Category Archives: Japan Studies

Japan and sleep

I came across this article by Dr Brigitte Steger the other day when I was looking for some information on Japanese studies. I always noticed that the work culture in Japan, specifically the big cities, were excessive and exhausting. I’ve also heard (by unchecked sources) that Japan has been a country dependent on amphetamines since WWII, and suffers from the consequential long term side effects of paranoia and psychosis.

It’s not a rare sight to see people in Japan falling asleep on public transportation, passing out in the street after a round of drinking , or hear of stories of people falling asleep in meetings.

The article explains that the idea of inemuri is different from sleeping or napping in that it is a state of unconscious presence. Similar to day dreaming, but probably while in a less conscious state of awareness. Dr Brigitte explains that inemuri is an acceptable thing because it’s an expression of hitting a wall of uncontrollable exhaustion while in the presence of others. It is interesting that the act is acceptable as long as it doesn’t interrupt or disturb the social harmony of the situation. I believe it’s also a reflection of the social tribe or bond that exists within Japan. In a tribe of coworkers where you share most of your life and personal space with, perhaps inemuri is easier to accept.

I once had a conversation with a Japanese school teacher, and he said the three luxuries (gluttons) of life were, food, sex, and sleep. If sleep where considered to be a luxury, then it would explain the consequential state of people falling asleep from constant sleep deprivation. I also find it interesting that in some cases people will say that their hobby is sleeping. Ya… Sleeping. Sleeping in Japan is such a commodity that even school aged children consider it an enjoyable activity as opposed to a necessity.

Lunch with Icho Kaori

I had the opportunity to talk with Icho Kaori this summer. For those that don’t know about her, she is a 4x Olympic Gold medalist. She was gold at 4 consecutive olympic events starting in 2004, 2008, 2012, and 2016. I believe it’s the first for any female to win gold in four consecutive olympic events.

I was lucky to work as a translator for her group visiting the bay area and we sat across from each other during lunch one day. In our conversation I asked her if she had any wrestling idol’s that she looked up to as a student of the sport. She didn’t mention any names but she did say she liked to watch film on different wrestlers, especially of those is felt aspired to imitate to learn from. I was intrigued because I had (and sometimes still do) study film to learn a new or different technique. This is a common practice for many that find entertainment in watching great technique in action or learning a technical position or movement. What was interesting was the conversation that followed.

Icho said in addition to studying the technique, she also like to watch the strategy involved in the match. “Who goes for the first point.” “How does someone comeback from losing.” “How do they shut the door on someone trying to comeback from behind.” I was intrigued. I had never thought to study match strategy. The psychological battle of the mind to score in the beginning or score in the end. The method of coming back from a deficit. This aspect of the game was just as important as having crisp technique. I realized then that to Icho wrestling was not just a study of positions but also the study of tactical strategy as well.

Tactics combined with technical understanding is her prowess. Wrestling often confines the battle into, technique, power, speed, stamina, and mental toughness, but I realized that there is one more significant area that isn’t talked about very much. That is the tactical strategy of a match. Not just scoring and defending, but a higher level of strategy of when to score, how to set up an attack on a defensive opponent, etc. It was such a simple thing, but I was in shock that I had never approached the game from that perspective. That’s some high level thinking worthy of 4 olympic gold medals.

Eliot Kelly

Think Strong

Particier Sugino

“What’s important is what’s obvious.” While learning about desserts in Peltiers’ in Paris, Sugino realized that “doing what’s obvious, many times over, is what makes things special.”

Sugino Eiji, a particier, is able to bring out new tastes based on the flavors he has experienced. Therefore, creativity is based on motivation and experience, according to modern scientific principles. “Never being satisfied. If everyday is a challenge, then you can deliver the best self.”


Rakugo performer Yanagiya Kosanji

Yanagiya Kosanji is an edo style rakugo performer who often performs in Ikebukuro. Rakugo performers live a lifestyle embedded in their art, and Kosanji is no exception. Even after being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, he has continued to perform.

Kosanji often wears a black hakama to allow himself to disappear.  As a result, he hopes his storytelling will take center stage and allow the customers to see him as the character he is performing.

The idea of disappearing is not just in what he wears. When using his hand towel, with his insignia, he intentionally folds his hand towel so that it is somewhat ambiguous that it is his towel. He says that this is the “Edo style” of performing.

He was once told, “the best way to make people laugh is to not try to make them laugh” Instead, the important principle to follow is to tell the story as you are. Kosanji has pursued story telling as the study of himself as much as telling the story.

Being able to do Rakugo is the ability to see things from the very bottom. Therefore, you need to experience being at the lowest of the low. He credits his illness as giving him the ability to understand pain, gratitude, and being at the mercy of others. When asked why people need laughter in their life. “They just laugh.” “When we laugh we are all happy. We like ourselves when we are laughing.”

To Kosanjiro, laughter is not about getting people to laugh out loud. Instead, it is about delivering a genuine and heartfelt message to each person in the audience.

相撲道: The Way of Sumo 1

I’ve recently been pulled into the unique lifestyle of sumo wrestlers in Japan. There are many different topics to cover within sumo; living in a sumo house, working your way up the ranks, chores as a sumo wrestler, foreigners in sumo, life after sumo, do’s and don’ts of sumo culture, karaoke, language, technique, etc. As an introduction to the sumo lifestyle, I would like to point out some notable topics.

The sumo lifestyle is interesting in that it is a full time commitment that has a financial system built in for young wrestlers to have their needs taken care of as they train and progress into the upper rank professionals. Therefore, once you move into a sumo house, you are not under financial obligations to pay rent or monthly bills. During their time as an amateur wrestler they become assistants to the professional wrestlers and receive a small salary for their work, but room and board, training, transportation, are taken care of by the stable master.

While the stable master is the coach and CEO of the sumo stable, the master also assumes the characteristics of a father. young sumo wrestlers requesting to enroll in a sumo house when asked the reason for their enrollment will answer 「親孝行がしたいです。」(oya koukou ga shitai desu) a symbolic phrase to show filial piety and mutual devotion between parents and children. The young wrestlers at age 15 and 16, come to live at the stable with the intent to dedicate themselves the the lifestyle of sumo.

While the sumo wrestler offers their devotion to the stable master in the form of filial piety, the sumo wrestlers receive an opportunity to develop themselves and fully devote their energy to dedicating themselves to the 3 prongs of budo. 心技体 (shin gi tai) or spirit, technique, and body are the three prongs of the sumo lifestyle. The sumo lifestyle encompasses not only the technical and physical training of the body but the spirit and mind as well.

Sumo at it’s core has maintained the essence of budo or the martial way. Not only in it’s conceptual practice of spirit, technique, and body, but also in the application of living the sumo lifestyle. This lifestyle is possible because it thrives in a systematic approach of the amateur wrestlers being raised into professional wrestlers under the same roof. This systematic approach, I believe, is the reason sumo is able to maintain it’s deep cultural roots, diligent training, and functioning ranking system.


In Japan Thank a Person Twice

The other day someone thanked me for a character reference letter I wrote for them to be used in a misdemeanor charge in court. I am slightly jaded by that experience now…. I didn’t receive an email or text message saying “thank you” or acknowledging they received the letter. When we met, the person said, “thank you but I don’t know how much it actually helped.” I’m not sure why this interaction bothered me so much, but it did.

When I was living and working as an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher) in Japan, Kojima Sensei once shared some wisdom with me. He shared with me the phrase, 礼は二度する (rei wa nido suru) “say your thanks twice” It’s something I learned in my mid 20’s and I’ve taken into my life.

Here is how you would thank a person twice: Thank the person at after the event and thank them before your next encounter. For example, maybe someone buys you lunch on Friday and you thank them at that time. The next time you see each other maybe Monday, you should thank them again for buying lunch on Friday.

The idea is that you are not dismissing the “gift” after one encounter, but instead addressing it in your next encounter to express your sense of gratitude. Showing gratitude is not only an essential life skill, but also an integral part of human relationships and business interactions.

According to a blog article I read, there is a psychological effect that takes place when you thank someone after some time has passed. Thanking someone after some time has passed conveys a sense of appreciation to the “gift giver.” From my experience, having a blank set of “thank you” cards to write are a great way to convey your gratitude or sense of appreciation.

Gender and Japan: Koga Toshihiko’s Moments with Fukuda Keiko

This is a translation from a blog by Koga Toshihiko, published on February 28th, 2013. Click here to access the link to this translation.

Fukuda Keiko Sensei received instruction from the Grand Master Kano Jigoro.

Fukuda Keiko Sensei, at the age of 99, passed away from pneumonia on February 9th while living in the United States. She was sent abroad by Grand Master Kano for the purpose of furthering the practice of Judo overseas. Choosing to live a single, unmarried life, she devoted herself to the daily instruction on the path of Yawara❶.

Feeling a great sense of admiration and respect for Fukuda Keiko Sensei’s Judo lifestyle as a martial artist, I recently went to visit Fukuda Keiko Sensei’s dojo in the United States. While the dojo was small, the American Judo students had proper manners and understood the spirit of Yawara, a fading characteristic even in Japan. I could deeply sense Fukuda Sensei’s instruction through her students.  Though my visit was abrupt, I was giving a warm reception.

While there, I had the opportunity to have some fun on the mat and we sweat alongside the students of the dojo. Afterwards, I was invited to a fun meal with Fukuda Sensei and her students. There were so many different things I wanted to ask, but in the end I was unable to ask “anything.” I believe that’s because the grand existence of Fukuda Sensei and her aura told me,

“take a good look to reexamine the spirit of Yawara on your own,”

while I was in her presence. I could see the presence of Grand Master Kano on the back of Fukuda Sensei. Then and there, the lesson took place.

The instruction we receive from a master is not from their words or theories, but born from the aspirations we sense from the life the master lives. Even without saying anything, the master’s back will speak to us.

As a marital artist in Judo, I would like to be able to give something to someone through the way I live my life. Fukuda Sensei had that much of an impact in changing my view on life.

I would like to send Fukuda Keiko Sensei, a mentor on life, a message of gratitude.

I feel deeply blessed to have met the true martial artist of Judo, Fukuda Keiko Sensei. She has left a great impression on me as one single human who walks in the path of Yawara.

I’ve come to realize that those who have aspirations within Judo are spokespeople for Grand Master Kano Jigoro, and have the responsibility and duty to correctly convey the will of the Grand Master. Also, since we were born as humans, we should become useful to humanity.  Since my encounter with Fukuda Sensei, I’ve renewed my lifestyle as a martial artist in Judo.

The gift I received in writing, “Be Strong, Be Gentle, Be Beautiful.” Those words, I believe are a message from Sensei.

From this phrase came my own interpretation, “Stand for justice, Gentle to the weak, Pure of heart,” which I now live by and adhere to.

The number of pure Judo martial artists is gradually diminishing in the world of Judo. However, I’m certain the people who have come across Fukuda Sensei are people who will pass on the spirit of Yawara.  I will responsibly pass on the teachings of Fukuda Sensei to the young generation of Judo martial artists.

To me, Fukuda Sensei is a role model for the Judo lifestyle.

While I would like Fukuda Sensei to peacefully rest in heaven, I would also like her to keep an eye on us inexperienced Judo martial artists, who have a few moments left, while sending us words of encouragement. For us to influence the world to have many many more “Strong, Gentle, and Beautiful,” Judo martial artists.

To all,

Let us all carry on the spirit of Fukuda Keiko Sensei for eternity.

Fukuda Keiko Sensei, Thank you very very very much.

P.S. I wish we could have crunched into some crab legs just one more time at the Chinese restaurant.

Blogger: Toshihiko Koga

Translator: Eliot Kelly

❶ Yawara: The first kanji character is often refereed as yawara which means soft, gentle, smooth, or flexible.

The roots of Mixed Martial Arts: The Judo & Traditional Jujutsu Fighters Who Crossed the Seas 100 Years Ago

This is a translation from a blog post made by author Masuda Toshinari on December 26th, 2009. Source Link

In this months edition of “Gongu Kakutougi” featuring “Why didn’t Kimura Masahiko Kill Rikidozan,” the judo and traditional jujutsu fighters who traveled the seas over 100 years ago were introduced.

Fukuoka Shotaro was one of them.


Compared to Maeda Kosei (Conde Koma) who is sitting behind him, it’s obvious that he was quite large. Since he was over 180 cm tall (about 6ft) he must have weighed close to 100 kilos. He traveled to north america prior to Maeda. When they met in New York they hit it off well and as entertainers repeatedly took part in different types of combative martial arts fights.

After parting ways with Maeda, Fukuoka made his way to Europe to take on fights. He eventually made his way to Argentina with other traditional jujutsu martial artists. The spread of Judo (jujutsu) in south america came at a much earlier time with Fukuoka than Maeda.

Maeda eventually arrived to Brazil where he taught Judo. Those skills became known as Gracie Jiu Jitus and eventually Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. A question we must ask however, how is it possible that the Judo taught by a genuine Kodokan judo practitioner be turned into “Gracie Jiu Jitsu” instead of “Gracie Judo?” Additionally, how is it possible that a technique developed by Kosen Judo (currently Nana Tei Judo) known as the leg triangle choke, exist in the brazilian jiu jitsu skill sets?

I dove deep into these questions in my writing. There is no mistake that the roots of modern day mixed martial arts comes from the Judo that crossed it’s way into Brazil. It must be important for Japan’s judo society to leave this proud history in print.

Masuda Toshinari


Shinya Aoki & Toshinari Masuda on legendary Judo-ka, Kimura

This is a translation of an online article from March 23, 2010. The online article was featured in a magazine “Gonngu Kakutougi

201003230010-spnavi_2010032300022_viewApril 17th Shinya Aoki will make his debut in the cage for the Strikeforce championship belt in the United States. Bringing Judo to a bloom in MMA, Aoki finished his opponent with the Kimura lock in the fight promotion Dynamite!! Masuda Toshinari, who was watching ringside is the writer for our magazine series, “Kimura Masahiko.” In this months edition, we draw close to the truth behind the  Kimura vs Helio Gracie fight. We ask these two, who lead in the  development of MMA, who is “Kimura?”

Aoki: “Kimura Sensei was kinda wild and crazy don’t you think (lol)?”

"The sacred script comes from legendary Judo-ka, Kimura Masahiko"  
  This was the introduction for Shinya Aoki, while watching a video on Kimura, the night before Dream light weight GP Championship Tournament. All men need to see this. He states, "Judo is not just a 'game', it's 'hand to hand combat.'" 
   Masuda Toshinari, the author of "Why didn't Kimura Masahiko kill Rikidozan," is featured as a series in our magazine. Masuda was a fellow teammate to Aoki's instructor, Yuki Nakai in Nana Tei Judo ❶, a ground submission style resembling Kosen Judo❷, while they were attending  Hokkaido University. 
  At the New Year's Eve bashing of Aoki, a blog was immediately released in his defense. "There's no choice but to break it if the tap doesn't happen. In Nana-Tei, arguments always ensue when a submission is stopped preemptively by the referee."
  Masuda feels "a writer needs to take a stand to protect the powerless individual, especially when a 'society vs individual' type of situation arises. Just as in the story of Kimura Masahiko, historical examples are utilized to restore honor to Kimura while explaining Judo as a combat art. 
  Judo and MMA... Within those contrasting sports exists the genes of Kimura Masahiko, and the ideal material when thinking about the meaning of combat arts. 
  59 years ago, Kimura crossed the seas to face Helio Gracie. This spring, Aoki joins Strikeforce to make his in the cage debut in the United States. We dove into understanding their roots with this special discussion at DEEP Dojo.

Masuda: We’ve met at a few fights, but this is the first time we’re face to face like this. What impressions do you have of Kimura Masahiko Sensei?

Aoki: Kinda wild and crazy don’t you think (lol)? With what he does and stuff.

Masuda: To be honest there are a lot of mischief and bad boy stories I can’t write of Kimura Sensei (lol).  But, personally speaking, those are the things I like about him (lol).

Aoki: In my opinion, Kimura Masahiko is so different from everyone that, how do you put it, there’s some good stories (lol). Just like the wrestler, Hatta Ichiro❸.

Masuda: I think to be the super elite you need to be that different.

Aoki: Ya, but I also think there’s a lot of useless stuff being done as well. Like all the abnormal training. It’s hard to measure the intensity of their practices too. You know how Kosen Judo had that kinda thing.

Masuda: Kosen Judo is definitely known for their quantity of training, but there is definitely a possibility for time to be wasted when increasing the sparring load for ground submissions.

Aoki: I read somewhere that they wiped up their sweat with a zookin❹ or something.

Masuda: In the case of Judo, I think there’s an element of satisfaction in simply getting tired after increasing workload. Even among the power house universities in Tokyo. That’s why increasing the duration of training can be problematic if the intensity decreases. I think present day Judo needs to learn the more scientific approach  of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and MMA. I believe this is a big problem within sports in Japan. That practices are conducted in large groups. Thinking about training intensity is an element that distinguishes you as a super top fighter like yourself, Aoki.

Masuda:  “Aoki, You’re you’re quite the Kimura maniac aren’t you”

Kimura Masahiko finished Helio Gracie with an ude garami at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janiero. What was Kimura going against with the vice president in attendance and even a coffin brought to the fight.

Aoki: I often hear that Judo players from the good ole days were really good. I wonder if Okano Isao❺ Sensei really was the best of post war era Judo players? What would it be like going against players from this day and age? If we simply look at just their conditioning, present day Judo players would probably be ahead.

Masuda: What’s certain is that there is no way for us to prove anything. But in the case of Kimura Sensei, he would go around to drop into other dojo’s on his own. So I think he must have had a similar notion of “training intensity” as you Mr. Aoki. In my writing, I’ve noted that he intentionally sought out circumstances where he was surrounded by his enemies because the training rounds would be wasted when simply training at his university. I’ve interview many people, but Kimura Sensei would start with quantity to increase the quality and I believe the intensity of his practices were quite high. He also stressed the importance of research. I think he was a person who thought much like you Mr. Aoki.  I think everyone eventually comes to the same conclusion to get to the top. You’ve seen video of Kimura Sensei right?

Aoki: Yes. That Oosoto Gari right? Competitors would tell him, “Kimura, anything but that Oosoto Gari, please.” That’s just too embarrassing to ask or even write in your autobiography. That’s what I think is impressive. I saw the video of Katou (Yukio) vs Helio❻ fight too, but it’s surprising to see them wearing a gi while standing in the ring. And in many ways there is a sense of nostalgia and romanticism about it. I’m simple and I also like that kind of spectator type martial arts. There’s also the story that Kimura Sensei used to grip the gi with all five fingers, which has left on an impact on me. Judo players these days don’t typically grip the gi with all five fingers, when Kimura Sensei was asked about it he answered, “Because with 5 fingers your stronger.” You begin to wonder, how strong is this guy?!? (lol).

Masuda: Oh ya, especially the guys from Tenri University❼, they tend to grip hard. They say all you need to do is to hook the gi with the fingertips because it prevents the wrist from rotating.

Aoki: Kimura Masahiko….. He’s definitely a different guy (lol). When practice gets tough I sometimes say to myself, “If I were Kimura Sensei,”  and I get a little different myself. “Kimura Sensei would be fine!” like that. I also like the story I read in his autobiography where he showed up to a drinking bar with a bag of rice instead of money insisting, “I am Kimura Masahiko. Let me drink sake in exchange for this.” (lol)

Masuda: You know quite a bit (lol).

Aoki: I know a hell of a lot. Like the time miso soup turned out to be crap soup.

Masuda: Hahaha. Mr. Aoki you’re quite the Kimura maniac (lol). Do you know the story, right around the time Iwatsuri Kaneo❽ Sensei enrolled in school, where the Takushoku University Judo Club were eating dog stew?

Aoki: Speaking of Iwatsuri Sensei, there’s a bunch of stories like the time he walked over a Mercedes Benz while wearing geta❾ (lol). He has that Takushoku University pedigree where they all have their own strong personalities. They all just kinda different from everyone else. 

Masuda: Do you have any recollections like that from the time you were a Judo athlete?

Aoki: Everyone says so, but the one’s who did it never remember. People say, “Aoki was horrible,” when talking about stories from back in the day, but I don’t have a single recollection of beating anyone up during practice (lol).

Masuda: I heard this from your Kohai⑩. He said you choked him unconscious 6 or 7 times every time you practiced (lol)….. The rest continued in “Gongu Kakutougi” May edition.

Toshinari Masuda
Born in 1965. Attended the University of Hokkaido. As a member of the University of Hokkaido Judo Club, experiences Nana Tei Judo, a newaza centered style similar to Kosen Judo. Yuki Nakai joined the Judo Club 3 years after him. In 2006, "Shatoon Higuma no Mori" (Takarajima Co. Masuda Toshinari) won the "Kono Misuteri ga Sugoi," Grand Excellence Prize. A series in "Gekkan Hiden" recounts the daily Judo practices and Univeristy of Hokkaido titled, "Nana Tei Judo Ki." A series of our own "Kimura Masahiko wa Naze Rikidouzan wo korosanakatta noka" has become a topic of interest among book reviews.

Source Link

❶ Nana Tei Judo: A ground submission based Judo practiced at the seven public schools established in 1886; Hokkaido Univ, Tohoku Univ, Tokyo Univ, Nagoya Univ, Kyoto Univ, Osaka Univ, Kyushu Univ.

Kosen Judo: Originated in 1898, similar to Judo but with different rules an emphasis on ground submission where competitors could drop to their guard and winning was determined by submissions.

Hatta Ichiro: 1906-1983. A Japanese wrestler and politician famous for his spartan like training and coaching regimen.

❹ Zookin: Rag used to mop and clean the floor or walls.

❺ Okano Isao: 1944~. Judo Olympic gold medalist.

❻ Katou (Yukio) vs Helio: The first match, a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu rule 3x10min round match ended in a draw. In the second match a few weeks later, Helio won by choke at minute 8.

❼ Tenri University: A private university in Nara prefecture, with a deep tradition for Judo.

❽ Iwatsuri Kaneo: 1944-2011. 7th degree Judo master. One of Kimura’s best disciples.

❾ GetaTraditional Japanese sandal made from wood. imgres

Kohai: The junior member of a group. In Japan and especially in martial arts the sempai (senior member of a group) are expected to mentor and look after the kohai’s in the group.

As Kimura’s teacher, master, and mentor

Ushijima Tatsukuma

Ushijima goes in search of a promising prospect to accomplish what he was unable to and seize the Imperial Championships. The person he found was his fellow alum from Chin Zei Middle School ❶ under the old educational system, Kimura Masahiko.

Kimura was put through intense training as he moved into Ushijima’s household, where his basic needs were provided for him. At the same time, he was placed into a preparatory course for Takushoku University❷, while Ushijima raised the unparalleled King of Judo, Kimura Masahiko.

In preparation for the 3rd Imperial Championships in 1940, Kimura repeatedly trained over 10 hours a day. In prayer for Kimura’s victory, Ushijima would perform Mizu Gori (dumping cold buckets of water over the head and body)❸ every night. Ushijima’s dearest wish, winning the Imperial Championship , was accomplished and the two were praised as “Shitei no Kagami”❹ for their passionate dedication to the teacher disciple relationship.

The title, “Oni no Kimura” (Kimura the devil)❺ was succeeded from his teacher, Ushijima. Even in his later years, Ushijima always kept an eye out for Kimura. In 1954, after the epic battle between Kimura and Rikidozan, called “Showa no Gan Ryuu Jima❻,” there are clips of Ushijima jumping up to the stage and propping Kimura up to walk out after Kimura’s defeat. When asked by his wife and daughter, “why did you step into the ring?” Ushijima responded while becoming teary eyed, “the only person that could pick up Kimura’s bones are me❼.”

(This was a translation from a Japanese website: Link)

❶ Chin Zei School:  In Kumamoto Prefecture, the central part of Japan’s southwestern states called Kyushu.


❷ Takushoku University:  Founded in 1900 in Tokyo. Ushijima was the Judo Master at one point in time.

❸ Mizu Gori: A method of prayer, cleansing the body to purify the heart and soul.


❹ Shitei no Kagami: Literally meaning the mirror of student and teacher. A reflection and example of model behavior between student and teacher.

❺Oni (Devil): Japanese pop folkore characters that are also ogres and troll like.

❻ Gan Ryu Jima: The name of the famous battle ground between the two swards men, Miyamoto Musashi and Sasaki Kojiro. The island is currently inhabited. caption

❼ Picking up bones: Bodies are cremated in Japan, but the larger bones always remain. Those bones are picked up with chopsticks and preserved in a special box. Ushijima was implying he was the only one that could pick up Kimura’s remains.