Training and Traveling to Japan
Training in Japan By Ben Jones.
I frequently get asked, "I'm planning to go to Japan for some training ... what should I do?". Come to think of it, I actually asked Nakadai-san exactly the same question at the Cleveland "Summit" in 1986! His answer was short & sweet: "call this number". (I think it was Ishizuka Sensei's -- at any rate it worked perfectly.) There's no need really to worry about anything else, but many people have little knowledge of Japan and panic at the thought of finding a place to stay or a Dojo where they can train. So here are a few pointers:
For general information contact the Japan National Tourist Organization and the Japanese Consulate in your country. They really can supply a wide range of advice -- e.g. cheap places to stay, discounted rail tickets, the weather you're likely to encounter, visa requirements, the cost of living, etc. As the JNTO will tell you, there are certain periods when the whole of Japan goes on holiday, and it is therefore very difficult to get flights (or they are very expensive): Golden Week (April 25 - May 5), Obon (August 5 - 15) and Christmas / New Year (December 20 - January 5). Most of the Dojo are also closed for a week or so over New Year.
Can I stay in Noda? Some people seem to assume they can turn up in Noda and "someone" will put them up. This is of course NOT the case! The people of Noda (both Bujinkan and otherwise) are normally very helpful, but it only takes a few people to abuse such friendship and everyone suffers ... so act responsibly. It's not that difficult to arrange accommodation by yourself -- people do it every day! Remember though to do it well in advance -- and especially if you are hoping to stay in Noda around Daikomyosai time (late November / early December). In off-peak seasons it may be possible to rent bungalows at Shimizu Park, which is great value for small groups. A sample daily price is 6000 yen for a 6 mat space (bring your own sleeping bags) + 600 yen per person + 5% consumption tax. The three-night restriction has apparently been suspended for Bujinkan members -- provided we behave ourselves, of course. Contact the Shimizu Park camping area (in Japanese) on +81 471 25 3030 (fax +81 471 22 1670). You could also try the "Kikusui" Ryokan (directly opposite the Honbu Dojo) on +81 471 24 3327, and another "budget" option is the Hanata (fax +81 489 66 9510). Other Ryokan such as the Ashibi (tel +81 471 22 3365) and Azusa (fax +81 471 22 5742), and the Hotel Parks Noda (fax +81 471 22 0541), are probably more expensive but arguably more comfortable. There are various other large hotel chains etc. nearby (e.g. Solare Clearview or Noda Tobu) but I don't think they'd suit most people there for training. If you want to check prices/availability you could try using my bilingual inquiry form(PDF).
Where can I train in Tokyo? The easiest way is to find your way to a Tokyo Budokan training session and ask the people there. The address is Ayase 3-20-1, Adachi-ku, Tokyo, and the nearest station is Ayase (on the Chiyoda line -- colored dark green on most maps); here is a simple map of the route from the station, and here is a link to their website (Japanese only). At the time of writing, training is on Tuesday nights only but it might be best to call first and check (in Japanese, of course -- ask a friend to call if necessary): +81 3 5697 2111. Sôke also produces a list of training days & times every six months or so, which is available via George Ôhashi's site. Please note: Sôke is not guaranteed to be at all of these sessions. Although he no longer travels to Taikai, he may be away for other reasons, in which case one of the other senior grades will take the class. On days when there is no training at Ayase there may be some training at the Bujinden Honbu Dojo near Noda, in particular on Sundays. Here is a simple map of the main locations in Tokyo.
One warning: the Tokyo Budokan is NOT the same as the Nihon Budokan (which is in the center of Tokyo, and is well known as a venue for rock concerts etc.)!
What about other Dojo? A list of Juyushi Dojo and training schedules were included in Sanmyaku, Vol. 2 No. 2 (i.e. Issue 5). Most Dojos are concentrated around Noda / Tokyo, but there are some in the Nagoya / Osaka / Nara area and a few even further afield (e.g. Okinawa). Best ask Sôke when you're there.
Do I need to contact Honbu Dojo before going? No, but it would obviously help Sôke to know who you are when you turn up at a training session. A brief note (in Japanese) or fax should be fine -- but to save Sôke having to remember thousands of foreign names, enclosing a photograph is definitely a good idea.
Should I take a gift to Sôke? If so, what? It's not compulsory, but many people do take presents for Sôke (and the other instructors). If you can't think of anything appropriate but don't want to turn up empty-handed, some fresh fruit etc. from a shop down the road would be perfectly acceptable.
I'd like to visit Iga / Koga / Togakushi ... Again, the JNTO should help. Note that the museum at Togakushi is often closed in Winter months (when the whole area is swamped by skiers). Iga has a castle & museum; Koga has a museum, and also a "Ninja village" where kids can play around on Mizu-Gumo etc.; Togakushi also has something similar, I believe. Don't expect to visit any of these on a day trip from Noda, as they're too far away (but Iga & Koga are very close to each other).
What if I want to stay long-term? Some people think that training in the Bujinkan should enable them to get a cultural visa and stay in Japan indefinitely, doing odd jobs and "getting by". Needless to say, this is not the case. When I first attempted to get a working visa (a cultural visa was turned down straight away), I was told you need a contract for full-time work of a type no Japanese person could perform, with a company of a good size (i.e. financially stable), in addition to having a personal sponsor (again financially stable) who takes responsibility for all of your actions when in Japan. The most important thing is not to "claim the right" to stay in Japan but to ask the immigration officials as politely as possible what documents they require and to do your utmost to oblige every one of their requests. Requirements vary from country to country and change remarkably often, but in general, getting a long-term visa before coming to Japan is much preferable to trying to change status once there. It is also worth noting that from May 2003, British nationals (at least) can obtain "volunteer visas" for working with charitable organizations in Japan for up to a year. The government-run JET programme is another popular way for getting a legal stay in Japan, with paid work teaching English.
More questions? A few Bujinkan members in Japan are online and might be able to help you with up to date training schedules, and possibly also arranging accommodation, etc. To contact the local "community", try starting with Shawn Gray's pages.
The document below was written by Doug Wilson and George Ohashi. Everyone who trains in Japan should read this document and be familiar with all the information it contains. The original document is located on Mr. Ohashi’s website and can be found here: ‘Rules to Follow‘.
Dear respectful Bujinkan members:
Due to the increasing numbers of people attending training and visiting Japan recently, we have been asked to clarify the guidelines for visiting Japan. This is directed to those that visit Japan for training on a regular basis, and those that are planning on visiting Japan in the near future. The following points have recently become a concern for many of the people who volunteer their time and are responsible for various things here at the Hombu and Ayase classes and need to be made very clear to avoid miscommunication or problems in the future.
Recently, due to various reasons, such as no plans for a Taikai or other various “rumors” going around, there has been a very large constant flow of visitors and practitioners from around the world to the Hombu and Ayase classes. It is great to see so many people training in the Bujinkan and making the trip to Japan to train here. Training in Japan is definitely a unique experience and something that all members should do when they can.
Sensei has been very happy and energetic to see so many people coming in the last couple of months on a constant basis. The Hombu Dojo has been very full and Ayase almost looks like a Daikomyosai from 10 years ago.
However, please remember to review the rules of the Bujinkan before attending the training sessions as well as being up to date with your membership etc.
There have been increasing problems with many things lately such as:
Garbage in and around the Hombu and Ayase Dojo’s
People taking photos or video without permission
Drinking and eating in the dojo at Ayase
Also please be aware of the following rules and guidelines:
If you want to visit Soke’s class:
Those who do not belong to the Bujinkan cannot watch Soke’s classes without permission. If you need permission, please talk to Ohashi or a Shihan at the Dojo beforehand.
If you are a Bujinkan member, you can watch the class. You don’t have to pay for it.
We do not allow you to take photos or videotape the class during the session without previous permission by Soke (even if you are a Bujinkan member) because we are learning Budo, not a sport.
Please do not ask Soke for a conversation or a photo unless you know him directly. Consult with a Shihan, an administrator, or a local practitioner first instead. They can help you to read the situation and/or facilitate the interaction given Soke’s busy schedule.
Please learn to read the atmosphere and use your best judgment given that atmosphere. Those who cannot read the atmosphere often cause difficulty. Please be careful.
The Tokyo Budokan (Ayase) forbids eating and drinking in the Dojo.
If you want to place an order from the Hombu Office
Write the following on a sheet of paper.
Your name, rank, nationality
A complete list of what you want (number and unit prices)
The date you are leaving Japan
Your exact address in case the Hombu Office has to mail the stuff to you later (enclosing a business card is preferable).
Sign your name on an envelope and put the sheet of paper and the correct money in the envelope.
Hand it to Ohashi or a Shihan at Soke’s class.
Soke’s assistants usually mail items to the people who ordered them, however, some of them return as dead mail because the address is not correct. This is a waste of time for both sides. Please write your CORRECT addresses with READABLE letters. (It’s appreciated if printed.) And additionally, your e-mail addresses or URLs might help the Hombu staff when you have such troubles.
When you mail the Hombu Office, please send the money (in Yen or as an “International Money Order”) and the list of what you want in the same envelope. If the Hombu Office receives only one of the two, you will not receive anything (or have to wait for a long time at best). Please be careful about this because this kind of problem happens very often. Needless to say, the money should be exact.
If you want QUEST DVDs/videos, please buy them at/though bookstores, etc. (either online or offline). The Hombu Office has stopped selling them.
When you enter the Dojo
Stack your shoes or line them up neatly at the entrance. It would be appreciated if you put them in your gear bags when the Dojo is crowded. (especially at the Hombu Dojo)
Stack your gear bags or stuff empty ones inside each other. (Please leave a nice “trail” for Soke to get into his changing room when you are at the Hombu Dojo.)
Do not bring your suitcase unless it is really necessary.
Bring a plastic shopping bag or two with you everywhere for garbage.
These things may not seem like a big deal to people, however, it is a large burden for all members if one person is not respectful of the rules, or non-cooperative when it comes to enforcement of these rules. Training is for everyone, but if we continue this way it may become difficult in the future if we cannot be respectful and careful.
Granted, it is not possible to know all the rules or guidelines and that is why you should ASK before doing things. You should be humble and sensitive to the situation and be patient especially when someone with obvious authority is asking you to stop or cease something that is not allowed. Comments such as these are always being done so at the request of Soke or someone very senior in the Dojo. These comments are not coming at the requester’s own whim. There is NO excuse for arguments when such a request is made.
Another important point that is being more and more overlooked is the fact that Japan is a unique place. It is not America, England or any other country. Therefore, people need to be sensitive when visiting here. Garbage is treated differently than any other country and basic rules are expected to be followed with respect and consideration. This goes for how you handle garbage at your Ryokan, Hotel etc. It should be handled in an expected manner. Culture, rules and other things you take for granted in your home country do not apply in Japan or can even be considered rude or disrespectful in Japan. There is NO excuse for continued misunderstanding in this area. The reputation of the Bujinkan and its members are at stake.
When people leave the Hombu Dojo and toss their trash at the side of the road, for example, it is Soke who gets the call from the angry neighbors. If Soke apologizes and assures the neighbor that “It won’t happen again,” it shouldn’t happen again….
But inevitably (and sadly), it will.
Although the new trash incident will be at the hands of a different visitor than the first incident, that same neighbor will call Soke to complain once again. Such repeated “incidents” are an embarrassment for Soke.
People do not normally think that tossing an empty can could lead to Soke’s early retirement. But it could if we are not careful! If such incidents happen too many times, the pressure that Soke feels from the neighbors could eventually push him to no longer teach! And that would be a tragedy for us all!
Next, members are now attending training sessions with their families, children, friends, and colleagues. This generally requires permission by Soke or the instructor when they are not Bujinkan members. It is the sole responsibility of the member bringing someone to gain permission for those people to watch training, take pictures, etc.
People who bring someone must be respectful as well as take responsibility for those people to understand the rules. Otherwise, no one will be allowed to watch training or be present while training is taking place unless they are a participating Bujinkan member. This statement has been made on several occasions.
Most importantly, Shidoshi is responsible for their students when they visit the Hombu Dojo and should be aware of when they are visiting. Students visiting will be representing their Shidoshi when they are here. Please be aware that the names of the Shidoshi are often asked when people are visiting in order to be clear on the person’s history or credibility. This is common sense in the world of Budo. Especially, senior members of the Bujinkan have a growing responsibility for their students’ actions as well as upholding the honor and respect of the Bujinkan.
The above are not merely rules or guidelines for behavior. They play a key role in protecting Soke, the Shihan, the Hombu Dojo, neighbors around the Hombu Dojo as well as all training members. As students of a martial art, it is vital that we consider things in this way.
The intention of this document is not to hurt people’s feelings. The intention is to lay forth some rules that need to be followed by common sense and judgment. We are asking everyone to be more sensitive to the situation and therefore preserve the training experience for present and future Bujinkan members. Above all, this is expected and requested out of respect for our Soke and the Bujinkan.
Hope to see you all in Japan.
Doug Wilson, 15th Dan – Bujinkan Hombu Dojo
George Ohashi, 14th Dan – Bujinkan Hombu and Ayase Class Administrator