“The life given us by nature is short, but the memory of a life well spent is eternal.”
Marcus Tullius Cicero, 106 BC–43 BC
Welcome to the elite group of karateka who will train and study with some of the best instructors in the world at the Okinawa Budokan in 2022. To help us make your visit as enjoyable and productive as possible, please read the following notes carefully.
If we are arranging your travel, we use electronic tickets, which means we do not physically issue you with anything, you simply present your passport and the itinerary we send you at the airline check-in desk, and they will issue you with a boarding pass. This is why it is essential that the name we submit to the airline when we buy your ticket is EXACTLY the same as it appears in your passport.
Arrival and Transfers:
If you arrive in Japan at Tokyo’s Narita Airport, you will need to clear immigration. After that, go through the Immigration Department exit doors and take the stairs/escalator down to the baggage carousels where you collect your luggage, undergo customs inspection, and then exit onto the main concourse.
If you are flying to Okinawa on JAL you will probably need to turn left as you exit the Customs Hall and walk along the concourse about 50 yards until you see, on the left, and tucked into the corner, the Japan Airlines domestic check-in desk for Okinawa (The Japan Airlines Okinawan affiliate is Japan Transocean Airways - Nippon Toransuōshan Kōkū Kabushiki-gaisha or JTO). Check your bags for Naha, Okinawa, (they should have been labeled for Naha International at the airport you departed from), then follow the signs to the domestic flight lounge upstairs.
There is a possibility that in future JAL might be using Jetstar for some domestic flight including Narita-Okinawa, in which case they will advise you. We all hope that you will be flying with JTO as their Boeing 737-800s have our logo painted on the fuselage!
If you are flying with ANA to Okinawa, turn right as you exit the Customs Hall and the check-in desk is at the other end of the concourse on the right hand side. For our members arriving from the United States and transferring to Okinawa on ANA, the transfer time is very short, close to the airline minimum, so please make sure that you go immediately to Immigration and Customs when you arrive in Tokyo then check in for your domestic flight to Okinawa as soon as you can. You will need to re-check your bags and go through security again so please hurry! Immigration in particular can take time, especially with so many flights arriving in the late afternoon, so be prepared.
The flight to Okinawa from Tokyo takes around 2 hr. 45 minutes and you will know that you are almost there when your plane banks hard to starboard, descends sharply, and you start to see white wave crests and coral reefs below you, and then the lights of Naha City to your right.
If you fly into Haneda Airport, Tokyo, the same basic procedure applies, although the airport layout is different. Clear immigration and customs, collect your bags, and check in for your flight to Naha. If you are taking off after dark, you will climb out over Tokyo Bay and the lights of this huge city (daytime population 39,000,000) as seen from above the ocean are just spectacular. We will meet you all at Naha International airport with our bus, take you to your apartment, and check you in.
On Sunday morning, we will leave for a tour of the city by monorail to familiarize you with the transport system and show you where everything is. This is the best form of transportation in Naha, and very easy to use if you follow the rules we will acquaint you with. We will visit the Aeon Center (Supermarket, drugstore, shopping and banking) and other useful places, ending up at the Okinawa Prefectural Budokan where you will be welcomed by my opposite number, your Okinawan Coordinator, and also some of the instructors you will be training with.
At 7:00 PM we will have dinner together probably at the Rio Dinner Club in Wakasa. This is a good opportunity to get to know one another, ask questions, and deal with members needs. The evening usually costs around $30 per person for unlimited food and drink in a really unique atmosphere. Alternatively, we might eat at Kansha En, a local Chinese Restaurant in the Makishi District.
Training begins in the Rensei Dojo of the Prefectural Budokan in Onoyama Koen on Monday, October 1 at 9:30 AM (opening ceremony). On that day we will travel to the Budokan together by monorail, leaving our apartment building at 8:45 AM—it’s a 20 minute journey by monorail and on foot—and we all need to be changed and warmed up by 9:30 to meet our instructors. Lunch is from 12:00 PM - 2:00 PM, and as we will have visited potential lunch places the day before during orientation, you should know where you will be eating. As a mark of respect to our instructors, please be punctual at all times. Many of them are very important people in their private lives and therefore extremely busy, so we are very lucky to have them support our seminars.
Private Bus Tour
I am planning a private bus tour for our members at the weekend after our week of training. We cannot cover everything I would like to in one day, but I would suggest that we visit some of the following: Matsuyama Park for the memorial to Chojun Miyagi and Kanryo Higaonna, Gichin Funakoshi’s memorial, Fukushu-En the Chinese Garden, Shikina-En, the former summer palace of the Okinawan Kings; the Peace Park at Itoman. The cost of the bus, driver, and fuel for the whole day is included in your basic fee, but members will pay their own admission fees (about half the places we will visit have free admission). We leave around 8:30 AM and return at around 6:30 PM.
In the past we have had the buffet lunch at the beautiful Southern Beach Hotel in the city of Itoman which costs around ¥2,000 ($20) for an enormous selection (all you can eat) of Japanese, Okinawan, American, Italian, and Mexican food, desserts, cold drinks and freshly brewed coffee. If you can’t eat that much, are watching your weight, or want to economize, pick up a packed lunch at Family Mart, and gaze at the South China Sea as you munch a sandwich or two!
On Saturday evening at 7:00 we will be joined by our instructors for dinner in a Japanese style restaurant. Dress is su tropical semi-formal (you need socks!). Gentlemen wear slacks and sports shirts (kariyushi) and ladies loose skirts and blouses.
Giant Tug of War:
The Otsuna Hiki (Tug-of-War Lit. big rope pull) (https://www.youtube.com/watch? v=pNN97gOcYTE) started in 1712, and has always been strongly supported by the Okinawan Karate Community. The procession that precedes the actual contest, the Ufunnasunei or Hatagashira, starts to assemble near Makishi Station at around 11:00 AM, and is colorful to say the least. When everything is ready, led by the President of the event (usually one of our instructors) the procession starts its journey down Kokusai Dori, pausing from time to time so that the huge banners can be lowered to clear the power lines. During these interruptions, impromptu karate demonstrations break out on the street accompanied by the deafening roar of Chinese firecrackers.
The rival Okinawan Kings face each other before the Tug of War begins. A small part of the knot at the center of the rope can be seen. Overall the rope weights 40,000 lbs. is around 5’ feet-in diameter and 100 yards long. The two teams, East and West, that pull the rope total around 15,000 people.
The actual tug-of- war starts at 3:00 PM on Hwy. 58 at Kumoji Junction close to Kencho Mae Monorail station. If you get there early enough I can usually get you a place on the rope.
If you do not have an immediate, same day connection in Tokyo on your way home from Okinawa, consider stopping over in Narita. There is a free shuttle to and from the hotels in the area to Narita Airport’s international terminal, which also goes to the Aeon Mall, a good place for dinner and last-minute shopping.
You might even consider visiting the City of Narita proper which houses the main temple dedicated to Fudo Myo O, the Buddhist guardian deity. (Usually depicted with a rope in one hand to capture the wicked and his kurikara sword in the other with which he administers punishment). This temple has been beautifully restored and is certainly worth a visit if you have the time.
If you have allergy problems, medical, or dietary needs, please let me know so that I can prepare in advance. You MUST also provide yourself with travel/medical insurance that covers hospitalization, emergency medical repatriation, luggage, etc. Okinawa is a peaceful, friendly, and safe place, but accidents and illness can happen anywhere.
Ironically, medical and personal loss are the least expensive segments of travel insurance. You might think twice about cancellation insurance, which IS expensive.
Okinawan karate dojo etiquette is polite, but not excessively formal. The instructor will often tell students to take a drink of water or a five minute break if he feels they are getting too tired. The rigid military style discipline often seen in the dojo of less mature forms of karate is largely absent because Okinawan instructors prefer to teach in detail but to smaller groups of students. Having said that there are a few points that you should be mindful of.
Do not walk in front of instructors, always walk behind them. In other words, do not put yourself between the instructor and the class.
Do not sit on the floor of the dojo with the soles of your feet pointing in the direction of anyone, particularly the instructor, as this is considered extremely rude.
If you are preparing to practice Sanchin by removing your jacket, do not cast it casually aside but fold it carefully and neatly, and place it on the benches at the back of the dojo.
In Okinawa, and indeed the whole of Japan, “tipping” is frowned upon and is viewed by some as rather insulting. Therefore, if for example you eat in a restaurant or hire a taxi cab, simply thank your provider and pay the amount that's shown on the bill.
Okinawans care very much about their environment because their tiny island has almost no natural resources and they therefore recycle everything, waste nothing, and get a little upset if you do not do the same. Therefore if you are staying in one of our apartments please sort your garbage into what is obviously recyclables, for example cans and bottles; combustibles, paper and cardboard which is burned to generate electricity, and food waste. These is placed in separate sections of the waste disposal area and collected weekly.
By the same token, if you ask for a plastic bag in the supermarket they will charge you three yen for it because they don't want you to make a mess of their environment. Therefore, if the person serving you in the supermarket holds up a blue plastic bag and says something you don't understand, just nod and say yes because they’re asking if it's okay to charge you for the bag. In fairness to the supermarket, this is the law in Japan, the bags are almost indestructible despite being thin and light and therefore absolutely ideal for sorting and disposing of your waste materials as suggested above!
When you check into your apartment you will be given a plastic key card, (don’t lose it because it will cost you ¥2,000 to replace) and a manual showing how the various appliances in the apartment work, for example, the washing machine, stove, rice cooker, etc. On the back of the instructions you will find your high-speed Internet access code for this service which is supplied free of charge. There is also cable TV, a full set of kitchen utensils, a fridge/freezer, and enough shampoo, detergent, paper towels etc for your stay. The rooms are not cleaned by the building owner, this is your responsibility, and you are also responsible for the gas, water, and electricity you use which are separately metered for your apartment and billed to you by the front office on the day before you leave. Therefore, it is in your interest, to make sure that you turn everything off when you leave for the dojo in the morning, especially the air conditioning! The day before you leave please go to the ground floor office and pay the bill for your utilities. Generally speaking, for the 10 days I am there, I spend around $50 US for utilities. And PLEASE leave your apartment clean and tidy!!!!
A final word.
While you are in Okinawa, make sure you can, “get home” by having a business card for our apartment building with you at all times. Then, if you do get lost, any taxi will take you home directly if the address is written in Japanese. And you don't need to worry about the taxi drivers, Okinawans are extremely honest people, and they will make sure that you get home safely and not simply drive you around for ages to run up.
Check in with us regularly for updates and the latest schedule I am located near Malibu in Southern California on Pacific Standard Time. My Japanese e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org and telephone number ( 80 3991 5610) but are only active while I am in Japan (and Okinawa, of course). Please make a note of them. My US office number is 818 889 3856, and you can reach me on my cell phone at 818 571 4987.
I look forward very much to meeting you when you arrive at Naha International Airport. The Okinawans are famous for their kindness and hospitality, and we will all do our best to make your stay enjoyable, productive, and educational. Our hope is that you will return to your homelands with a very favorable opinion of Okinawa and its people.
“Mensore” in the Okinawan language means Welcome. I look forward to welcoming you in person to the birthplace of karate.