Best Day Ever

by Kensatsukan Gaijin

I started the day with only 3 blisters on my feet, a bicycle that worked, full of energy and plans to study all night. It's now midnight, I haven't even started my homework, I have skin on the bottoms of my feet ripped off, both my hands have skin ripped off, I no longer have my $100 SureFire tactical flashlight, I still have to take a shower, and my entire body feels like I was trapped in a combine.

I am on cloud nine.

Here's the deal - my schedule, compacted as it is, calls for class all day. No break for lunch (freakin' Japanese and their "Gambatte" attitude). So the day is over, I still have to get a card reader (thank you Apple store, once again), but before I leave the school I get this vague rumor that there is a Kendo class on Monday nights across the street at the youth center. 6 pm.

I figure, hey, I'll never get to see that again - I'll just go at 6, watch a kendo class, and then get dinner and do my homework. The whole thing will take 2 hours, tops. Quick stop to 7&i Holdings, Inc. (Apparently there is no need for a fictitious trade name in Japan for 7-11 - the full corporate title works just fine) for an onigiri (rice ball) and some lemon milk, and off I go.

First lesson - never trust your intelligence. 6 pm was NOT correct. After an incredibly confusing conversation with the old man at the counter, during which I think I may have told him that I was at the gym because I had learned that the Youth Center had just acquired warp technology, I figured out that he was saying wait until 7 pm, that's when class begins.

CRAP. No time for homework, no time for dinner.

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7 o'clock rolls around. No Kendo. Just these two wackos. Who inflate this giant rubber ball and begin to toss it back and forth for no apparent reason.

At this point I'm so goddamn tired I actually fell asleep sitting there watching this madness.

Then, out of nowhere, in walks Yamasaki Sensei. He is immediately fascinated with my visit.

Now, keep in mind that I have read one thing over and over on the web: One absolutely, positively, NEVER may just walk into a kendo studio and just "take a class." You must appear with an introduction, preferably from a reputable school, and with prior arrangement.

You cannot show up in 5.11 tactical pants, your Commonwealth Attorney Polo Shirt, and beginner level Japanese and get invited to practice.

Lesson Two: The Internet is no match for the Japanese, who have got to be the most welcoming people I've ever met.

I'm handed a shinai and off we go.

For the Kendo students, a brief summary - the workout was intense, focused, innovative, and fascinating. I've got a bunch of new exercises for you all. Just don't plan to walk the next day...

Then out come the Katana. And for reasons I will never understand, he hands me a Katana and we set into Iai. Of course, I have no idea how to properly perform the Japanese Iai, and so this does not go well. But we end class with Yamasaki Sensei demonstrating a number of the old Iai forms, which up until now I have only seen in archival footage. These are simply amazing. I nearly started to cry watching him perfom these kata. However, that might also be because my hands and feet were in excruciating pain....

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Yamasaki Sensei is clearly having a great time, though - we take lots of pictures. He makes me pose for him with his sword (I'll try to get the pictures from him, I have his email) and we take lots of group photos.

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His student wasn't too h

appy about the whole thing, I think. I'm sure I got WAY better treatment than he did on a daily basis. Then for some reason Yamasaki sensei asked the ball-throwers to join the picture. What is the deal with these people?

And here's where the whole thing turns quintessentially Japanese - HE invites ME to coffee - so off we go! Starbucks, right? The guy is a simple civil servant by day (I think, at least - my Japanese is so bad that he might have told me that he was the Emperor's personal bodyguard), so nothing fancy, I figure.

Hells no.

We walk straight into the Fukuoka Grand Hotel's coffee room, which is sort of the Fukuoka equivalent of Tea at the Ritz. 3 bedraggled, sweaty, smelly strangers walk into this beautiful tea room and the staff greeted us like royalty. Japan, baby. It rocks.

Although I have no idea how I survived the conversation, it was just amazing. And he started giving me gifts!! Little fans, but still - what's up with that? I knew he would insist on paying (thank god someone warned me not to offer to pay - he might have cut my head off right there if I had tried to pay. Thank you to whoever gave me that warning.)

But I had nothing to give him; I didn't exactly come prepared for a kendo lesson from a true Japanese Kendoka. The only thing of any value I was even carrying was my tactical flashlight. I never travel without it....but tonight.... well, let's just say that I was glad to let it go.

What can I say. When I got outside the tire on my bicycle was flat, I had eaten exactly 3 rice balls and nothing else the entire day, it was 10:30 pm, and I still had homework and laundry.

And 3 days into my trip I have done more than I ever dreamed of.

Now, if I don't figure out the past indicative form my Sensei is going to chase me down and smack me. And I am in no shape to run very far....