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For anyone interested in martial arts, there is no replacement for living in Japan.
This was impressed on me soon after arriving in Kyoto. I was minding my own business, riding my bike down the street and taking in the scenery like any tourist, when a middle-aged man on a bike passed me going the opposite direction and carrying an eight-foot-long thin purple clothe bag and a wooden quiver. Random encounter with kyudo-ka. Oh yeah, we've got that at home... not.
(That was just in the first couple days, though. Since living in Kyoto for a while and taking the rail systems, etc, it's become a not uncommon site to see adults or school children carrying some manner of traditional weapon.)
About a week and a half ago, I was doing laundry. Villa Bianca has a washing machine, but no dryer, and we haven't got enough room to hang everything. So sometimes you have to take the wash to the laundromat to get it dried.
The laundromat is only about a block away, so I popped in there around midnight. Sitting in the corner is a white guy with a little goatee. Normally, I keep to myself, but one thing I've learned since traveling in Asia is that the other people who don't fit the surroundings can be interesting and/or useful, so I tentatively introduced myself as a traveler visiting Kyoto for cultural studies. Yeah, I'm studying aikido. Have you heard of that? It's a martial art, you know, like karate, but a little different. We try not to hurt people.
The guy is a little roundish compared with virtually everyone else in Kyoto, so I'm a little surprised when he launches into a very knowledgeable introduction to the outline of budo arts in Kyoto. He's Canadian, but with the talking speed and rapport of a New Yorker. Obviously, he knows aikido. But Yoshinkan? And Payet-sensei? "Oh, Jock (he calls him Jock) was just in my shop the other day." I'm really floored. And then the kicker, he was involved with Kendo World magazine.
Kendo World was a big deal for me. When it was first published, it was like a door had been opened up into a secret kendo world I had never known. I remember waiting and waiting for those first issues to come in the mail, and I mentioned that. The guy laughs, oh yeah, they had a lot of trouble getting out the first couple issues...
This kind of meeting is just delightful and surreal and left me a little giddy. So I went into the dojo and mentioned it to everyone. "You met Randy Channell?" they all said. Yes, I did, and he invited me to go with him to an annual event at the International Budo University, but I had to work that weekend.
I wish I could have gone. No doubt, I'll be in to visit Ran Hotei shop at some point. Channell-san assures me he has cheese cake that does not have the texture of angel food cake, like the other cheesecake I tried here that I was assured was "delicious". Angelfood cheesecake? Sometimes the Japanese just don't get it right.
Anyhow, this is Kyoto--finding the people and places you never even thought to meet.