In Part I and II of this adventure, I wrote about how I made my way to Japan in 1990 to teach English, pursue Karate training, and look for ninja grandmaster Masaaki Hatsumi. I had arrived in Japan in early August, and now, finally, in October, after getting settled into my apartment, teaching schedule, and Karate training, it was time to set off in search of the ninja master.
Getting information about ninja masters wasn’t as easy in 1990 as it is today. There was no Internet, at least not as we know it now. I remember writing letters home that would take a week to ten days to get from Japan to Canada, and a ten-minute phone conversation to connect with family cost me $100. The only information I had to base my search on was contained in two books on the ninja that I had brought with me to Japan. Both of these books were authored by the same American student of the grandmaster, and both of them pointed to the Iga region as the home of the ninja clans. Eager to meet Hatsumi Sensei for myself, I made plans to visit the area, the city of Iga–Ueno, located in present-day Mie Prefecture.
February 9th was the 20th anniversary of my first day of training in the Bujinkan. I mentioned it on Facebook, but was encouraged to write a series of blog articles about a bit of my martial arts history and how I found the Bujinkan and made my way to Japan to train with Hatsumi Sensei – to approach the heart of the flower that is Japanese martial arts, budo. I’ve always found it fascinating to hear stories of the adventures of my Sempai here (Mark Lithgow, Michael Pearce, Mark O’Brien, Andrew Young, and Mike L) and, now in my 17th year in Japan myself, I thought it would be fun to look back over the years, and in remembering, share some of that with the readers of my blog.
Exactly one year ago, the ground underneath my apartment in Abiko began to shake.
I was downstairs in my guest apartment doing some work when the trembling began. I stopped, as I often do when tremors occur, to see if it would get big enough for alarm. Most of the rumbles we get are small enough so that nothing falls over, and in a few seconds it’s back to life as normal. But this one was different. In 15 years of life in Japan at that point, I had experienced only one quake that had made anything fall off shelves. As I sat, paused and alert, in front of my laptop, the quake strengthened – and then, first one, and then one after another, things started to fall off of shelves – and then out of cupboards…
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I’d like to start this blog by thanking the readers who have expressed their appreciation for the posts I’ve made thus far. Thank you for your feedback and letting me know that you’ve found what I’ve written to be helpful to you. My intention was to make one entry per month, but last summer became very busy, and that continued right through the end of the year, so that whenever I would prepare to write an article, I’d think to myself, “Is this really the most productive thing that I could be doing right now?” The answer most often was, “No.” And so the blog went quiet for a few months – but in the meantime, I’ve kept an active list of interesting topics that I want to write about, so these will gradually be coming out in the next little while.
What I wanted to write about today is the latest DVD set from Hatsumi Sensei. Last summer, I received a handout at Hombu Dojo that asked Bujinkan instructors in Japan to speak with their students and see what questions they would like to ask Hatsumi Sensei. The questions could be about anything – directly related to training or not – and we were told that Sensei would discuss the questions received on a DVD. This DVD set (2 DVDs, 2 hours each) was released for sale at Daikomyosai 2011, and is entitled, “Hitsumon Bujinden (必問・武神伝): Wisdom Necessary for Quest.”
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Last week I heard that my friend Doug Wilson was planning a trip with a friend to the earthquake/disaster zone to deliver relief supplies and volunteer for work in the area. I called him to see if there was anything that I could do, and was invited to go with them. I got on the phone to friends and collected money and supplies from people that I knew. Yesterday (27 April) we rented a van and drove up to one of the worst-affected areas, the city of Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture. Along the way we stopped to get more food and supplies that were on a to-buy list that we received from the NGO, Peace Boat.
The drive took about 4 hours, and on the way we had to pass through the 30-kilometer “stay-indoor” zone set up by the Japanese government. At this point noone is allowed entry into the 20-kilometer “no-go” zone around the damaged Fukushima nuclear power station, but between 20-km and 30-km evacuation is still optional, although the government does advise staying indoors. We passed through this zone and headed farther North, to the coast. Along the way we began to see cars and rubble that had been left in rice fields by the tsunami when it retreated. That was nothing to compare to what we saw when we finally got to the coastal area around Ishinomaki.