Category Archives: Sports

The Tai Chi Training Camp in Toyohashi 2014: Congratulations, Satchan!

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1926730_599608880160996_25541487563107799_n-a     “Satchan!” I called out my friend’s name when I found her in the hotel’s lobby. She was sitting with her teacher. Where was I? I was in a hotel in Toyohashi to attend a Tai Chi training camp, which was held on October 4 and 5. Satchan was there to take a test for becoming a shihan( Tai Chi master.)

     The Tai Chi training camp is held every October. I’ve joined it since I was a beginner and this was probably the seventh time for me. The participants practice Tai Chi together and learn theory with some actual movements. In addition, there is an examination for becoming a Tai Chi master. Actually, not everyone can take the test. Test-takers have to fulfill all the conditions: having already the pre-master certification and five years further after taking it, a membership of Tokyo head office and a recommendation letter from their teachers. It takes at least ten years to qualify for taking the test after starting to do Tai Chi. DSCF0741-a

     Satchan met all the conditions. That was great! Actually, there were more than 80 people who were going to take the test this time! Wow! Mr. Kawamura was also included. He and I are learning from the same teacher. So, I came to the place not only to practice Tai Chi and meet my friends but also to cheer him at the test this time. DSCF0746

     Actually, I did not know that Satchan was going to take the test there until I found her at the hotel. I had thought she would take it at another opportunity in Tokyo because she had not mentioned anything about her participation. It might be because she and I are not “Tai Chi” friends. We are “English” friends. I mean, we got to know each other through English classes. I did not even know she was also doing Tai Chi when I started. That is why, we seldom talk about Tai Chi when we meet. Interestingly it was the first time for us to see each other in uniform, which is originally for karate but is our school’s (Yang Ming-Shi Simplified 24-Form Tai Chi) official costume. DSCF0771

     The test-takers were divided into two groups. Satchan and Mr. Kawamura were in the  latter group. Besides they were standing next to each other. So It was lucky for me because I was able to take photos of them once. All the examinees looked nervous before their names were called, but once the test started, interestingly the audience seemed to be more nervous than the performers. Fortunately, all of the candidates passed the test. Congratulations!

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The Tai Chi Workshop: These 88-year-old ladies would be able to deflate their age to 70!

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20140816_104129     Now Japan is the one of the top countries for long life expectancy. The average life span of Japanese people is about 84 and of Japanese women reaches over 87. But I’m wondering how many people over the age of 70 are healthy and live satisfying lives in this country…20140816_112514

     I attended a big meeting of Tai Chi during the Obon holidays. It was held at Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium on August 16. About 600 people gathered at the event and most of them were over the age of 65. The participants were divided into 10 groups and studied some actions of Tai Chi. I was able to study many things through the workshop.米

     At the beginning of the event, there was a ceremony in which two 88-year-old ladies received the kotobuki prize. Kotobuki means offering congratulations or longevity in Japanese. The ceremony was to celebrate their 88th birthday. The age of 88 is special in Japan. The Chinese character representing rice looks like the number 88 written in Chinese. You know, rice is the diet and the symbol of life in Japan. 20140816_134624

      The recipients looked much younger than their real age of 88. Their posture and expressions were beautiful. They would be able to deflate their age to 70. As you know, Tai Chi is effective for improving the functions of your heart and lungs and muscular strength. If I keep on doing Tai Chi, I might turn 88 healthily like them.

     By the way, I used the word Obon above, but do you know it? Many people take a kind of summer vacation in mid-August in Japan. It is called Obon holidays. Obon is August 15 and most companies give their employees some holidays including the day. Obon is not a national holiday, but interestingly is dealt with as a holiday. That is why the public transportation schedule is Sunday’s one around the day and most public offices and hospitals are closed. 20140816_150452

     This Obon day is believed by Japanese Buddhists to be the day that the spirits of the dead return to their family. So, basically Japanese people go back to their hometown and spend the holidays with their family including the ones who have already passed away. But young people have tended to spend the holidays for themselves not to meet their family recently. That is why many elderly people were able to attend the meeting…But they did not look sad at all. They looked energetic and were enjoying doing Tai Chi!

The Early-Morning Sumo Practice: You should have done it that way from the beginning…

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CAM00379     “You should have done it that way from the beginning…” murmured Sakanabe, a sumo wrestler. I was observing an early-morning practice of sumo in Nagakute on July 26. A sumo stable called Tagono-ura-beya was staying at Daiyu-in Temple during the Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament in July. Taeko, one of my friends picked me up at 6:45 in the morning, and then we went to the temple to watch sumo wrestlers practicing outside.

     Four young men were training when we arrived at the temple. About 15 people had already been there and were watching their performance keenly. The number of spectators and journalists gradually increased. Most of them came with the aim of looking at Takayasu, who had a chance of winning the tournament as a Japanese and lower position wrestler. Non-Japanese wrestlers have been winning the cup for eight years, and all of the champions except for one were yokozuna (the first-rank wrestlers) or ozeki (the second-rank ones). CAM00388

     The four young wrestlers were practicing hard but sometimes they smiled at each other. Their expressions changed suddenly when three other wrestlers appeared at the sumo ring. Those three in white loincloths were wrestlers in the senior division and three times as big as the youngsters in black sashes. The young people had strained looks. One of them hastily went to take some water with a dipper and then came to the biggest and oldest wrestler, Wakano-sato, to greet him. He offered Wakano-sato the water deferentially, saying, “Good morning.” But Wakano-sato did not accept the water and said nothing. Then another young man did the same thing, but Wakano-sato did not accept the water from him, either. Surprisingly, another one did the same thing! I thought, “Hey! Wakano-sato doesn’t want water now! Can’t you tell that?” Probably, it is a tradition or something…CAM00392

     Two of the young wresters, Sakanabe and Taka-saito began to practice. Takayasu was stretching and the second-rank wrestler, Kiseno-sato was training outside of the ring during their practice. But Wakano-sato was sitting down and staring at them. Taka-saito was throwing himself against Sakanabe again and again. Finally he was about to leave the ring, saying “Thank you.” Then Wakano-sato opened his mouth. “Do it again.” Taka-saito was stupefied and stood rooted there. He could not seem to understand what had happened for a while. Sakanabe nodded when Taka-saito looked at him.

     Then Taka-saito’s crash course began. He threw himself against Sakanabe and then was turned over. The same thing was done with Wakano-sato’s word, “Again.” It was repeated over and over. Taka-saito could not stand up quickly. He was panting on his knees. But Wakano-sato said, “You’re slow. Get up quickly and do it again!” Takayasu and Kiseno-sato kept on practicing without any expressions. But the other young wrestlers tensed and were doing muscle training frantically. The sense of tension hit the audience. The spectators were just looking closely to what was happening with bated breath.

     Suddenly Taka-saito’s eyes changed. He tackled Sakanabe with every ounce of his being. Sakanabe murmured, “You should have done it that way from the beginning…” Wakano-sato nodded and Taka-saito was released from the special training at last…CAM00409

     After that, Sakanabe throw himself against Takayasu for a while. Then Takayasu left the ring with many journalists and the early-morning practice was over. Kiseno-sato and Wakano-sato did not enter the ring at all…

     In the evening when I turned on the TV, Wakano-sato happened to be about to fight against his opponent. He defeated the adversary. I was happy to see he win somehow. Unfortunately, Takayasu and Kiseno-sato lost their fights…Hakuho, yokozuna, or the first-rank wrestler, from Mongolia won the tournament. But Takayasu received a fighting-spirit award. I hope the four young wrestlers, especially Taka-saito, who had a crash course, will become high-rank wrestlers and play important roles in the sumo field someday soon.

Dohyo Matsuri ~ a ceremony of a sumo tornament ~ : Sumo is still a Shinto ritual…

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     Now the Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament is on at Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium. Sumo is a kind of wrestling and Japanese national sport. In these modern days, sumo is regarded as a sport, but it used to be a Shinto ritual. That is why, there are many Shinto rites in sumo wrestling still now. A ceremony called “dohyo-matsuri” was held last Saturday, and I went to see it with two of my friends. CAM00260

     Dohyo-matsuri is held on the day before the start of the tournament to purify the ring called dohyo and pray for safety of the event. It is opened to the public for free, but many people do not even know of its existence. It is probably because it is not given publicity in a positive manner. It is still a Shinto ritual and they want to hold it in a quiet and respectful manner. So, the entrance door of the gymnasium was closed by 9:50 a.m. to start the ceremony at 10:00.

     CAM00283High-ranking sumo wrestlers and authorized people were seated around the dohyo ring. Three sumo referees called gyoji, in white Shinto priest costumes performed the ceremony. They purified the participants and the place with some holy plants called sakaki, paper streamers named shide, and sake. Then the main referee recited a Shinto prayer. CAM00287

     There was a small hole in the center of the ring. The referees put offerings – some rice, salt, kelp seaweed, dried squid, nuts called kaya, and chestnuts into the hole. And then they poured sake over them. Two drum corps appeared and walked around the ring three times, striking the drum. Then, the hole in the ring was sealed…CAM00302

     While I was watching the ceremony, I realized anew that sumo is not only a sport but also still a Shinto ritual. That is why women cannot enter the dohyo ring today in the 21st century, either… Oh, I am not going to be a sumo wrestler, mind you!