Welcome back to the continuation of my Podcast series and thank you so much for the enquiries and encouragement to resume! Note that the podcasts will appear fortnightly on a Wednesday.
In the second series, I will again recall some general memories of staying, getting around and training in Japan in ‘the early days’ – training in Higaonna Sensei’s Yoyogi Dojo, as well as some personal ‘off the Karate track’ experiences whilst staying and training over there, my first visit to Okinawa as part of a small Yoyogi Dojo contingent for the 20th commemoration of Chojun Miyagi Sensei’s death and some various other relevant topics, experiences and observations!
From my previous podcasts, you would by now have the picture that it was very different visiting and training in Japan in the early 70’s compared to today, because of the language and 180 degree cultural and social differences to one’s own background and upbringing.
You must also appreciate the fact that there was no Internet, no Google very limited International Television News like today – in fact, South Africa did not have any television then – no ‘Global Village’ concept like presently, where something happens in a country and the rest of the world has access to that within hours!
The dimension I would like to touch on today, is more the ‘outside the Dojo’ scenario for individuals training and staying in Japan back then – note individuals! – in groups, one still moved within one’s own culture and comfort zone, as we experience when going to Okinawa to attend Budosai and Gishiki!
So, once the initial amazement of the new ‘cosmos’ sunk in, there came times when one needed to want to speak to someone who would understand your own background and culture! The longer one stayed, the more frequent these needs became!
Conversations with locals were very superficial, using ‘pidgin’ Japanese and receiving ‘pidgin’ English back! And … mostly Karate related!
Even here, it was difficult to understand the intent of the words without a translator such as Pat around, so a lot of the Karate teachings only sunk in after many repetitions and explanations – some … many years later!!
Even with Pat and Denis, it was difficult, as we came from very different backgrounds, and we basically met up at the Dojo and the odd socializing outside the Dojo – we stayed quite far apart in Tokyo, so difficult to regularly interact socially.
The inevitable result was something that not many ‘macho’ Karate Ka these days will confess to – homesick, feeling lonely, sometimes feeling depressed!
I have had this before though, during my compulsory Military service back home in 1966
But, back in Japan, it happened to me from time to time.
Moving around on the trains and stations and in public, Gaijin or western foreigner faces were very rare back then – you would maybe see one in one week! In areas where foreign diplomats and tourists hung out such as the Ginza, one would see a few, but moving to and from the Dojo, it was rare!
So you always had the subconscious ‘I am an Alien’ feeling inside!
Another factor, I guess, that subversively worked on one’s subconscious, were the facial expressions of locals everywhere one went, especially the trains, where one spent a lot of time daily – Japanese faces in public were ‘no show’! – no expression at all, just empty ‘Mushin’ masks all around you. Never looking at you directly but curious nevertheless!
It was a kind of a game of mine to sit and look at the floor on a train and suddenly look up into a face opposite me and catch it staring at me and quickly looking away – young ladies sometimes blushing visibly! Except little kids who would openly stare at you, sometimes!
In early August I experienced a bit of a funny hostile feeling from time to time when people looked at me while commuting to the Dojo. At first, I thought I was imagining things, but being a sensitive person (I can see some of you grinning!) I picked up that, especially older people, were giving me kind of unfriendly stares.
It was the 6th of August – the commemoration of the bomb on Hiroshima in 1945, but I did not know this!
When I got home that evening, Mrs. Fukazawa was watching a very somber old black and white television documentary program with images of the destroyed city, landscapes, fleeing people and dead bodies.
Mrs. Fukazawa translated bits to me and I felt very deeply for the Japanese people! It turned out that on the day of the commemoration we were watching, the 120 000thperson had died from radiation received as a child during the original explosion!
This explained the kind of anti-western vibe I picked up whilst moving around in public – the next week, al was back to normal again – the normal ‘no-show’ faces again.
We have to speak seriously to the powers controlling nukes presently!
One time, when I got the longing for back home quite intensely, Mrs. Fukazawa became worried about me being very quiet and reserved for a few days and brought home one of her music colleagues who could speak a little English.
I heard them discuss something, occasionally looking my way (I was watching a Samurai series on TV in Japanese, just admiring the fighting and typical revenge scenes of the series) and after quite a discussion between the two of them, some stop-start conversation with me, they asked me if I was ‘Koi Wazurai’ looking in the dictionary, it meant ‘Love Sick!’ I just laughed and denied and after more discussion, they had the prognosis -– Homu Sicko!
It probably sounds a bit weird in present day context, as not many people experience this nowadays when going to Okinawa in groups and staying in hotels with air cons and many people in Okinawa being able to help you in English, but Tokyo was very different then – WWII was only 25 years before, and some Tokyo Nihonjin not over excited about Gaijin!
Many factors can lead to this Homesick state, from a few bad days in the Dojo, injuries, not getting your techniques going, to external factors, such as hearing music that is popular back home!
Mrs. Fukazawa’s had a Hi Fi system in the living room, and in the mornings, before leaving for the Dojo, I would listen to whatever Japanese station that played music. Being a 24 year old, obviously I messed around with it and one day, on shortwave, I got hold of the US Forces Far East Network, – English radio!
The most popular songs trending on the network at the time, played basically every morning – were Grand Funk Railroad’s We’re an American Band’, Chicago’s ‘Feeling Stronger Every Day’ – which cheered me up a bit but then again Diana Ross’s tearjerker ‘Touch me in the Morning!’, which was popular with homesick Gi’s it seemed, and good stuff to help one crawl into your own shadow!
To get some kind of ‘in touch’ with the outside world, I would occasionally, between training sessions, visit the famous Kinokunya bookstore in Shinjuku – only two stations from Yoyogi, where there were some ‘ in English and a reasonable section of English books and magazines!
Browsing through their music section, I one day bought an LP (long playing, vinyl record for millennials and later generations!) of Neil Young – called Heart of Gold.
The problem being the song After the Gold Rush on that LP! ‘I was lying in a burned-out basement, with the full moon in my eyes, I was hoping for replacement, when the sun burst through the skies …! It was my go-to homesick song and I still to this day remember that feeling when hearing the song! I still have that vinyl!
I guess, because of the ‘Homu Sicko’ conversation with Mrs Fukazawa, she arranged to take me out of the city a bit for a long weekend to the Izu peninsula in the Shizuoka area to the town of Atami, not far away from the port of Shimoda, where the first American Trade Mission arrived under Commodore Perry with his so-called ‘Black Ships’ in 1854, an era which marked the end of Japan’s isolation period.
Japan was an unbelievably beautiful country once one got away from the city, and I guess that Izu area is probably one of Japan’s most beautiful regions to visit, we stayed close to the ocean and enjoyed fresh seafood daily.
Her cousin, Dr Wakabayashi – a medical doctor specializing in pathology, and wife and two young boys joined us.
The dictionary conversations over seafood dinners to try and find out exactly what I was eating, was very entertaining and enjoyable, but the walks along the pristine beaches and volcanic rocky inlets, were Nirvana!
Being an avid Rock and Surf angler and snorkel diver myself – have a look at my Facebook Page – I went up to some anglers I spotted out on protruding reefs and rocks in the Bay to ask the standard angler-to-angler ‘Caught Anything?’
Again, I was totally shocked when I saw what they were catching – small little fish, about four to six inches in length!
The surrounding oceans have been cleaned out!! I observed that the reefs which were laid bare during low tide had just about no more noticeable seaweed and kelp covering the reefs, let alone shellfish, mussels, cockles, scallops, octopus and other reef creatures!
Again, a wakeup-call to appreciate what we’ve had back home then!
Apart from the Karate training, there were other experiences which I could not have had back home!
Pat and I went to see the Bee Gees perform live in Sjinjuku in a concert Hall and paid the ‘after-show-started’ low price to sit on the stairs between rows!
As soon as the show started, everyone was on their feet in any case, waving hands to Massachusetts! Boy, that brought on the homesick even more!
On another occasion, we went to the Tokyo Budokan and sneaked in for the free last part of Deep Purple’s concert jumping up and down and screaming to Smoke on the Water !
Another time, to listen to Carlos Santana performing Black Magic Woman with a full band of about thirty persons in the same Budokan! Unbelievable!
Back in Tokyo, training went on as usual, I was totally acclimatized and feeling relatively in good condition and had started to build some relations with a few of the locals.
I felt very weak one morning waking up, Mrs Fukazawa had left long ago for her school and as I ate my tofu and cold eggs and seaweed for breakfast, I felt a bit of a headache coming on!
Still, I went to the Dojo and after training in the early afternoon class, I felt something was up! It was a Friday and I spoke to Sensei and he told me to go straight home and relax. I got home early, ate, and excused myself and went to lie down.
During the night, I woke up in a puddle of sweat – it was summer, I sweated every night, but this was crazy – literally a puddle of sweat, right through my futon and into the tatami! Then came cold shivers, then sweat again. I have had flu back home, but that was yellow belt compared to this Rokudan bug!
Mrs. Fukazawa came in in the early morning when she heard me groaning and quickly called her cousin, Mr. Wakabayashi, the doctor, and his wife.
He checked my temperature, which was sky high, and wrote something on a piece of paper, obviously a prescription – and went off to work.
I knew I needed Codeine and or Aspirin to break the fever, but the language problem!
Mrs. Wakabayashi left and arrived sometime later with the prescription. I said ‘great, let me drink it now’, but there was a bit of a problem!!
Let me explain, in South Africa at that stage, suppositories were only used for hemorrhoids, and I had no previous experience!
So, the explaining started! It took quite a while for me to catch on and when I did, I was horrified! That was a no 1 no-go area!
They changed my bedding, moved me to dry tatami and placed towels underneath my futon and I feel asleep. I was a bit delirious at stages, but sometime in the early evening, the two ladies arrived again with some tablets, it was a kind of Aspirin, I took it and within the next 12 hours, the fever broke, but it came with puddles of sweat again!
The next afternoon, Higaonna Sensei came to see how I was doing and obviously they told him about the suppositories, – I could see because of their hand gestures behind their backs in the downtown area!
Sensei laughed and told me to stay down. It took a full week to recover and then slowly got back into training.
Today I just gave you some personal ‘off the Dojo’ scenarios, to illustrate how life was when training in Japan in those days and that everyone is still only a human being!
In the next podcast, I will share with you an incident when I used Karate to stay alive.
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Music by Basson Laubscher