Recently I took a two week tour to Japan to train at an event I dubbed "The Aikido Olympics". The actual event name was the 2016 IAF Congress held in Takasaki of the Gunma prefecture in Japan.
The event happens every four years in Japan. It was a phenomenal trip to say the least. I went with 18 Aikido friends from home and those from Denver, San Francisco, Sweeden, Switzerland and the Oregan crew.
What you find below is a walk through of what I saw and what you would have seen if you had been in my suitcase. Enjoy.
Leave any comments and questions in the comments section at the bottom. If you've been before, share your experiences. If you haven't share your questions and observations.
Click on the links below in the Article Tour Guide to take you instantly to each place. I highly recommend watching all the videos because that will give you a feel for what it could be like for you to travel to Japan.
First Stop - Seattle
I had a four hour layover in Seattle from Calgary. I hopped on the train and went downtown to my favourite place... Pike Place Market. This is home of the original Starbucks coffee shop and the world famous fish market. When I was a corporate trainer, I used to teach people the FISH principles which were formed at this place.
There was a 50 person line up at 10am to get in and have a favourite Starbucks beverage. There were also many tour groups in the area taking in the sight of the original mermaids.
ANA Seattle to Tokyo
I had previously flown Air Canada to Tokyo out of Vancouver. This time I opted for trying out ANA out of Seattle. The verdict?
ANA all the way! The menu, cabin design and service from the Flight Crew was second to none. Here is a taste of what you would get sitting in the first class cabin of ANA.
I don't eat raw sushi/sashimi so I opted for the cooked International menu choice of fish instead.
Tokyo - Shinjuku Experience
We settled in Shinjuku for the first three nights so that we could experience Shinjuku which is a bustling entertainment (red light) district. You will never be bored in Shinjuku. There is a balance of glitz, glamour, lights and action that is balanced out by the beauty and peace of historical Tokyo spread amongst the hustle and bustle.
What are the rooms like?
We stayed at the Granbell Shinjuku. It was a great hotel option on the outskirts of Shinjuku district. It had everything we needed. The rooms in Japan are on the smaller side compared to North American standards, but the reality is that I spent minimal time in my room because we were on the move from sunrise to sunset.
We walked an average of 18 to 23 km per day which is about 20,000-28,000 steps.
These next shots came from the Metropolitan Hotel in Takasaki. The Metropolitan was attached to the Takasaki train station which was highly convenient. The hotel service was tremendous and top notch for $110 per night including breakfast buffet each day.
This is Where Aikido Started
A trip to Tokyo is not complete without visiting and training at Hombu Dojo. This is the international headquaters of Aikido. It's where the our Founder Morihei Ueshiba who we call O'Sensei taught Aikido. After a couple of classes we were able to have our photo taken with the great-grandson of O'Sensei. Waka Sensei is who we sat with for the photo. It was a truly awesome two hours of intense training in hot, humid conditions.
This is where Hello Kitty was born
Whether you are a fan, you cannot argue the powerful brand force that Hello Kitty has become all over the world. Young and old alike respect and admire Hello Kitty. I made sure to stop at the Hello Kitty gift store in Shinjuku and pick up a few items for my wife. This is a good example of how a brand can be creative and unique in terms of the offerings put to market.
Shinjuku Train Station Facts
Shinjuku Station (新宿駅 Shinjuku-eki?) is a major railway station in Shinjuku and Shibuya wards in Tokyo, Japan.Serving as the main connecting hub for rail traffic between Tokyo's special wards and Western Tokyo on inter-city rail, commuter rail, and metro lines, the station was used by an average of 3.64 million people per day in 2007, making it, by far, the world's busiest transport hub (and registered as such with Guinness World Records). The station itself has 36 platforms, including an underground arcade, above ground arcade and numerous hallways. There are well over 200 exits. Another 17 platforms (51 total) can be accessed through hallways to 5 directly connected stations without surfacing outside.
Source: Wikipedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shinjuku_Station
Next Stop, Takasaki, Gunma, Japan
The citizens of Takasaki were well prepared for the 2,000 Aikido participants that descended upon their city for the seven day IAF Congress or Aikido Olympics event. We had a tremendous time each day with four hours of training each day under twenty fine international Aikido teachers.
I was on the mats each day with 800-1,200 people each day. The photo below was a light day of folks on the mats.
Takasaki built a new arena and we were one of the first groups to use this world-class facility. Thank you to the Takasaki officials who accommodated our event and were terrific hosts for the event. Each country represented at the event had their flag on display outside the arena.
Samurai Castle in Kanazawa Japan
We took a day trip to the west coast city of Kanazawa. While there we toured an old Samurai Castle called the Kanazawa Castle.
Kanazawa Castle (金沢城 Kanazawa-jō?) is a large, well-restored castle in Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture, Japan. It is located adjacent to the celebrated Kenroku-en Garden, which once formed the castle's private outer garden.
Two hundred and fifty regional lords, called daimyo, ruled over large domains in 16th century Japan. Though they were subordinate to the shogunate, they were relatively autonomous. Each daimyo asserted proprietary rights, levied taxes, established judicial procedures, and issued laws within his jurisdiction. Many constructed jōkamachi, or castle towns, across the Japanese countryside. Maeda Toshiie was one such daimyo. He was the fourth son of a minor samurai family, but entered the service of a powerful daimyo and warlord when he was 15. Thanks to his skill in battle, he rose quickly through the ranks, and in 1581 became daimyo of the province of Noto.
Two years later, he also controlled portions of the Kaga area, including the town of Kanazawa. Under his rule, Kanazawa began to grow. The castle was greatly reconstructed in 1592 after the first of Hideyoshi's invasions of Korea, at which time its moats were dug. It was burned down and reconstructed in 1620-21 and again in 1631-32, then almost completely gutted in the great Kanazawa fire of 1759, and rebuilt in 1762 and 1788 (Ishikawa-mon Gate).
After several minor fires and an earthquake, it was again destroyed by fire in 1881.What remains, including the 1788 Ishikawa Gate, is now part of Kanazawa Castle Park. The Sanjukken Nagaya (an Important Cultural Asset) and the Tsurumaru Storehouse are two additional remaining structures.
Source: Wikipedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kanazawa_Castle#History
The next photo shows how each joint was formed and put together using wood pins. There is not one nail in the castle. A friend of mine who accompanied us is a professional carpenter and Craig said this is a carpenter marvel.
Video: Inside the Kanazawa Castle
I am speaking very softly because I did not want to get caught taking this video from inside the castle. Please do not report me to the castle officials, but enjoy the quick view inside the castle.
Watch the video below for a real live look at the gardens from inside the castle at the 60% mark of the video.
Kanazawa Castle Gardens - BEAUTY
This place was pure beauty and full of magnificent displays of nature including the oldest naturally powered fountain in Japan.
Oldest Fountain In Japan
Back on the Train
Taking the Shinkansen or bullet speed train is an awesome experience. We went in style from Takasaki to Kanazawa in about 2.5 hours. By car, the trip would have taken 6 hours. Here is a quick glimpse into the reserved Green Car section of the Shinkansen. Make sure you get the reserved car JR Pass when you go to Japan. It is only available to travelers from outside of Japan.
Video: Looking Out the Window of Shinkansen
Next Stop: Nagano
Nagano was host to the 1998 Olympics. It is also home to many amazing tourist areas. I will show you the incredible Zenko-ji Buddhist Temple. The temple was built in the 7th century and is home to many amazing artifacts that have survived to date. Incredible.
Zenkō-ji was founded before Buddhism in Japan split into several different sects. It currently belongs to both the Tendai and Jōdoshū schools of Buddhism, and is co-managed by twenty-five priests from the former school, and fourteen from the latter. The temple enshrines images of the Amida Buddha. According to legend, the image, having caused dispute between two clans, was dumped into a canal. It was later rescued by Honda Yoshimitsu. The temple was thus named "Zenkō," according to the Chinese transliteration of Yoshimitsu's name.
Source: Wikipedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zenk%C5%8D-ji
Temple Gate Guardians Close Up
Next in the temple grounds was a cauldron that you could light incense and place in the lion for prayers and wishes. Such a cool element of the temple grounds.
Inside the entrance was a massive temple bell. While I was there, it was a week of prayer ceremonies. People gathered for this week to pray and see the Buddha behind the curtain be revealed.
Watch the video below to see and hear the bell ringing in action. Very inspiring the precision in which the attendant rang the bell to match the timing of the prayers and chanting inside.
Video: Zenko-ji Temple Bell Ringing
Video: Where is Your Quiet Place
I got a chance to shoot you a quick video when I was meditating in the quiet gardens of the temple area. I was thinking of the importance of creating a quiet place. Watch the video for more.
Back to Tokyo - Shibuya District
After much touring around, we landed the last three days in the world famous Shibuya district. This is one excellent place if you want to be in the heart of the busiest crossing in the world and amidst great world class shopping, people and food.
World Famous Dog: Hachiko
I highly recommend seeing the movie Hachi. After seeing it and traveling to the exact crossing area where Hachiko used to wait for his master was touching and meaningful. Key thing here is that I designed this trip with cool moments like these. Make sure you design a life of cool, meaningful moments too.
2010 Movie Hachi by Sony
Hachikō (ハチ公?, November 10, 1923 – March 8, 1935) was an Akita dog born on a farm near the city of Ōdate, Akita Prefecture,Japan. He is remembered for his remarkable loyalty to his owner which continued for more than nine years after his owner's death.
Hachikō is known in Japanese as chūken Hachikō (忠犬ハチ公, "faithful dog Hachikō") — hachi meaning eight, and a suffix kō meaning affection.
During his lifetime the dog was held up in Japanese culture as an example of loyalty and fidelity. After Hachiko's death he continues to be remembered in worldwide popular culture with statues, movies, books, and appearances in various media.
Source: Wikipedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hachik%C5%8D
This is where a lot of the action starts right outside the Shibuya train station and the Hachiko monument. You have to walk it yourself. Catch the video below of the crossing to put yourself in the action.
Video: Shibuya Crossing Daytime
Video: Shibuya Crossing at Night
Tokyu Cerulean Tower Hotel
This was an amazing 45 floor hotel to stay our last few nights in Tokyo. The view from the 35th floor of my room was spectacular as shown below. One morning I caught a glimpse of Mount Fuji as well. I highly recommend this hotel as a central, upscale place to call home while in Shibuya. Plus. the Shibuya Station puts you within a 10-25 minute train ride to any hot spot for action you will need to find in Tokyo.
One Last Temple - Senso-ji
We used our last day in Shibuya to head over to Asakusa, Tokyo. This day was filled with much fun and bags of gifts to take home. Along the way we visited the famous Senso-ji temple near the Tokyo SkyTree Tower.
Inside the Sensoji Temple
Nisonbutsu - A Pair of Buddha
Repayment of Debt of Gratitude
These Buddha were a gem to find in that they are over 300 years old! I appreciate how the Japanese folks take extra care to preserve national and cultural treasures for future generations to be able to enjoy.
The sign from the two Buddha stated that the two statues are Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara on the right and Bodhisattva Seishi on the left. They are both 2.36m (7.75 feet) in height. In 1687, Takase Zenbee from Tatebayashi, (present day Gunma prefecture) made these statues to repay the debt of gratitude to the rice wholesaler family who helped him, the Avalokiteshivara for the father and the Seishi for the son.
Ending a Great Trip
All amazing things end at some point. The best part of leaving Japan is that I want to return soon again to explore new and different places. I already have my next trip in mind. Thank you for joining me here today. Leave your comments at the bottom.
Click Below For Another Awesome Tour of Japan
Click on the picture on the left and we will take you to our previous tour of Japan.
On this trip we take you through Tokyo on Halloween night along with the beautiful city of Kyoto and more Samurai Castles and cool stuff.
Go there now. Domo Arigato.