My Own Japan: A Journey Into Myself With The Spirit of Japan

October 18th, 2017 By Paul Stewart
My Own Japan
As I walked around my quiet apartment in Kuwait of the Middle East, I picked up my broom usually used for sweeping up the ever-present dust of the desert city. But instead of sweeping, I removed the brush head and began automatically and rhythmically swinging the handle around like a sword. The movement, naturalness and presence in that silence, seemed to be my soul opening a view into a previously unseen future.

The following day, I followed my guidance to look up Kendo and see if there was anything happening locally. The traditional Japanese martial art also known as ‘The Way Of The Sword’ sparked my interest and as it turned out, there was a Dojo just two minutes drive from my home just past the Ruling Family’s Palace. I went along and watched a lesson and decided to begin.
The amazing thing about the traditional arts is how they can help you restructure your system from within. I felt immediate changes taking place and these seemed to flow into my outer expressions even down to how I organized my wardrobe. I was excited at the potential of my evolutionary development and how this would affect the way I live and express myself. I was also excited at the possibility of inspiring my own training. Not just physically but in totality of mind body and spirit. Having been a Personal Trainer working on all these levels with clients for 17 years by this point through my company www.lightbodytraining.com, it became clear that I could position myself in Japan to evolve myself and also contribute through my work and presence.
It was a seed planted but I continued training in Kuwait for some months. My Bogu (protective armor) arrived 1st class via my clients’ private jet, and we were under way. That work contract ended in classic Kuwaiti fashion and it freed me to follow my heart to Japan via New Zealand and Australia where I had the chance to cherish family and friends.

I took a short-term position in a children’s summer camp in Nagano that was thoroughly enjoyable and rewarding. I got to experience the incredible beauty of the Japanese countryside, mountains and lakes, outdoor activities and of course, the delightful children. It was the first time in my life I felt the natural beauty of a country touch me as much as that of New Zealand’s majestic landscape and native bush.
I knew it would take some time to establish a personal base and my training work so I very much accepted this and trusted the unfolding. With the usual visa requirements in mind, I began scoping out what could work and came up with nothing at all. I continued exploring. Something that really impressed me was felt one day when walking down the hill from where I was staying towards Yasukuni Shrine. It was the silence. The road was busy as was the footpath but the power of this stillness was all pervading. I felt like the stillness in me recognized it and we were really happy to see each other. I never forgot this moment and I feel one can tap into that any time here in Japan quite easily.

I was invited to coach an executive and in kindness he offered to provide sponsorship. This breakthrough lead to the possibility of working and supporting myself and then hopefully building upon it. Using the services of an immigration lawyer, we formalized the agreement and I was able to work and afford my own place moving out of the shared house that had provided for me until then and I certainly wouldn't miss it.

I always knew that Japan was a deep experience and offered much in mind body and spirit for myself or anyone else who dares to venture into the wonderful possibilities presented here beyond the noodles and manga. A journey into themselves for that matter. I was out walking one day returning from a grassy spot by the Sumida River when I heard the familiar loud cries of Kendo training. I felt excited and peeked in through the door of the elementary school dojo. They saw me but I felt a bit unsure about going in so I pulled back and went home for lunch and a nap. I woke up and realized I should go back. On my arrival, the Kendoka were all gathering to finish. They waved me in and welcomed me kindly. After some discussion, I was invited to join training the following week by the Teacher, Yamamoto sensei (6th dan). I was very fortunate as they were all 4th dan or above and I was a mere 3rd kyu. I hadn’t even reached 1st dan though now, I have attained 2nd dan and I can thank this lovely and committed small group for their support and encouragement and also, the introduction to the main dojo and the Sumida ku Kendo Federation.

So much of Japan happens behind closed doors and a significant aspect of the culture and the vibration here is respect. There are so many dynamics, groups, styles, activities, ways and people, that respect is an essential element that is a universal principle facilitating the harmony and flow and acceptance of it all. It’s worth noting how much order and how little conflict there is here and I believe this respect is a huge part of that. Japan is a great teacher and example for the world in that way.
By being invited and having served a kind of apprenticeship in the early days of my stay, I got to experience new levels of the community, see the subtle workings of the culture and, refine myself in ways that pleased me.

One thing I have noticed in Japan is the ability of many to communicate without talking. The language of the soul is feeling and I have enjoyed observing and participating in various silent dialogues. I recall walking down the street one day and experimenting with this. I made up a negative thought and projected it to someone about fifty meters ahead of me. They immediately turned and gave me a dirty look. It was just an experiment I wanted to tell them! Before coming to Japan I trained in an all-Japanese dojo. I remember once when I was practicing, I felt the sensei coming to correct me. I felt what he was telling me and adjusted my hand position. He slowly turned and went back to the other student. I had heard and made the correction! Souls don't need to talk to communicate. I have also found that sincerity is felt and sincerity is something you can’t fake. To be accepted and function in Japan, it is a great help and builds trust. I have always been quite sincere but I am particularly enjoying living in a society that recognizes and values what I consider basic elements of being.
 
Much like when I travelled to India some years ago and I expected everyone to be meditating, I expected all dojos in Japan to be practicing Kata every session. I must admit, I was a little disappointed in both cases. Kendo Kata is the practicing of specific movement sequences with a wooden sword and a partner opposite performing the other role. It is done in silence if you’re lucky and for me, is a beautiful experience that builds presence, energy and peace of mind while also enhancing stroke forms. I see it as a daily practice though often it is reduced to a cramming for grading by many. But Kata is visible in Japan in many forms and you can see this in almost everything from Tea Ceremony to other Martial Arts, from Train Attendants to Shop Attendants and from Business to Personal Presentations. Life has been known as a spiritual practice in Japan.

Daily life in Japan is a rich treasure trove of experiences, sights and feelings. I particularly love the atmosphere of the gardens where people come to really appreciate the beauty of nature in its wonderful seasons. The organization and consistent care that has created these paradises is great reason for gratitude. Unlike some countries where parks sometimes feel like an army bootcamp due to people in my field training clients in large groups with all the yelling, huffing and puffing, Japan has maintained certain areas for certain things and one can go and immerse in the energy of that particular creation without being disturbed or disturbing others. I have also fallen in love with Kamakura, which offers the energy and opportunity to explore around fifty shrines or walk in the forest surrounding the once tranquil valley town. It also amazes me how such a largely populated city (Tokyo) can allow so many cyclists to ride on the footpaths but they do, and it works. Yet another indication of the respect and feeling of the place. Near my home in Sumida ku, I enjoy seeing the children biking with their parents, butterfly nets in hand, to try catch tadpoles in the early summer, butterflies in the mid-summer and cicadas in the late summer.

When I think of the future and what I am involved in, I think of the letter ‘V’. Imagine you are at the top of the letter and you are making your way down to a point where you die. I feel it is around the other way and it is more like looking up to see it widening and opening. Kendo and Iaido, which I am also practicing along with my work training clients, are all aspects that are offered this eternal feeling of opening. I have always felt like an adventurer and explorer and have indeed been to nearly sixty countries learning about energy, working as a trainer, sharing and evolving myself, so it is quite wonderful for me to find such a special connection here in Japan. It is just so essential to evolve and to sense this continuing. In presence I know, we are always in the right place!

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Sumida-ku Age-Group Tournament

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Supporting Dojo Friends During Grading At Tokyo Budokan

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Enjoying The Silence Of Kata Keiko

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Engaku-ji

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Matsuyama Sensei (7th dan kendo & 7th dan Iaido, Sumida ku Renmei)