Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Worst Trip ... Ever!

You know the Comic Book Guy on the Simpsons, whose summary of just about anything is "Worst (Fill in the Blank) Ever!" Well, I took a trip to the "Iaido Shrine" in Yamagata and I must say ... Worst Trip Ever.

Okay, so most of this is completely my fault, but let it serve as a cautionary tale in case you find yourself in Japan and think, "Hey, let's check out the iaido shrine! I heard it's a blast."

I set out from Fukushima around 10 in the morning. Fukushima is adjacent to Yamagata prefecture. I knew that Murayama, the town where the iaido shrine is located, wasn't exactly close to Nihonmatsu, but I didn't think it would take a full 3 hours to get there. But it did. Yep. 3 hours. The scenery was nice, and the weather was beautiful. In fact, the trip there was kind of interesting, especially the section through the mountains between Fukushima city and Yonezawa. The train cuts through a whole lot of mountains, and winds through some fantastic scenery. I was especially impressed by the fact that we left snowless Fukushima on one side of a tunnel, and then emerged into a valley that was like something from the Land That Time Forgot; tiny houses nestled in a steep-walled valley, with 6- to 10-foot snowdrifts everywhere. I was reminded of the first line of "Snow Country" by Yasunari Kawabata; I can't remember it exactly, but the gist is basically the same: he comes out of the tunnel into a landscape that is snowy and totally different than the one he left on the other side. I was very impressed.

Unfortunately, by the time we made it up onto the plain, the scenery was mostly flat and boring again for the next 2 hours. By the time I got to Murayama, I was definitely ready to stretch my legs. Just to be on the safe side, though, I decided to get a taxi to the shrine. (I have gotten lost too many times, even when the map showed the way to be very simple and direct.)

This proved to be a wise decision, as the shrine was pretty far from the station. The driver dropped me off and I had the immediate feeling that the trip might have been a mistake. For starters, there is almost nothing there. A few monuments erected by various iaido ryuha and organizations; a small shrine building; a red Torii gate; the main shrine building (which was closed). There was no-one around, most of the statuary was wrapped up in plastic, and the whole place was locked up. Through a crack in the window, I could just make out the little statue of Hayashizaki Jinsuke Shigenobu that I have seen in books. Great! I tried to take a picture, to no avail.

I'm not sure exactly what I was expecting, to be honest; well, for starters, I wanted to buy some Omamori (charms) that I could send back to folks in Canada to auction off at the May seminar. But I don't know if they sell such things or not; certainly, there was no one there to sell them.

So, bitterly disappointed, I headed back to the station. Of course I had to walk as the taxi was gone and I was in the middle of nowhere. At this point I should mention that it was pretty friggin' cold.

Final breakdown:

3 hours to Murayama
5 minutes at Iaido shrine
30 minutes walk back to station
45 minutes wait for next train
3 hours back to Nihonmatsu
$50 spent on train fare
6 (?) pictures taken

Ironically, my trip to the Iaido shrine took so long that I ended up missing iaido practice. (There's a moral in there somewhere.) All in all, not the worst day I've ever spent; but now that I've been there, done that, you don't have to. I'll post pictures when I can.

Meanwhile, I'm off to Oita next week! Yippee!

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Winding Down

Looked at my calendar today and realized that I only have a couple weeks left in Fukushima. As usual, I have just started to get used to things and it's time to leave. While I am looking forward to going back to Kyushu, I think I am leaving behind some really great iaido teachers. I hope that I can return to Fukushima in the future.

The Fukushima Iaido group I've been training with. Tanaka Sensei is in the center.

Mr. Kimura gave me a DVD with about 6 hours of iaido videos on it. I don't know how that's possible; perhaps it's using some kind of compression. Anyhow, it's got video of tons of different people, like Yamamoto Harusuke, Kono Hyakuren, Iwata Norikazu, Tanno Sutekatsu, and Kaneda Kazuhisa. The last two are quite remarkable. Tanno Sensei is here in Fukushima and I am wishing that I could spend more time with him and "sponge" some more instruction from him. He's damn good! And of course, Kaneda Sensei is incredible. When you see him do iai, you might not like his style (some people might think it's too robotic) but it's hard to imagine anyone doing iaido with more control, grace, and precision. And his cuts are awesome. When you see people who are this good, it's a bit depressing because you think, "I've been doing iai for 15 years and I'm not even one-third as good as they are. And I probably won't live another 45 years..."

But even if I am leaving behind some great teachers, I am hoping that I will be close enough to Fukuoka to get back into jodo, and possibly Niten, too. Speaking of jodo, here's a picture I took a while back but haven't posted until now. (I haven't posted this already, have I?) Cops in train stations and other public places often stand guard with Jos (that doesn't look right ... Jo's?) in their hands, like this chap at Nagoya station.

Take it easy, everyone.