What happens when you walk in Japan

Hi everybody,

There’s one experience that really stood out for me last week. I’ll do my best to write it out.

I headed to tea ceremony practice this past Wednesday as usual, starting with a 25 minute walk through downtown Kyoto to the place where I practice. I was a little unsure about the walk the first time I went to practice, but I’ve grown to really like it. I see all the same shops and streets. It’s sort of like keeping up with the city happenings. I also always pass this mysterious building that has the characters for kyudo written on the outside of the building. I look in sometimes through the musty windows and even see a target on one side of the room. No one’s ever there, though. I went back to AKP and they told me it was a construction company.

Tea practice went well. I finally didn’t make a complete fool of myself in tea ceremony! I usually make a mistake every second or third movement, so this was a big deal for me. I was feeling great on my walk back to the station. It was a nice temperature, although it was a little rainy.

A nice, rainy night in Kyoto.

A nice, rainy night in Kyoto.

For some reason, I looked up and saw that there were lights on in that building that I pass on my way to practice. The upper half of the back dutch door was open and I could see right in to the place. Again, I don’t know why, but decided to walk closer to get a better look.

The target that I always see from outside through a window was perfectly illuminated in the frame of the door so that it almost looked like a painting. As I came closer, I noticed there was a little white dog sitting on the ground in front of the target. This confused me. I stopped and just stared at the dog for a long time and it stared right back at me. I was starting to feel silly and I was about to leave when an old man stepped out from directly behind the door. We must have been less than six feet away from each other. He didn’t look surprised when he saw me. Instead, he just stood there and looked at me. I stepped back quickly and apologized for looking into what must be his house. At the end I added, “I saw the target, and I’m interested in kyudo but…” and I turned to leave. Before I could turn around, I heard him say, “No, come in.”

“Really? Is that ok?”

“Yeah, yeah, sure. Come on in”

“Ok, if you say so…”

He opened the bottom half of the dutch door to let me in and led me to a small room just a few feet away from the door. I left my umbrella and shoes by the door. When I rounded the corner, I saw two Japanese women sitting on two benches opposite from each other drinking coffee and eating. We all looked very surprised to see each other. I hastily did a self-introduction in Japanese and everyone seemed to visibly calm down. One was an older woman and the other was a college student. The old man told me to sit down on one of the benches and gave me a mug of coffee and a cookie.

He said something like, “So, you interested in kyudo, huh?” And I said yes but that I’d only really done it one time before. It turned out that the college student had also only done it one time before, and at the same dojo! I explained that I always see this place on my way to tea, but no one’s ever here so I didn’t know if anyone used this place any more. I also said that I wanted to continue to practice kyudo, but that the dojo that I’d gone to was going to be under construction starting soon and ending after I leave Japan. The old man said, “Tea, huh? Hmm.” Then he pulled out an essay he’d written about kyudo, with English translations under each line. While I started to read it, he pulled out about 3-4 wooden boards with long Japanese phrases on them about kyudo and explained each one to me in great detail. I couldn’t really understand most of it, but I think I got the gist of most of them.

When I’d pretty much finished my coffee and cookie, the older woman left and the old man put away the boards as she headed out the door. He paused to say bye to her and then looked back at me. “Hey, come here for a sec.” Then he gestured at the college student. “Go practice downstairs. I’ll be right back.”

He led me through many halls and up one steep flight of stairs to the second floor, which was a bit more traditional. It turns out that he built this whole place, with the bottom two floors as a kyudo practice space and the top 2nd floor as his main house. I wonder if that’s the reason why the AKP staff thought it was a construction company; he most likely runs a construction company. He told me to walk a bit further, and before I knew it, I was standing at the eaves of a tea room. He looked pleased that I recognized it, and maybe a little pleased to show it off. It had everything you’d need, with a storage room in back with a bunch of tea stuff apparently. He showed me a picture of a famous contemporary archer hanging above the doorway and then we headed back down again. Once we reached the first floor, he lead me back through the hallways and down a second steep flight of stairs to the basement. The younger college student was practicing her form by shooting a roll of carpet, with a 6-7 foot yumi (bow).

The old man told her to fire again and he corrected a bit of her form. I later learned that this old man was of course a 6th level black belt in kyudo. Sensei looked at me after she had fired again and said simply, “That’s kyudo.” And then he gestured towards the bows on the other side of the room. “Want to try.” Now, by this time in the night it was already 9pm and I hadn’t even eaten dinner. And to be honest, I didn’t really want to intrude on this nice college student’s practice too much. Plus if I stayed any later I was sure my hostmom would worry. “I don’t have much time right now, but I’d love to in the future.” Sensei laughed a bit and said, “You mean later? In kyudo, there is no ‘later’; there’s only ‘hit[ting the target]”–which actually turns out to be a clever pun in Japanese that doesn’t really translate well into English. I also laughed a little bit and told him my reasons, ending with my worries about my hostmom. At this, it seemed like he really understood.

“Oh, yeah, if it’s your mother your worried about then you’d best return.”

“But I really would like to return. Next week maybe?”

He smiled and said, “If it’s alright, please come by.”

I said my thank yous and goodbyes to sensei and the student and put my coffee mug in the sink on the way out. I also said bye to the dog as I left, who was still lying in front of the lit-up target.

Its funny how much giving in to a little hesitation every once in a while really pays off. I’ll remember that momentary portrait of the target and that dog framed in the dutch door for a long time.

Walking really is worth it.

I’m actually heading to tea tomorrow, so I should pass by the place again. If I see the lights on, I think I’m going to see if I could take regular lessons from him. I also told my hostmom not to worry if I come home a little later tomorrow night. After hearing about this, she understood 🙂

Till next time,


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *