a place to store parts of the bogu outside of nearly closed shelf box that it normally resides. So keiko after keiko less mold, however a new thing appeared - the smell of autumn forest in my men. As most of you, dear readers, are probably already aware, the “autumness” of the forest is no coincidence here - this season is, at least in Europe, a season for wild mushrooms which fill the air with their special scent. Now my men is also filled with that scent.

I also bought a special bogu spray, a non-smelling one. Now I think I should have bought a smelling one, but I still hoped that I could get rid of kabi and reek with proper washing. Almost one week summer vacation from kendo in my dojo was a good moment. So I have watched men and kote washing manual recently issued by All Japan Budogu and I proceeded. The result is: less die on men and tare, very long men drying period, softer himo (after washing in washing machine) and… the same smell. For me it did not work and unfortunately I suspected so the very moment I started washing. Usually one cannot wash sweat and, even more, mold with just pure water and that is what they advice. Well, probably it improves situation in case of sweat stains only, but I am not sure if it is worth the effort with drying and in general risking the damage of armor.

The amount of mold after washing is perhaps smaller, but I am not sure. And the parts of tare which are usually covered by other parts still catch mold. However, I will make a new assessment of the situation when I come back from one week holiday. At least I learned what is better in Polish kendo than in Japanese - I never developed mold in Poland, not caring for it at all.

Sneak out and back in Japan

Sneaking out and back in Japan may be tricky, as my case showed. Due to professional reasons I had to make a round-world trip: Tokyo->Tenerife, Tenerife->Warsaw, Warsaw->Rio de Janeiro and finally Rio de Janeiro->Tokyo, in about 3.5 weeks. The trip to Tenerife was the start of the tricky part. First, I was a victim of a “random pick” in Frankfurt where I was changing to Madrid. The randomness of the pick resided, I think, in choosing the category of people to be picked. People with poster tubes, for every person with such in sight was stopped and the tube was scanned for explosives. The difference is, that… my was positive. I was fortunate not to be handcuffed, but I was asked to enter a small room without windows, with more security stuff. I was told nothing, got everything from their exchanges of remarks in German. They scanned also the posters inside the tube, which occurred to be less bomby then the tube, written down my data, data of the producer of the tube and let me go. So I decided to ask, why was it positive. The answer was: “it is just a machine!”.

The final flight from Madrid to Puerto de la Cruz was with Air Europa, a member of Sky Team, while previous flights were with Star Alliance. Therefore, the conveying of luggage was not straightforward. Somehow I talked the woman in Haneda airport into checking the luggage directly to Tenerife, but I had to recheck-in in Madrid anyway and inform them, that my luggage is already flying to the final destination. The information proved to be very complicated, for I spent 15 minutes at the check-in counter in Madrid. The guy was looking at the monitor, consulting with a colleague, looking at the monitor again, swearing, informing me that they (in Haneda) made it completely wrong, swearing again and so on. Finally he printed the luggage sticker, threw it away and said that I can go.

Going from Tenerife to Warsaw in similar manner was much more straightforward. I was informed that it is purely impossible to send my luggage directly to Warsaw and I need to collect it in Madrid. It seems that Spain and Japan exist in parallel realities. Especially that I had to literally wait for 30 minutes for the bag, having just 1:15 to transfer.

The trip to Rio de Janeiro was almost uneventful, except that the ATMs at the airport refused to work for about 20 minutes and one could see half of the plane running from one machine to another in a wild “I cannot access my money” frenzy. The taxi that I took to the hotel was cheap and nice, and same was the one that I took back to the airport a week later, from a really poor district. I was to fly back through New York to Narita in Tokyo. I was happily attending the pre-check-in check, when the officer asked me if I have American visa. I said, that I do, so he started to search my passport and then it came to my mind that I have it, but in the old passport which I left back in Tokyo. After a brief exchange of words I knew, that the notion of “transfer” is exotic to US officials, and I will not fly that way. I had to rebook my ticket at Brazilian TAM airlines counter.

The task seemed easy. Of course, was not. According to TAM my choices were either to wait a few days for US embassy in Brazil to issue new visa premise or rebook to come back through Europe. Either way, they said that the round-world ticket was issued by ANA Japanese airlines and only ANA can change it. At that point I started to phone and mail the secretary of my Japanese lab, however it was to early. And it was to early for a long time, because at that particular day she had to do some things outside of the lab first and came late. Finally she called the travel company that booked my ticket and found a way back through Canada. However, company stated that they cannot rebook the ticket in Japan and I have to go to ANA counter at the airport. There was no ANA counter at the airport. TAM, as the Star Alliance member should be the representative. I went back to TAM, and TAM said, that the trip through Canada i available, but they cannot reissue the ticket. After some complains the secretary replied with a full trip plan with flight numbers and so on and said that TAM should be fine with that. TAM was not fine with that. They found out that there was a reservation of such trip for 5 seconds, than it was canceled. It was already about midnight and I was quite lucky that anyone from the already closed TAM counter still wanted to speak to me. Anyway, after this refusal they delved into the closeness even deeper and I decided that I will come back to hotel to charge my phone and continue e-mail conversation with Japan and probably, in the morning, call to the ANA representatives in Brazil.

Taxi to the hotel was sort of honourable rip-off without actual rip-off. The airport attendant told me that the taxi is going to be 80 R$ (while the taxi to the airport was 35$). Then the taxi driver confirmed and did not turn the electronic counter on. So I had just to pay these 80 R$. The point is, that it was probably night price, which quite often is twice as high as the day price, so the amount I had to pay was fine. So why the illegality of not using the kilometer counter? Maybe it had something to do with the Papa Francesco, about whom the driver was talking all the way long. In Portuguese, of course.

In the hotel they were not sure if they have free rooms. They had a double room and I was “lucky” to get it for the single occupancy price and the staff made it “specially for me”. Of course, there was a queue of people behind me begging for this room at 1 am on a weekday… At about 3 am I got the info that the travel agency complained directly to ANA and ANA reissued the ticket, magically, in Japan. Actually, it took them about 6 more hours to really reissue the ticket and I had to spend the night near my notebook to check if they do not need any additional information. Around 11 am I decided to go to the airport. Asked for taxi in the hotel. The attendant wanted to know where I go and offered me the hotel transport for only… 80 R$. The night-rip-off-taxi price. I complained, said that I know that it should be around 35-40 R$, so they decided to give me a discount to 60 R$. I assured them that I know the price to the airport and by this I offended the attendant and the driver, so they turned away. The closest taxi was waiting 10 meters away. 38 R$. And the driver well knew the deal that the hotel proposes and was laughing at them. I understand, that the hotel delivery of Windsor Asturias may appear more luxury and therefore be more expensive, but why a good hotel staff lied to me? Unpleasant.

After check-in at the airport I was informed, that I have to recheck-in at Sao Paolo and then collect my luggage in Toronto and again recheck-in. Why to collect the luggage in Toronto, I do not know up to now. Fortunately in Sao Paolo check-in decided, that my luggage will go directly to Tokyo. Good, because it was slightly overweight. The rest of the trip was surprisingly uneventful, apart that it seems I have not landed in Tokyo, but in an oven. The oven was filled with a TV crew making short interviews with those that probably seemed most gaijin to them. I sneaked by silently and bought a train ticket, just to fall o them afterwards. So expect to see me in one of those what-stupid-things-gaijin-may-say Japanese TV shows.

Following the order

This entry is not about Kendo, so those of you not into this martial art can proceed safely with reading. Although, it is Kendo-induced fear not… As I mentioned in one of my early entries, if in a need, one may take an ofuro after the practice. In my dojo bathroom is quite small - two showers and one bath tube - so by some ancient decree there are maximally two occupants at a time. The role of the changing room plays a two square meter area of dojo preceding ofuro, separated from the rest of the dojo by a curtain. After the end of the practice two highest in hierarchy transfer their standard clothes close to the curtain, go behind the curtain, undress and throw away their kendo clothes to the “public part” of the floor of the dojo. Then enter the bathroom. The one that finishes first shouts from behind the curtain “ofurooo doooozooo” (ofuro, please) wipes off partially soaking into furry doormat, grabs his standard clothes with his hand reaching behind the curtain and dresses up. In this time a third person enters behind the curtain, undresses and joins the person still remaining in the bathroom. In the bathroom itself, he cleans with use of the soap and water from ofuro and bowl or shower, while the other person heats up in the bath tube. Then the other person exits the bath tube ad the bathroom and the just-cleaned person goes into ofuro.

The only people who are allowed to move half-naked around the dojo are the senseis, who do it only to slip past the curtain to their small room and most likely only because the distance is about 50 cm. Others have to move around dojo dressed. I have heard this information from my European kohai (co-slave in Kendo) when… I forgot to bring my towel from upstairs and the obvious idea of mine was to slip somehow from behind the curtain up, avoiding the eyes of female kendokas. So, I was fortunate enough that he was dressing in mostly the same time as me, so I could wait and he brought my towel. My kohai did not participate in the next practice, however, unfortunately, my dementia did. I again forgot about the towel. For a brief moment I considered asking a sensei who was close by to bring my towel, but I decided it to be not appropriate. Of course, my lack of ability to explain were he would have to look for the towel had nothing to do with did. So there I was, standing behind the curtain completely wet and considering all possible options. Slip upstairs? To risky. Ask? Not appropriate. Wait until I dry up? May take ages. In the peak of my desperation I considered using floor rags that were within the reaching distance. Then, however, I would probably depart from dojo being more dirty when I came. But suddenly I was enlightened. The doormat. I was saved. However, future generations, beware! I must state a thing that may not be so obvious: doormats are not as good in wiping as towels.

The other day, coming back from practice I was tempted by a food bar, which I never was. There exist, for me, basically two types of food-bars in Japan, and each of them has two similar subtypes. My favorite ones are those with a coupon vending machines. One chooses a meal on a machine, pressing proper button (analogue or touchscreen), puts the money in and receives the coupon, which he then gives to the service stuff. Most of the time simple way, with no language stress. Unless… there are no pictures of the meals on buttons but only written information. I am always somehow magically reflected from the latter subtype of the bar. The second type of the bar does not have a vending machine but a menu. Printed or wall-hanging. Fortunately in most cases there are pictures of food in the menu. Those bars without pictures… again, the magical reflection.

So I was tempted by the menu-type of bar. Usually when you enter, you hear shouted invitation “irasshaimase”, seat, take the menu, choose and wait for the service. Then eat and pay when leaving. This time, however, the service near the cashier shouted something different. And there was a wall-menu hanging near the cashier. So somehow I decided that it must be the fast-food type of bar like McDonals, where you order and pay at the same time. So did I. Then proceeded to take a sit. I was fortunate enough that the service person who chased me spoke some English, so there was not a big problem to explain that no, I don’t want a take-out. Then, after some time, something enticed me into using a napkin. The napkins were in a stand, tightly fitted. I could not get one out simply pulling it, because then I pulled the whole stand. So I used my second hand to grab/push a stand. The effect was a loud bell sounding in the whole bar. I haven’t noticed that the stand is equipped with a bell-button for calling the service. So there I was, trying to explain a very helpful, but this time not English speaking waitress that I really do not need anything and I did not push the button on purpose. I am not sure if he believed me or understood, but finally she attended other customers. Since that day I reach for the napkins most carefully.

Shouting with the senpai

Some time ago I visited two junior-high schools in Japan. In the first one, being a reach and science-based school I have given a lecture on cosmic rays and an experiment I am working on. Despite my best efforts, I am afraid the students did not understand much of my English in connection with a quite difficult topic. However, I was given a tour around an impressive school with a pool, huge baseball and huge football grounds, great science labs and so on. The contrast have been the single seat tables in the classrooms which may remember the WWII. I have also noticed that the classrooms have more windows to the corridor then to the outside world. Exactly the opposite of what is common in my country. The school also had one judo and one kendo dojo, the latter one with a beautiful shining floor.


The second school, although probably poorer, was also large and impressive and quite similar to the first school. I haven’t seen the science facilities, but the play ground were also impressive. I was invited by my sensei who is a PE teacher there. I was introduced to lot’s of teachers as well as children, or I should rather say teenagers. I was asked to try to speak in Japanese to the adult stuff, but the kids were asked to speak in English to me and most of them somehow managed. The school was far from Tokyo, so a foreigner is probably not a common sight there. Therefore, when eating lunch in the common cafeteria, I was being observed and literally pointed out by the majority of student. Funny again, feeling like in the zoo, but on the wrong side of the bars. The situation did not correspond to the opinion on the shyness of Japanese at all. Even when I was being introduced to some of the male students on the corridor a group of girls emerged from the class to take a closer look at me. Then also they were introduced and they were not so reluctant to have an attempt to chat with me. On the other hand one student caught by my sensei and his teacher and ordered to introduce himself was hoping to be anywhere but the current location. Head down, long “etoooooo”s, he finally managed to introduce himself, but ran away at the first opportunity.


After some sightseeing and resting keiko time has came. The dojo was really if not extremely large. However, it was shared with a pingpong class, so the effective size was much smaller. I was brought in and introduced to the adult senpai and the teenage club members. Then I was left with the kids as the sensei and senpai walked away to prepare themselves. It was not very long time that I had to endure my being lost in the crowd, for the students formed a ring grabbing their shoulders with arms and making some sort of comrade ritual. So there I was, an adult probably twice the age of the kids, standing with them in the circle with head bowed, grasping their shoulders and pretending to shout together with them a war cry that I could not understand. Should I write: feeling young again? Not quite, but it was peculiar.


There was a kid that can be called the second senpai, for he was shouting the commands. On one hand he addressed me as “sensei”, probably being close to my degree, on the other hand he quite well managed to show me where to stay and what to do. I was in the “four” practicing with him. It has to be said that all those young kendokas are full of energy! Perhaps sometimes even too full. The student senpai was making kote men on me with the amount of energy that had carried him, after his men, nearly to tsubazeriai with me. And compared to them I have quite long legs and I was making as large step to the back as I could. Good for me, I have noticed that nothing was wrong with my steps - when he was motodachi he was just doing small steps for no larger were needed with other kids.

After a few some exercises and magical ninja movements that allowed me not to trip on a pingpong ball, the jigeiko came. I had to be the motodachi next to the sensei and adult senpai. Only two minutes for each opponent, but after facing a dozen kids each one wanting to show to the gaijin his place in the world kendo community, I was exhausted. This keiko and following practices in my dojo led me to some sort of observation. The Japanese often start exercises wrong. Wrong cuts, slipping on the side of the head or a completely wrong distance like with the senpai student. At the beginning I often thought: “Unbelievable! How could have they reached such a high degree? In Europe a kyu person often does better!”.


I think now I am starting to understand. They start bad, but then as the practice goes on, they improve to the level that is far above my current capabilities. No one stops them, no one says that they should fix what they are doing. Also, very small children just starting kendo are allowed to hit as they like, moving where they like, without any interruptions. My attempt to explain is that in Japan they have some model movements, steps and cuts, but everyone is allowed to reach that model naturally as is best suited for their body. So when starting the kendo in general or just a single practice they follow their body needs and possibilities, changing them slowly, coming closer to the model, but in their own, specific version, with time. Maybe one day we will practice in the same way in Europe, however I am not sure if it is possible for kendokas starting the sport being adult. Someone someday will have to try.


Post scriptum. I have practiced with the kids from the kendo club. But I have seen also some other children which have to take the kendo class once per week whether they like it or not. A column of boys an girls in bogu worn on sport suites moving toward the dojo, like the a student led to the principals office after being caught smoking in a toilette. Sometimes, when it happens that I do not enjoy a particular keiko, I try to recall that picture to remind myself that it could have been much worse.

Sulfur fumes, pirates and mount Fuji

The second tourists resort close to Tokyo which we visited was Hakone, famous for the volcanic fumes and the view of the mount Fuji. We decided on a one way trip and it is a really good choice if you are not a type of person that wants to take a look into every attraction that is available on-site. We followed the “Hakone Round Course”, shown on the Japan Guide webpage. For this, it is convenient to buy a Hakone Free Pass, which covers the round-trip from Tokyo to Hakone and communications on-site. At first we were a little bit skeptical if we will manage to do the round course, so if the pass will be an economically justified choice, but it proved to be no problem.

The express train that you can take on the Free Pass looks like a standard local train except that it is faster. I am not mentioning here the “Romance Car” which is not available for free for the Free Pass owners. The Romance Car looks better, gets to Hakone half an hour faster and is twice as expensive. The standard express goes to Odawara and one has to choose other form of transportation to get to other towns. We decided to get the ancient Hakone Tozan Railway up to Gora. It is a good transportation, although a little bit crowded. And, actually, against what is advised on the Japan Guide, it seems that the part of the trip from Odawara to Hakone-Yumoto offers better views that Hakone-Yumoto to Gora. Actually, the second part offers nearly no views, for it goes in the woods. If I were to get this train only as a tourist attraction, it is definitely not worth it, at least on this part of the road.

In Gora we proceeded directly to the cable car and ropeway leading to the Owakudani - the volcanic site. The ropeway has some really nice views and is probably the best way to get there. Odawara is really nice, although a little bit small. It consist of a cable car station, a few shops and restaurants and a single slope with some sulfur-boiling onsen and holes emitting volcanic fumes. The smell of the fumes is really strong and according to many warning signs it is a health hazard due to the amount of H2S and so on. No wonder, for from time to time some parts of the slope become invisible due to the white smoke. The cats lying close to the one of the onsens were to be a confirmation of the health hazard. According to my colleague, they were to be blind and overall unhealthy. They were not. What a disappointment. However, they thought at first that the rocks some children were throwing at them were food. So perhaps the fumes do not affect the sight as much as the mind or cats’ common sense.

The culinary specialty of Odawara are black eggs, owing their crust colour to the process of boiling in the sulfur onsen. I am sure that I felt the special taste about them and that K. did not was only the fault of the usual, women lack of taste (for all of you that now get upset by this comment - it is sort of a joke). So, it is a good idea to buy the pack of 5 eggs, divide them equally into 2 and 3 and eat a late breakfast on the slope, avoiding the fumes and contemplating a really magnificent view of the mount Fuji. Coming back you can enjoy other culinary peculiarities such as black-strawberry or wasabi ice cream. Do it at your own risk.

Then we took the rest of the ropeway to the Togendai, to reach the shore of the Lake Ashi. The town is ugly and everything closes early - in our case only one restaurant was open after 3 pm. Maybe it is similar in such tourist spots all over Japan, judging from the experience about Nikko. So we had highly overpriced curry while waiting for a pirate ship to take us through the lake to Hakone-machi. For me, an European, it would be much cooler to board a ship stylized after an oriental warship of some sort, not the want-to-be 18th century privateer frigate. But part of the crew is wearing pirate clothes and you can make yourself an image close to a cannon!… The lake is nice and there is both Japanese and English vocal guide. I cannot say “available”, for it goes through all the speakers on the ships, so you are forced to listen to it regardless of your phonic preferences. The trip is more then nice as a way of transport, but if you were to go there just to get it ass a tourist attraction, there are probably better ways of spending time.

From Hakone-machi it is really close to Moto-Hakone by foot (15 minutes) and there are some tourist spots in between, which we have missed because it was getting late. We were hurrying to the Hakone shrine which has a tori gate in the immensities of Lake Ashi. What can I say? It is a nice view and the shrine has some nice, water spitting small dragons. The town itself is, again, ugly, except perhaps for the large tori gates above the main road.

It was nearly an evening, so we took the bus to the Hakone-Yumoto for the last point of the programme - the rotenburo, an outside onsen. Again and again… beware of the pictures in the Internet. It is true that we have decided on the onsen on the basis of proximity to the rail station, but it was, anyway, among few listed on the Japan Guide. It was nothing special and most importantly, it had no view for which we hoped. So you can admire only natives of the same sex, yourself or stone walls, whatever is your preference. Additionally, the road that the bus takes is a hilly one, so if you do not have a strong stomach better refrain from choosing the onsen on the map/phone. Otherwise you may recall the taste of the black eggs that you had just a few hours before.

To summarize, Hakone is nice. A one-day trip really worth it. Even more, if you can manage to get up early in the morning and see more. Transportation is good, except the fact that the last ship is quite early (just after 16 hrs) and the last bus from Moto-Hakone not so late (if I recall correctly, after 20 hrs). Two days could be too much, however we have not seen many of the attractions mentioned in the guides nor had the opportunity for a free walk except the one on the slope of Odawara. And if you have not seen a volcanic mountain before it is a must.

Not so kekko about Nikko

Time for a little sightseeing. During last two weekend we have managed to spend some time in two known tourist resorts not so far from Tokyo. The first one was Nikko. We hoped to see a lot, so we bought a 2 day Marugoto Nikko Kinugawa Free Pass that makes it possible to see almost everything on the north side of the town - Kanagawa Onsen - and on the east side - Lake Chuzenji and Yumoto onsen. This was supposed to be a 2 day trip and so it was, but the plan failed. We got to Nikko around 3 pm, at least half an hour later then we were supposed to. And this is to late to go anywhere but Nikko, because everything closes quickly - shops, restaurants and many rotenburo (outside onsen). So you will be still able to eat something in the late afternoon, but I have heard that after 21:00 it becomes close to impossible.

The town itself is ugly. I mean usual, Japanese small town built in a modern style - nothing of any kind of atmosphere or a touristic attraction. Attractions may be temples, if you like them. For me, after visiting Kyoto, seeing a temple from time to time is fine, but making a whole trip based on seeing temples is not particularly interesting anymore. They are too alike. They are two things worth noting. The first one is the sacred Shinkyo Bridge. Why is it worth noting? Because it looks quite nice on the pictures, with good approach. In reality, however, it is connecting to a modern road, which destroys all of the possible mood. On the other hand, Kanmangafuchi Abyss is moody, at least close to the evening, when it is deserted (or was in our case). It looks strange and is close to nature, isolated for a large part from civilization. We ended in our ryokan Pension Logette Sanbois not far from the town-centre. It is worth considering, warm with a nice ofuro. Except for the fact that the room was heated by a gas heater, which after an hour of so decided that it should announce its displeasure with a serie of loud beeps and then switch off. Not a thing to enjoy during the night, and even less in the morning, when you wake up freezing.

The second day we got up early and went to the west outside of Nikko, starting with a Yumoyo Onsen. Be aware, that the main picture of Yumoto Onsen on Japan Guide ( is somewhat misleading. It actually shows some puddles with small boards on top. It is a nice thing, with smell and view of sulfur, but from the picture we had imagined something much bigger. Again, the photographic approach is the key. Close to the puddles one can rest in many of the hotels’ rotenburo. In our case it was quite nice, for the temperature outside was about -8 C, being 50 C higher in the pool, although without any particulary spectacular view. Be aware, however, that it is quite possible that after such a joy you will be even more joyfully stinking of sulfur for more than a day.

Then slowly coming back to Nikko, first on foot to Yudaki Waterfall, than by bus to Lake Chuzenji. The waterfall is nice, and we were lucky enough to find some snow monkeys playing closeby. However, everything that seems to be nice in Lake Chuzenji is another waterfall - Kegon Waterfall. You go with a lift in a rock to reach a proper viewpoint and it is worth its price. Apart from that, the town around 3 in the afternoon already seems deserted with very few people and very few places to eat something. The lake perhaps could be nice, although nothing spectacular, if not for some of the ugly, plastic, swan or duck shaped pedalo crowded on the shore.

To summarize, Nikko is not a lost time if you do not expect much. But it is really nothing special. Except the waterfalls, very average views and not much to do or even eat in the town. It has to be noted, that the last train on hour free pass was leaving a little bit past 18. Definitely too early and I cannot understand it from the touristic point of view - it was getting dark about half an hour earlier, so then you should maybe seek the bus to come back to the Nikko Station from somewhere or rest in an onsen, not hurry to the station.

The last paragraph is going to be a little bit bitter. I come from the nation which in many cases considers its “belongings” inferior to others. This goes for the common products as well as sights or historic sites. I may be proven wrong in the future, but in Japan it seems to be exactly the opposite. Every single view is breath taking, every monument spectacular. Even pure statistics shows that it cannot be like that and Nikko is one example. So beware of general articles about some sites that you can find in the Internet and keep in mind that most photos hide more then show. Better consult a few people before going somewhere, not to get disappointed.

(Kendo no) NAN desu ka?!

According to the formal evidence of the dojo’s members, there is one person with the degree lower then mine and three or four with a degree equal to mine. That forms maybe 10% of the dojo members. However it may sound, it is a very convenient situation, because basically everyone can teach you. Further more, most of the time you do not have to worry about how do you perform, because, by definition, everybody performs better then you. For me such a situation is a perfect enviroment for a good progress. However, there is a finite probability that you encounter someone with a slightly lower experience than yours.

In this case it was my girlfriend, who has to quickly catch up with Kata forms to be able to attend Kata practices on a standard basis. Therefore, most often after keiko and during waiting for all people to perform their ofuro ritual (yes, the time one has to wait to take a shower is the disadvantage of being the lowest grade), we practice kata. So one evening I was happily progressing with teaching new forms. Happily even more, for for these short periods I could become the teacher and show, that I can actually somehow know more then an other person. So I was happily progressing and one 7th dan sensei was happily fixing some mistakes in my girlfriend’s performance, then we happily progressed to the 4th kata. I happily took my position as uchidachi, K. took her taught-by-me position as shidachi and just as we were going to start a deadly clash, our intent was interrupted by a loud “NAN desu ka?!” (“What is IT?!”). And all of my hardly regained self-confidence poured away as I realized, that I, as a uchidachi, took waki kamae and tought the shidachi to take the hasso. The good form was sustained on the next day, during the synchronized kata training. On the very beginning I have been spotted by our 8th dan sensei of senseis, gripping the bokken upside-down. When he checked me for the second time and found me gripping it upside-down again, I felt like before my exam for the 5th kyu. Young again. But again, being the lowest grade has its advantages - no one seemed to care.

Unfortunately this was not the case of the Christmas tournament, or rather an end-of-the-year tournament, since here Christmas plays the role of the valentines day. So, it was the first keiko in Japan for my girlfriend and, probably, we were the only ones not knowing that there is going to be a shiai. As for me, I like shiais, especially those unexpected. I would have enjoyed it even more if the random drawing did not put in the very first fight of the shiai… me and my girlfriend. As always in such situation, I was doing my best to entertain the audience performing the stiffest-kendo-in-the-world show. Hopefully K. rescued the situation a little bit. Fortunately, afterwards I was facing only 5th and 6th dans, so I did not care much about winning and I managed to win once more and perhaps managed to be a little bit less stiff. The tournament was won by a foreigner, who managed to overcome everyone with his aggressiveness and not caring. This style often pays and really reminds me of one Polish kendoka.

To avoid breaking all the ties with my practice back in Poland, I started to continue my tsuki crusade. I thought it was going to be a similar crusade as in my country, since at the very beginning of my practice here I was informed by one foreign 3rd dan, that if I attempt to strike tsuki, I have to be prepared to receive ten times more tsukis back. So it took me 3 months of practice until I have decided to try for the first time. So far 3 quite successful tsuki attempts in ippon-shobu, 2 on 7th dans and… no payback. Nothing except smiles and continuation of fighting, even when I fail the tsuki badly. I hope that one day soon they will actually decide the tsuki was good enough to count it as a score in the ippon-shobu. But so far very rarely my men counts as such. The heritage of my Polish tsuki “psychological” training is that after an attempt to strike, even successful, I become very tense expecting angry payback. I have to mention that there were some people back in Poland with which I could practice this technique normally. Unfortunately, minority. When I was leaving the attitude seemed to improve and I hope it was not a wishful thinking.