Japan 2023: Day 10

Getting a crash course in kendo and samurai history at the Kyoto Budo Center, trying Ichiran ramen.

After quite an involved day yesterday, I had the longest straight sleep of my trip so far – over 7 hours! I slept past 9 p.m. and woke up past 4 a.m. I stayed in bed, planning out more things for the rest of my trip and updating my blog.

  • Steps taken: 7,430
  • Money spent: 18,455円 | $134.72 USD

Table of contents

Handmade udon shop

For brunch at a bit past 11 a.m., I happily made my way to the handmade udon and soba shop I had been eyeing for awhile. It was a 2 minute walk away. I was lucky to get a table immediately – I've been super lucky at having short waits or immediate seating, except for 2 occasions so far. It was great value for the price and had a homestyle, healthy taste to it. As I was eating, I noticed many salarymen come in, probably during their lunch break, and a group of young women. I overheard that another guest wanted to enter but the restaurant had become full. So, I wrapped up my meal and paid.

The waitress, I assume the wife of the couple who owns the restaurant, was very sweet. She initially offered me either an English or Chinese menu – first time I've gotten the latter! – but I said Japanese was fine. Admittedly I was a little lost coming inside, as it's always a learning experience figuring out how each restaurant operates. But as with other places, I held my own just fine with my budding Japanese skills.

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After going back to my hostel to talk to my partner, I headed out again to go to a 剣道・kendo workshop at the Kyoto Budo Center near Heian shrine. I found the activity through AirBnB. It was pricey at $110 USD for 2 hours, compared to other activities I've done until now, but in the end I was so happy I did it.

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Learning from a warrior-bred pacifist

The Japanese instructor had incredible English and a compelling background, which he wove into with his samurai and kendo history lesson. I learned that he is actually a Protestant pastor, and it clearly shows in his charismatic delivery through story and kind, patient interactions with his guests. There were two other guests with me who happened to also be Filipino (though not American like me). So that was nice! The number worked out nicely since they got to duel each other and I got to duel with the instructor.

I learned about how samurai used to be the warrior class and security of the aristocrats who would fight for them and go out to other lands to expand their master's (?) empires. But at some point, those samurai scouts decided to build their own government, and there was a civil war between the aristocracy and the samurai that lasted many years… and eventually a samurai daimyo named Hideyoshi Tomotoyo, the effective successor of Musashi Miyamoto, created a peaceful period in Japan that lasted over 200 years. That period was a time of great progress for Japanese people, except the samurai class… who defined themselves in combat and depended on war for income. I learned how the sword became more and more their identity as it was threatened to be taken away from them, how they developed martial arts like kenjutsu, the origin of kendo

…how the emperor's family would watch warriors fight at the Kyoto Budo Center, but after WWII, the emperor wasn't supposed to be associated with activities that evoke war, etc.

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Respect and energy control

I now have some basic knowledge of kendo and samurai stuff. My impression, from the instructor's presentation, is that kendo is a very precise sport centered around respect for your opponent and channeling your inner ki or energy. Fighters yell to awaken their energy and intimidate the opponent.

Also, you always need to announce (yell) the spot on the opponent's body that you intend to hit before you hit, or else the hit point doesn't count: 面・men for the head, 胴・dou for the torso, 籠手・kote for the wrists or gauntlets... and something else for the neck, but that one wasn't beginner friendly! If you act boastful after making a hit, some referees disqualify your hit.

When you do hit, I think traditionally you would continue to dodge away and then turn around to face your opponent again, 残心・zanshin, leaving your heart (心 is "heart" or "mind", 残 is "remaining") to the act and preparing to defend yourself again in case the opponent is still alive. The instructor explained that zanshin not only protects you but also shows respect to the opponent. Traditionally defeat for a samurai is very humiliating and can result in the loss of your possessions, wife, social status, etc.; so to "double humiliate" them by not acknowledging their ability to fight back is incredibly dishonorable.

After wrapping up a session of dueling, fighters traditionally bow to each other and meditate together to re-gather their awakened ki.

The instructor explained that Japanese parents love to have their kids learn a marital art like kendo because it teaches them to be disciplined, respectful, and controlling of their emotions. It is a discipline that helps people be ready for stressful situations and prevent reckless reactionary behavior.

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At the birthplace of Kendo

The Budo Center itself is pretty cool as well. Just the atmosphere of doing kendo in what was the birthplace of the sport, and seeing the shrine where the emperor would sit before, gave me goosebumps. The area around the Budo Center is pretty as well. It's right next to a theatre, art gallery, and Okazaki Park. If I had had more time, I would've liked to explore the area more.

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Ichiran at least ichido

I got back to my home area at around 5 p.m. I searched for places nearby to have a quick meal and found that Ichiran, the ramen chain that's become famous among foreigners for their vending machine, single seating, and no-face-waiter interactions was nearby. I had to do this at least once, even if it probably wouldn't be the best ramen I've had.

And it was a fun a experience! I love this concept. I think it's very foreigner, introvert, and solo diner-friendly.

I got back to my place at around 6 and tried to get at least a little sleep before my night time computer stuff…

Pictures pending.

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See the rest of my posts about Japan 2023.