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So Ya Wanna Go ta Japan?
Okay, you've been training for, what? several years now and you
think you're ready to make the "Big Step," and train in Japan. A big
step, indeed, going to a foreign country where customs are very
different, where you can't speak the language, where even the
simplest daily tasks and errands can suddenly become major
problems and seemingly insurmountable challenges. Whatcha
gonna do? Whoya gonna call? (Nope, DojoBusters is not it.)
First of all, where will you go? Have you got the name and address
of a teacher and/or a dojo? Have you an introduction? Do you need
one? (Sometimes you do, sometimes you don't.)
Next, where will you live? Do you plan to rent an apartment? What
about hoshokin (key money, usually equal to two months rent
payable to the landlord, non-refundable), reikin (one month's rent,
a payment to the realtor for finding a place for you), shikikin
(deposit money, first and last months' rent), and a cleaning deposit
(also a month's rent; depending on the landlord's personality, you
may get all, some, or none of it back when you move out). Did I
mention that rents in Japan are, to put it mildly, a bit on the steep
side? If you think it's bad in New York, San Francisco, or other
popular cities, wait'll you get to Japan! Did I also mention that you
may need a guarantor to co-sign the lease as well? A lot of
landlords won't even let foreigners in the door. (Too much hassle,
Work? How will you support yourself? Not too long ago, it was fairly
simple to find work. Many, maybe most, foreigners studying budo in
Japan could find work as language teachers. It was a given that
you'd be able to find a suitable job that would enable you to
support yourself and still maintain a good training schedule. Those
days are long gone. There are still a lot of teaching jobs available,
but the pay rate isn't much different from what it was ten years or
so ago and prices have continued to rise. Maybe, provided you
have all the necessary qualifications and they need somebody, you
can find technical or managerial work in an American or Japanese
company that enables you to train a lot and support yourself. Jobs
like that are somewhat scarcer than hen's teeth, though, and I
wouldn't want to gamble on finding one very soon. Too, you'd have
to be able to fit into the corporate culture. Otherwise, you'll likely
be washing dishes, waiting tables, or working construction. Long
hours, lousy pay, not much free time. These are things you'll need
to think about before you leave home.
Does this make the situation a little clearer? It's not impossible, but
it's definitely not the easiest thing you'll ever do. That being said,
living and training in Japan for an extended time period can be a
most rewarding and meaningful experience, one that will teach you
a great deal about yourself and your home country, about your
host country and its people, as well as about the art you came to
It's a lot easier now than it used to be. It's possible to order pizza
for home delivery now. There are washing machines! and DRYERS!
(There was a time when there was only one, that's right, ONE,
laundromat in all of Tokyo that had dryers. You've absolutely no
idea how important that can be until you're training three to five
hours a day during the rainy season.) And there are any number of
support groups available. Use 'em! If you're in a major city, there is
probably an English language telephone directory, or you can call
your local government office (town, city, or ward) for the
information you need. Many of them have somebody who speaks
enough English to answer your questions. They're very helpful.
Visas and other bureaucratic obstacles
Visas, work permits, and residential status. This is a very
complicated subject that never seems to stand still. And it's
different for people from different countries. People from the U.S.
have one of the less enviable situations, if you compare it to those
of folk from some other nations. Check with your local Japanese
consulate or embassy for the conditions that pertain to you. One
thing you need to keep in mind, though, is that the Japanese
government is not tolerant towards people who are working here
illegally. They will and do deport people who break the law. Nor are
the Japanese tolerant of some of the other things that might not be
considered serious offenses in your own country. Don't even think
about illegal drugs. Maybe you could get away with it, maybe not.
One guy who made that mistake spent considerable time in prison
(not a fun thing in Japan--do you really want to be required to sit in
seiza in absolute silence for eight hours a day?) before being kicked
out. For just a bit of marijuana? Yup, it can be that way. It could be
a lot worse, too.
You have undoubtedly noticed by this time that I have raised more
questions than I have given answers. This is because it's almost
impossible to give you specific information for all of the questions
you're sure to have, or to offer advice on how to deal with the
unique situations you will encounter. There are, however, several
very good guide books to Japan (I've listed some of them as an
appendix), and you can refer to the advice and information given in
Patrick Augé's excellent essay in the The Aiki News 1995 DojoFinder
for more specifics. But there is some general advice that may be of
use to you, which I'd like to offer as a sort of list.
1. Keep your sense of humor and a sense of proportion. One of my
grandmothers used to say, "No matter how bad it is, it could be
worse." She was right. A thousand years from now, no matter what
the problem is, you'll probably laugh about it.
2. You've heard of Catch 22? There's another way to say it here:
"Case by case." You've got a problem, one involving some
bureaucratic procedure, requiring interaction with, surprise, a
government or corporate official. It's very similar to one that's
arisen before. You attempt to take care of it in a like manner but
are told it is impossible to do so. Remember "case by case" as you
start to protest vehemently (with accompanying loss of savoir
faire). Oh, yes: it helps to refer to Rule 1 in such situations.
3. Try to avoid being an "Ugly Foreigner." I don't like saying this
much, but it's necessary. Remember that you are a guest, a
foreigner visiting somebody else's home country. Try to act
accordingly. You've just run into a real mixed-up situation, a la Rule
2, and are at wit's end. Or you're really mad at all of the
inconsistencies, seeming lies, outright hypocrisy (or
ignorance)--something that people here do just infuriates you. The
only thing you can do, really, is to laugh and enjoy it. Sure, it's a
major hassle, but you're having an adventure! Remember Rules 1
and 2. Stay cool.
Martial arts stuff
4. Keep your eyes, ears, and heart open. What you know, what
you learned before is certainly of value, but isn't likely to have a
great deal of immediate relevance to life and training in Japan. You
came here to learn, right? Well, one of the best ways to do that is
to place everything you already "know" on hold for a bit. Let it ride.
Watch. Listen. By all means, ask questions--but do so when it is
appropriate. Budo is a good example of a traditional Japanese
activity, with all of the accompanying cultural trappings. This
includes being more formal in behavior than is common in the West,
and learning through direct experience rather than
intellectualization. Wait a bit, then ask the question. You may well
find the answer was right in front of you all along. This holds true
for situations in daily life, too, of course.
5. Train smart. This is especially true just after you get to Japan.
Hey, you're all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and you want to get
down and boogie. That's very nice, (here it comes) BUT! you'll be
going through a great deal of stress: mental, physical, and
emotional. It's not at all uncommon for newcomers to train for a
while (a month to six weeks, say) and then the differences and
stresses catch up with them. They suffer one or more very serious
injuries. Sometimes it's physical, but it might be mental or
emotional: disillusionment at discovering that martial arts training is
not a big romantic adventure, or from finding out that your idols,
Japanese budo teachers, are, after all, just like the rest of us. They
have some pretty amazing abilities, they may seem (and likely are)
very special people, but they put their hakama on one leg at a time,
just like everyone else in the dojo. (Refer to Rules 1, 2, and 4.)
6. How to choose a dojo? You're F.O.B. (Fresh Off the Boat) and
everything looks new, exciting, fantastic. What's the best way to
find the right place for you? Where will you train? Who will be your
teacher? You may have a situation already set up for you, courtesy
of your teacher or some of your dojomates. Or you may have heard
about "X" Sensei, or "Y" Dojo. Or it might be that you just wander
in off the street, with no particular plan in mind. I've done all of
those things at different times and they all worked for me.
Sometimes better, sometimes not so well. My sincere suggestion is
to take it easy, go slow, check it out before you commit to training
with a particular teacher or at a particular dojo. I like to look at
general training to see what the atmosphere is like in the dojo.
How do the senior students (and teachers) relate to the juniors? Is
there a good feeling, of trust and respect, among all of the people
who are training there? Is it a happy place? Could you, would you,
be confident in trusting these people with your well-being, both
physical and mental? You will be, you know. Which's not to say that
training should be some sort of light-hearted grab-ass or that you
aren't going to get the wood put to you. That's all a part of the
process. Nope. It's deeper, more subtle than I can describe in mere
words. Your dojo becomes home and the folk in it become your
family. Thing is, you get to choose, so why not be careful in doing
so? (Rules 1, 4, and 5 apply here.)
Might's well stop with the advice. I could go on and on, but you get
the picture. To sum up: read up a bit, ask questions of people
who've been to/trained in Japan, take your time, and stay loose.
This budo stuff is too serious not to have fun.
Where to go
Now the fun part: I get to tell you where to go and when to go
there. What follows is a list of addresses and the training
schedules of the mainline aikido organizations. It is purely for
information. It is not an endorsement of any of the groups included
nor is absense from the list meaningful in any way other than I did
not have access to the information. [Note: we're working to add
informaiton about the headquarters of the main organizations
representing other modern martial arts as well. Stay tuned.]
A. Aikikai Hombu Dojo.
Headquarters of Ueshiba-style aikido.
Classes are held as follows:
1. Beginners class (2nd floor dojo)
Monday, Wednesday, Friday
0930-1030 (4th floor dojo)
2. Regular class (3rd floor dojo)
3. Sunday regular class (3rd floor dojo)
4. Women's class (2nd floor dojo)
5. Children's class (2nd floor dojo)
Tuesday, Friday, Saturday,
ask office for times
6. Aikido Academy (4th floor dojo)
Basic class: Monday, Thursday
Advanced class: Tuesday, Friday
Fees (as of March 1996) are:
7,500 yen (students)
Regular and Sunday
Group class (3 or more people)
All fees are non-refundable.
B. Ki no Kenkyukai Tokyo Hombu Dojo.
Tokyo headquarters of Tohei-style aikido and ki training.
Ki no Kenkyukai Tokyo Hombu Dojo
No. 101 Ushigome Heim
The training schedule is:
1. Special class (mornings)
Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday
2. General class (evenings)
Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday
Fees (as of March 1996) are:
21,000 yen (special class)
8800 yen (general class)
Note: students attending the morning special class can also
attend the general class in the evenings.
C. Nihon Aikido Kyokai Shodokan Dojo.
Main (only?) full-time dojo of Tomiki aikido, located in Kansai. People
living in other parts of Japan can contact the dojo for information.
The training schedule is:
Monday through Saturday
1830-2000 (general practice)
2010-2110 (yudansha only)
1400-1500 (general practice)
0700-0800 (general practice)
1000-1130; 1300-1430 (general
Fees (as of June 1996) are:
4300 yen (including insurance)
8000 yen (2x/wk)
9000 yen (4x/wk)
10,000 yen (open training schedule)
D. Yoseikan Dojo.
Headquarters of Yoseikan budo, a mixture of aiki budo, judo,
karatedo, and weapons training.
Training is divided into different arts. The schedule is:
Monday, Wednesday, Saturday 1900-2100
Saturday 1500-1700; Sunday 0900-1100
Tuesday, Thursday 1900-2100
The fee schedule is:
7000 yen for one art, 1000 yen for each additional
art (so, two arts: 8000 yen, all three: 9000)
E. Yoshinkai Hombu Dojo.
Headquarters of Yoshinkai aikido, founded by Gozo Shioda.
Yoshinkai Hombu Dojo
2-28-8 Kami Ochiai
There are several types of training available, as follows:
Tuesday through Friday
0830-0930; 1730-1830; 1900-2000
1130-1230; 1430-1530; 1600-1700