Friday, April 8, 2011
Arrival to Katsuura
Wake up: 3:30 AM.
Grand Rapids-Detroit flight leaves at 5:58, in D-town by 6:30AM.
Eight hours in Detroit.
Detroit-Japan flight leaves 3:30PM, twelve hours thirty minute flight.
Two and a half hours off the plane found me in Katsuura-shi, Chiba-ken via the Budo University’s bus. By way of introduction, one of the secretaries of the international office told us as we walked in to our dormitory for the first time, “Earthquake, OK! Tsunami, OK! Katsuura OK!”
Katsuura is a small, mountain town that overlooks the Pacific Ocean. The population is something over 20,000 and if you know anything about Japan, the following statistic will give you a clear idea of the relative size: there are only five conbinis in the entire city. (conbini = convenience store)
There are no Mr. Doughnuts, no Moss Burgers and a complete lack of Royal Hoasts or Joyfuls. The dinner options pretty much consist of Japanese, Japanese or… that one really shitty looking “European” restaurant. (Note the lack of a definite cuisine.) And you better take care who you pick a fight with in the street because half the population has a black belt in kendo, judo, karate, naginata, aikido or all of the above. And I’m quite certain the umbrella their carrying will work just fine as a shinai… your head wouldn’t notice any difference.
There are fifteen students in the scholarship program of the kokusai budo daigaku: six studying judo and nine studying kendo. We come from the U.S., Mexico, Chile, Peru, France, Finland, Holland, Turkey and Korea. The dormitory where we live is a paradise compared with most American universities. Though we share rooms, the space is ample and each room has a private bathroom and shower. The downstairs is equipped with a free laundry and kitchenette, although many of us have rice cookers and microwaves in our rooms. This is, of course, completely against school policy... A staff member told me where I could buy the rice cooker. OH, and there is a ping pong table.
Since the school is presently on holiday—classes don’t officially begin for another week—our first weekend consisted in staggering around in a haze of jet lag, wandering to the local convenience store for food and staring with our noses pressed to the windows of the dojo and drool running down our chins. “I’ve never seen one so big…” said with awe. “That’s what she said!” said with… sarcasm.
As the international students trickled in throughout Friday and Saturday, introductions went as follows: “Judo or kendo? Where are you from? What is your name? How many dogi did you bring?” The dogi (uniform) question was surprising, but I found myself equally curious to hear how many dogi each person brought. Dress code on campus is either tracksuit or dogi. This is like heaven for me. I don’t have to worry about shirts matching pants, shoes matching pants, socks matching pants… hell; I don’t have to wear pants! Tracksuit, dogi, tracksuit, dogi.