My month in Japan
My month in Japan
Aug. 5, 2017

by Johanna Koerner (Herlev/Denmark)

This is, in a sense, my thank you letter to Shimizu Sensei, Wakasensei, Birgit-san and every single person in Tendokan.

I want to say that my travel to Tokyo did not start in the beginning of May. It started when I graduated from my high school in the summer a year ago with the wish of a gap year consisting of work and eventually some travel. A lot of European youths travel in my age (19 years old), and so it also felt natural for me to play with the thought of combining this travel with my wish for putting more time and effort into my Aikido.

And so the idea of going to Tendokan and experience the ambiance and intensity of the practice there was born last summer.

I had been to Tokyo once before during the 2nd Tendo World Seminar in October 2012 so I thought I still had a little feeling of what I could expect from the city vibe and structure. For example, driving on the left side came as quite a shock to me the last time :) I also knew that the Japanese people maybe would be a little bit shy but thinking about how the Danish people might be seen in the eyes of foreigners, I hoped that our similarities would make the barrier easier to overcome. Additionally, I planned to go to a Japanese language school so as to familiarize myself a little bit more in terms of language barrier. So I had a lot of ideas of what my travel would be like before I went on the plane to the other side of the earth.

But when I arrived on the Japanese soil, it really hit me, how far away from everything I knew from home I was. The birds chirping on the stairs of the train stations, the density of people inside of the trains and the tiny, tiny restaurants and izakayas in the narrow streets were new experiences for me. But even though everything was different I did not feel homesick or afraid. I felt alive and loved to observe the dynamics and relations between the people on the streets. It was obvious that the Japanese people know how to make things go quick and smoothly - not only when boarding the trains during rush hour, but also when shopping in the grocery stores and the like.

But I did not go to Japan to only enjoying the street life and sights in Tokyo. I remember the first morning practice being a bless after multiple hours of sitting and being passive in the airplane. Also, I was invited to a special class to support aspiring actors in Tokyo who had Aikido lessons on their schedule. It was very nice also to experience that Japanese people are not born with incredible Aikido skills, like the high standard that I had experienced at the morning practice.

But apart from that, stepping into Tendokan almost every day was one of the best things during my trip. The food was good, my Japanese language lessons were nice but the Aikido keiko and the people coming to Tendokan took my trip several levels above my initial expectations! 

The different kind of focus during the keiko and the general, technical level of the Japanese Aikidokas were a gift. A gift I did not expect, but maybe inwardly had hoped for. As I see it, for every new person you practice with, your level of alertness rises in a way that is unique to that specific person you stand opposite of. And all those new impressions were a gift that I tried to incorporate and include into my execution of the techniques. And returning home with this changed sense of alertness has also changed the way I practice in the dojo in Copenhagen. I hope to keep this feeling and evolve with it in the future when I practice with old and new friends in the entire Tendoryu Aikido community.

Looking back on the month I spent in Tokyo I think that the time went by faster than the Japanese high speed trains called Shinkansen and still - there was no way I could have prepared myself for that speed other than make sure I would enjoy and live every moment. Especially in the last days I tried to enjoy every single moment 120%. Also, being invited to the healing and extremely soothing hot springs of Kannon Onsen by Shimizu Sensei was an experience I will never forget. (remark: on the picture with Mrs. Suzuki the lady chef of the Kannon Onsen Hotel)

As a final note, I would like to say that this whole trip has given me so much more than expected! It has been a huge gift not only given by myself to myself but mostly given by the people I have met! The people of Tendokan have shown me incredible kindness, open arms and also helped me along my (far from straight) way of Aikido and with the difficulties of the Japanese language! They are the ones who have made my trip next to perfect. I can never truly express my gratitude with words as they can never truly suffice.

The Japanese culture is based on respect (and good food). An aspect of life I want to incorporate more into my own little world here in Denmark! The Japanese people focus on every detail in their lives and take honor in making their life the best as possible, especially also when talking about cars - No dirty cars in Tokyo :)

Tendokan, Tokyo and Japan - Thank you so much, I will miss everything and I will see you again next time.