A Swiss between Kyushu and Shikoku

By Joe Hafner

It’s day 14 of my travels in Japan. I left Kyushu behind the day before, taking the train from Beppu via Okayama to Takamatsu. The capital of the Kagawa prefecture is not a typical city for tourists, especially when it’s one’s first time visiting Japan, but I had a specific reason for coming to this town – Naginata. But let’s start from the beginning. In February 2023, I wrote an email to the secretary of the All Japan Naginata Federation and asked if I could train with them sometime during my trip to Japan. Fortunately, I received a positive response, mentioning that I could train at two dojos, one in Takamatsu (Kagawa) and one in Itami (Hyogo).

So, nearly everything was set, and I was prepared for some Japanese Naginata lessons. In Takamatsu, I had the opportunity to train with Takamatsu Naginata. The training facility reminded me somewhat of our own gym. It was an old gym located close to the sea. Well, in Switzerland, we obviously have no ocean, but the whole vibe and the aesthetic of the gym made me feel right at home. Sugishita-Sensei, a Kyoshi, warmly welcomed me and introduced me to all the other students. Despite the language barriers (my Japanese is not that good), the training was great and quite similar to ours in Switzerland.

We started with Kihon, did some Kata, and then had some Bogu-training. With all these similarities, it was easy enough for me to keep up with the others. At the end of the lesson, we started doing Shiai. There, I had no chance against the Japanese students. When it came to speed and precision, you could clearly see that they had been trained by a Kyoshi. After the session, we had some free time and took some photos and had a nice chat.

All the people from Takamatsu were so nice and welcoming. I felt deeply connected with them, and I would really love to return and train some more with them.

After spending some time on Shikoku, the smallest main island of Japan, I went to the Kansai region for my next session. Itami was a completely different experience. At the Shubukan Dojo, I got a lesson in Budo. Instead of in a gym, I was able to train in a dojo that seemed like straight out of a martial arts film. For one hour, I worked on my Katas and my Uchikaeshi. Thanks to the useful instructions from the Sensei, I could further improve my skills. Training in Japan doesn’t feel so different from training in Europe. While we do the same moves and have the same training routines, it was still a very valuable lesson for me. I saw once more what we, the Swiss, are good at and where we have definitely room to improve. If you know at least a bit of Japanese, I highly recommend training with one or two clubs during your stay.