Monday, June 27, 2011


During the past week, I spent several days visiting Kitakyushu, Japan, where I used to live. Kitakyushu is located on the island of Kyushu in Fukuoka Prefecture. Though it is considered “inaka [田舎]” or rural countryside by people of Fukuoka City, Kitakyushu is a sprawling town with over one million residents.

While I was in Kitakyushu, I trained in the dojo where I first began Judo three years ago; I practiced Karate and Brazilian Jujitsu at a truly inaka dojo with an interesting mix of Japanese and Western martial artists; and I learned Kenjitsu from one of the best all-around instructors I have ever had the pleasure of training with. Though I will talk about each of these experiences individually, I would like to first address something important to the life of any athlete…. Dinner.

They say an army marches on its stomach and the proverb holds equally true for budoka. During the five days I spent in Kitakyushu, I ate half of my meals in one small shop in the Shirogane district.

Shirogane is known for bad schools and some unsavory people. Through the busy streets and narrow alleys, however, you can find a small man with a huge smile and a tray of soba speeding around on his trusty motorcycle. Shouichi Nago-San is a sixty-three year old man who has devoted his life to making soba and making life easier for the foreigners he meets. This is quite literally his purpose.
Nago-San was on his honeymoon in Guam in 1982 when he met a friendly taxi driver who helped show his wife and him around the city. Nago-San was so touched by the kindness of this complete stranger that, when he returned to Japan, he devoted his free time to learning English and helping any foreigner he met.

I was drying my clothes with a friend last May when this little man walked into the Laundry mat and exclaimed, “My name is Nago. I have a shop right across the street; do you see that little shop? That is my Soba shop. Please come drink coffee with me!” And thus began one of the most noteworthy friendships I have found in Japan.
If I had met Nago-San three years ago when I first moved to Kitakyushu, I would be a fluent speaker of Japanese. I spent a total of eight hours in Nago-San’s shop this past week, sipping green tea and taking notes as Nago and his wife told me their recipe for making Soba broth and how often one must light a candle for deceased ancestors on Obon. Nago-San periodically stopped to take orders and rush out to deliver Soba to nearby customers, but he always returned and picked up the conversation where he had left off.

Life is better when you surround yourself with happy people and Nago-San is one of the happiest souls I have ever met. In his words, “Spending time with young people, it makes me young again. I take energy from you and I am younger for it!” Could you receive a nicer complement than “You make me feel young and energetic”? Returning to the Budo Dai and the cafeteria, I miss those hand made noodles…


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  2. Wow - great story about Nago-San! There are wonderful people everywhere. I hope you meet tons of them in your travels.