In Japan with Sensei

In Japan with Sensei

Senpai Wenzel´s travel diary accompanying Sensei to Japan.


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In Japan with Sensei 1

por Wenzel - Nihon - 28-Jul-2018


Minasan, after 13 years I came back to Japan following Sensei in this trip to the Samurai`s land!

We`ve left from Sao Paulo on Monday straight up to the other side of the world!

All of these years, since the first time that Sensei took me to Japan in 2002. I`ve always said that this trip is a "Chinese deal"* (oops), because we`ve paid an expensive air ticket, and then, everything in Japan is expensive, but actually it`s a bargain if considering a journey to the other side of the world!
*"Chinese deal," an expression meaning a good deal.

What should Wenzel (Uenzel*) think about Japan after 13 years? Sensei was curious, would I believe that Japan changed a lot?
I`ve agreed writing a little about this, and I share with all of you some thoughts. I apologize in advance for the size of it.
* "Uenzel" - Sensei kindly pronounces Senpai Wenzel`s name in this way.

The trip is extensive, there`s no other way. Our scale is in London.
Once there in the airport, Sensei took me to Gordon Ramsay`s bistro, the chef from the HELLS kitchen reality show! It`s something as the Shugyo for cookers, that is all about the trip with Sensei. The typical British breakfast was delicious. To be in London is pleasant. I`m in the British Island for the first time, and the short experience so far confirms my guess that British people are some like the " Japanese from the Europe"). Polite, quiet, little different, without fear ou shame on being that, they drive on the left side, sharp on time, live in an Island, and have a special resiliency power. My perception is influenced by some movies such as `Dunkirk` and `Zero Dark Thirty.` When between negotiate with Hitler or resist and fight, even alone, against a Nazi Europe, the film enhance a prime minister based on a determined nation, who will not surrender to darkness and will fight until the end for what they believe is right.

After London, there were more long flighting hours, which we vary work with using the tablet, readings, studying, checking to-do lists, take some poor nap, walking to the bathroom or to the back of the airplane just to spread the legs, grab some water ou watch a movie.

After almost 30 hours, finally, we arrive in Japan.
I remember very well, in 2002, when I saw Japan for the first time, the face near the window of the JAL plane, JUMBO 747, flying above the coast, slightly north from Tokyo, and Sensei by my side asking: " Can you feel it, Uenzel?! Can you feel it?... The Energy of the Samurai`s land!?"
I was enchanted by the fact that I was on the other side of the planet, meeting Asia, traveling so far, so far as possible!
Something like: setting Earth into perspective.

Now, when I arrived in Japan, the emotion is not the same as 16 years ago. The world got smaller. Everything is closer, more interconnected. Even the planes seem to land easier.
Mostly because I wasn`t traveling to an unknown place, in unknown travel which I had no idea of what to expect. Mysterious training, Shugyo with Sensei, challenges, and pressure that I wouldn`t imagine yet.

But even so, we arrived in Japan, and I feel so great about it! Such a great peace. The cleanliness, the cleansing for the eyes, for the ears, the cleanliness in manner and how they smile while they`re working and smile back because of this. I remember the cleaning manual from a monk and his inveterate presenter.

This time, the airport was the Tokyo Haneda, smaller, even calmer. We checked our luggage to a further destiny. The delivery service counter is apparently a little messy, with furniture and stuff not very standardized, without restriction against a turbulent public. But everything is in the right place to people work, and the agile and efficient ladies help Sensei to solve the operation quickly. That`s wonderful.

We`re now about 12 hours from the time zone, which I called "messy time zone" (it`s not possible to have more than 12 hours ahead, if it was 13 hours, actually it became 11 hours).
To get worst this messy time zone, the Whatsapp pops unexpected complications from Brazil to Sensei solve in many text messages, voice messages and few calls. Sensei confuses himself while filling the addresses from sender and recipient at the form, one of this typical mistakes that one makes when you`re in this messy time zone + troubles blowing up in Whatsapp.
Our day is lasting almost 32 hours, and I begin to start my alert mode to helo Sensei not making any worst mistake, such as losing a document, the cell phone, to forget his backpack or luggage, or something like not taking care of the bags because we`re in Japan! But even so!

We went along the airport to buy a microchip to the tablet and charge some money for day by day expenses, another particular moment especially fertile to make a mistake due to the messy time zone. For example, to forget the money on the counter desk. (The funny thing is that we`re getting slower and we realize that in slow motion: aww... I... take back...the...envelope...). Observing our own mind is funny. Being alert here and there, following Sensei, I`ve realized a group with 4 young people leaving the main hall of the airport through a service door. Before they go, they turn to the front of the room and bow, doing the REI. I took almost 3 seconds to understand what was that: they were doing the same REI as someone "leaves the dojo" meaning the workplace and the customers that were there. I thought they were ending their shift, or just leaving the hall. And they did the REI before they TURN BACK to whom pay their salaries after all.
Then I remembered, the same happens every time the inspector leaves a train wagon too, even if it`s not the end of his shift.
It came to my mind the questioning that is often asked by Westerners when they talk on these Japanese katas, entirely strange and alien in our hemisphere: whether they make these katas by heart or if it is all just an obligation, done automatically?
I`m not a fan at criticizing or despise katas, just because they wouldn`t be made from the heart. It`s important that they are done, it is not my duty or right to investigate and invade someone else`s heart. Are they smiling and being kind by obligation or with genuine feeling? They`re smiling, that`s good! They are putting up with and doing what has to be done!

I will even copy Joe Biden and quote the Irish poet Seamus Heaney: "You carried your own burdens and very soon your creeping symptoms of privilege disappeared."

I remember Monk Coen`s book that I read in the airplane, commenting about the Imitation Dharma. The Dharma are the teachings, the rules, the truth; which is taught and passed from generation to generation since the historical Buddha (or before?). Initially, when the teachings are alive and are put into whole practice, the Dharma is theCorrect Dharma.
Later, it was already foreseen in the Buddhist writings, the Dharma becomes an Imitation Dharma when people don`t know why they perform the manners, but, .. still, perform them. Then, as also predicted, comes the Degenerate Dharma. When traditions are no longer practiced by anyone, they only exist more written, perhaps remembered, preserved, but are no longer practiced.

It would be like the techniques of Kenjutsu: in the times that were applied in real combat, were the "correct techniques". Then they become techniques that are only contained in katas, they would be the "techniques of imitation", since they are no longer practiced for real, with the feeling of combat, but are still executed as a form, somehow. So, these are the styles of kenjutsu, at least those that still survive until nowadays inside those tiny dojos in Japan, where the katas are practiced.

However, the European historical fencing, where they stage the swordfights of the Game of Thrones, in that case, would be the degenerate form, since it only existed more in the few manuals of fencing written several centuries ago. Even though some groups are looking to recover this European fencing, people tell me that it is difficult because there hasn`t been no transmission until the present day: there were no masters who received the teachings and passed them through a long period.

In the case of Kenjutsu Combat, it is as if Sensei is swimming against this current, into the battle to return the Imitation Kenjutsu to the Correct Kenjutsu, or at least some alive Kenjutsu, since the intention is not to revive it until the mortal duel.

By fate`s gift, it happened that Monk Coen had released her new book in those weeks and it fell into my hands these days. I end up having the opportunity to return to Japan in the company not only of the Sensei but also of this other important teacher in my Path that is Coen Sensei. Now, almost twenty years after I met them, at the same day in November, when I first went to the Niten at Bushinji Temple in Liberdade (Sao Paulo district), and the training that day was a lecture by Monk Coen.

The book on the plane gave me the key to several readings of Japan, and even readings about this journey at Niten in all these years.

If the young people have the correct feeling or not when they did the REI leaving the lobby, it doesn´t matter so much to me yet. For now, it only matters that they do it, that there`s no space for a crafty and cheeky feeling in the hall, but only a feeling to follow the rules. They are still young, and besides, it would be an indiscretion trying to discover their feelings, they were working!

We caught a train, then transfer and bullet train!

I exchange some more messages with Kenzo (black belt graduated from Rio de Janeiro, properly known at Niten by almost everyone with just over 2 or 3 years of training.
Kenzo is spending a season in Japan, working and getting to know the world (before he spent a month in the US, strengthening the Niten units there), if the schedule of our trip allowed he would love to meet us here. Me too, but the agenda doesn´t allow and that´s okay.

The day already lasts 34 hours, and I`m getting slower to figure things out.
But Japan is calm, I feel good here, its no longer a stress to keep up the pace here. Being careful to not commit mistakes is no longer a Shugyosha terror. Avoid getting in the way of people and disturb everyone with our barbarian ways of the west ... is not an uncommon effort. On the contrary. I feel relieved.

I wrote to Kenzo:

"Japan is less different for me now than it was fifteen years ago."

And I also ask Kenzo if he is in touch with BRUM, also known figure of the oldest students and who lives in Japan now.
Kenzo replies that he has not been able to talk to Brum yet, and "senpai is already home! :)"

EI`m slow with the confusing hours: who`s at home? Did Kenzo come home from work? Or does he ask if we`ve already arrived at the hotel?

He needs to explain: "Senpai is already at home in Japan. It´s not an alien country anymore."

Yeah, I guess that`s it. Of course. All these years, living with Sensei, bringing the living influence of the first trips to Japan to the dojo in Brazil and seeking to give life to Bushido culture in our daily practice. The feeling of arriving in Japan turned out to be very different from the trips we take through Niten to other destinations like USA or Portugal.

As different as Brazil is from Japan, there is no longer the shock of coming here, on the contrary, the spirit feels welcomed.

It is no longer the case to answer if I would find Japan very different from the Japan I met 16 and 13 years ago. I`m the one who`s different.
Japan, on the other hand, I think is very similar.
The Shinkansen (bullet train) remains the same and there aren`t sockets in each armchair yet, to recharge the phone and tablet (what Sensei and I regret that day). Nevertheless, the drinks machines remain in every corner, people are still in their pace, maybe nowadays it gets less attention to realize that they are all looking at the cell phone, and maybe could they even looking less the cell phone than 13 years ago? Perhaps. But I`m not scandalized by any change.

At Nagoya station, we jumped from the bullet, I mean, from the bullet train, and we looked for a place to lunch. Sensei proposes a place to eat sushi. It will fit well! I want to eat too, anyway!
At the train station, there are several restaurants, it`s lunchtime and it`s crowded with locals. The corridors are narrow, and the organization of small spaces still allows in the middle of this to form small and organized queues next to the entrances of the crowded places.

We didn`t find any sushi, but Sensei´s determination, which I do not need to describe to Niten students, makes us find one! After a few minutes of waiting in line, we also got a small table. The place is tiny, two men prepare the sushi, and some 3 or 4 gentlemen serve energetically!
Welcome! Thank you! Hai! Welcome! Thank you! Hai! We are always listening to people here, the window to the soul, or to the fake soul as some might say. But the music is adequate and always passes this energy of doing with joy, with the "purpose of the effort", as it`s spoken very much in the universe of Karate.

Sushi and biru! Hard-earned beer.

We asked the picture of the Cheers to one of the ladies. They take it with care, the others pass and look, make expressions of "ohh", "ahh", "honto", everything always showing disposition, no grumbling, no tiredness. They are all always up for the effort, to thank, to ask permission and to do, to make the best.
I arrived in Japan not even five hours ago. It draws attention from the beginning, because everything is tidy, organized, equipped, thought out details, well done. And it also draws attention, to realize that every worker is upright, like the Niten students in training, when Sensei is at the training (understood ?!). Straight, striving to make according to the best.
The word I find for this is always this "upright", with a tight obi . There is never that manner of one who wants to show himself above the other, smart, clever, lazy, cocky, cracking hand, hiding from the hardest work.
What does it matter if it`s a superficial or if it`s sincere? It simply is. And this also explains all this infrastructure and details and "finishing" of all things in Japan, the buildings, the services, the food: it`s the result of work, a lot of work. Imagine a whole nation with the culture of doing well done. That´s it!
The sushi is obviously delicious. The beer too!
Everything is all right! The spirit is peaceful. There is not a scratch in the experience. There is nothing bitter or sour, even in the food, beer, nor care, smile or cleanliness.
To seek perfection, as some like to say about the samurais.

What a peace!

I am applying the viewpoint of the Monk Coen`s book to my thoughts:
Most part of the population in Japan is Buddhist, but if that is why most people consciously think of contributing to the peace and well-being of a "greater self" I can not say.
For being Buddhists, they do it even more by representing a greater effort to their little `I`.
It doesn`t matter if it is conscious, but it clearly happens.
Of course, the fact that they are Buddhist makes sense, but our Christian side, if it was literally followed also had to be thinking more of something bigger.
OThe reason I don`t know, but the effort, the work, the carefulness are clear, evident, and bring that peace of a contribution to something greater than each one alone.

The day is still going ahead. We go by bus. Lunch and beer make you more tired!
We both nap in the armchairs. I catch some dreams. We arrived in the inner city. The final destination of the first day.
We go straight to an appointment.

It is all there, as in other places. Education, the willingness of everyone to greet, to take care, to attend, to do. Fast, without delay, efficient.

Unlike 13 years ago, I`m cool now. Despite the tiredness, I`m delighted with the experience, enjoying every moment.
It comes to mind the story of the monk and the bull (or ox, however you want). The feeling is this, before in Japan it was as if I tried to tie the ox, to tame the ox, with all the tensions, afflictions, and falls that this brings.
Now it`s like coming home on the bull.

There is still new learning. Of course, there is and will be. When the ox story ends, it only restarts! Only just waiting in the parlor, the lady pass and straighten my shoes in the entrance. Instead of pointing them to inside, as I left them, she turns them to point out, as they can be dressed quickly as I leave. I made a mental note, smoothly.

The day is up to 40 hours already. But before a shower and a bed, we are still invited to dinner. All good, we are calm.
I am counting the hours of the day in the text, to show the delight of living the day without grumbling or regrets.
Let`s go! Nice!

The sushi restaurant, again, this time seems to be from a chicken farm owner. Chicken kebabs and chicken heart are served one after the other under the Sensei`s impartial look. I have nothing against it, and I try to disappear with them (in my stomach), to not get the attention from the host. A tray of "sashimi" omelet is also served. And when comes the Sushi, there are giant egg sushis again, three times bigger than the others fish sushi (this confirms me that the owner has a chicken farm!) I laugh inside and eat, since I can`t participate much in the conversation, and the last thing I would like to do is bother Sensei with an interpreter role.

But finally, the conversation comes to me: that it is my third time in Japan, that I work at Niten. The host asks what I think of Japan, and is already sharing his point of view:

The definition of Japanese is that he thinks of the othThen he spoke a little badly about the Chinese people and a little more about the Indians and Pakistanis, as it is also common in Japan, especially in the countryside.

A few weeks ago, Alana, a student at Niten in Rio de Janeiro, came back from a Masters season in Japan. She brought some ice-cold green tea for our Saturday lunchtime training in Tijuca and told us a little bit about her experience. I asked her, at the time, what else amazed her the most from Japan. The answer spotted with no doubt: the thought of the other from the Japanese people.

Now the speech of the Japanese itself that is what defines the people.

Alana did there, I mean, here, besides the master`s degree also a Nihongo (Japanese language) course taught by volunteer ladies in Osaka, and however much it was raining, or a typhoon was passing through the region, tells Alana, the ladies never miss. The same could not be said about the Western students who attended the course. There´s a typhoon ... "that`s enough!", they should think.
But, Alana, already familiar with this trick, no matter how she even thought about not going to the class, she didn`t miss one time, after all the ladies were not going to miss it, she couldn`t do that to them! And one of these days, she became dear to the ladies. They invited her into their homes and felt comfortable with her.

In the end, enjoying every moment, we arrived at the hotel, and instead of a bath, there was the prize, an ONSEN, a traditional bath with a large hot tub with 40 degrees water. Aww, that`s wonderful. Bathing like this is an invitation to crown the day, and with reflection, not in a hurry to spend less water, in a warm place, sitting on a stool, taking care of the body or what remains of it.
The sleep was deep and the next day, many emails were waiting for me, but before that, at 5:30 a.m. Sensei calls me for a morning jog.
That was what saved the second day!

Here is the origin of the "sword that gives life"!
It is very good to take this journey alongside the master who adds `abundance` to the phrase and doesn`t let us forget that happiness is the goal.


Now the day has clear up here, time to put Kimono and Hakama!

The clouds are the same

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