Training In 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. Chisan Hotel Otone - English website 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 enquiry 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 -- coloured dark green on most maps); here is a simple map of the route from the station, and here is a link to their web site (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. Soke also produces a list of training days & times every six months or so, which is online here. Please note: Soke is not guaranteed to be at all of these sessions. If he is away at a Taikai etc., 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 centre 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 was included in Sanmyaku, Vol. 2 No. 2 (i.e. Issue 5). Most Dojo 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 Soke when you're there.

Do I need to contact Honbu Dojo before going? No, but it would obviously help Soke 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 Soke having to remember thousands of foreign names, enclosing a photograph is definitely a good idea.

Should I take a gift to Soke? If so, what? It's not compulsory, but many people do take presents for Soke (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.

Finally, if one look at a map of the Tokyo train system makes you decide to catch a taxi from Narita, it might help to give the driver Soke's address:

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This page produced by Ben Jones.

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