Written by Steve Jackson
Having had the opportunity to be part of the Dojo trip to Japan this September, I would like to share some of my experiences and observations of Japan. This was my first visit to Japan, and due to the great planning and organizational skills of Michael (Heffner), the trip was wonderful, with my wife Michelle and I having a terrific time, thoroughly enjoying both the country and the people who accompanied us – our fears of not being able to figure out how to flush the toilets were greatly exaggerated (all had handles!). One of the trip highlights was being able to train a couple of times at Sensei’s original Dojo; the history seemed to emanate from the Dojo giving substance to Sensei’s various stories regarding his training. Sensei Okano was extremely welcoming and seemed pleased that we had come, although I did think he was trying to give us old folks heart attacks by putting us through the kids warm up routines!!!
We visited three locations in Japan: 1) Tokyo (including Hachioji where the Dojo is) – think NYC without the attitude and noise; 2) Kyoto, the old Capital which is full of incredible temples, parks, and markets – Michelle & I had tea in a traditional Japanese tea garden, we were even fortunate to catch sight of a geiko (the correct term for geisha in Kyoto); and 3) Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan’s main islands, which is known for its volcanoes, natural hot springs (onsen) and scenic National Parks. I believe we used most forms of transit on this trip (plane, bus, train, tram, car/taxi, bicycle, boat, and of course plenty of walking). We even had the opportunity to take one of the famed bullet trains when travelling to Kyoto (there’s even an app to check your travel speed!), and found that in general punctuality seems to be one of the hallmarks of Japan – woe to you if you are even 15 seconds late!!
All three places had their own uniqueness, but they shared in common a mixture of history and modern architecture, a general cleanliness (no street garbage), people being courteous, respectful, polite and extremely helpful – numerous examples of random people going out of their way to assist us in our travels, and in particular memories of a hotel receptionist leaving the hotel and (literally) running down the street to show us a good restaurant will never leave my mind!!
In regard to food, I certainly did not lose any weight on the trip! – but did find it interesting that the Japanese breakfast, lunch and dinner seemed to consist basically of the same food groups (rice, noodles, fish), and the sweets and ice cream were delicious – I did eat horse, but can’t say that my Kibadachi improved….
Walking around the various cities was interesting in many ways, although the major cities were just as, if not more, crowded than NY. The pace and vibe was much calmer, quieter, and you didn’t have to worry whether to look right or left when crossing the road – as no-one jaywalks! Japan is possibly the only place where the concept of autonomous cars could actually work. Japan is definitely a place I would like to re-visit and see more of the country.
All in all, and thanks to our travelling companions, this was a truly unforgettable experience. Until hopefully the next trip in 2022, a big OSS!