In this age of social media most of us are easy to identify and contact online. It’s easy to make Facebook friends or to use online business networks, which means that you can go from zero to having conversations with former strangers within minutes. I find this ease of communication very useful, particularly in my job as a head-hunter. Another advantage of social media is that it makes geography irrelevant. I can talk to friends in the USA and Japan as easily as I can my next door neighbours.
This blog too acts as a two way conduit and I enjoy the feedback and contact from people whom I may or may not know. Sometimes in my posts I talk about specific dojo in Japan and as a result receive messages asking for their locations and practice times and I am afraid to say that I am always a little guarded in responding. If anyone wants to practice in a club that I have mentioned, I ask for their contact details so that I can put them in touch with someone at the other end. Very few kendo groups allow people to “walk in off the street” into a keiko session. They don’t know you or your level and the practice may be totally unsuitable for you.
If you are making a first visit to a Japanese dojo you normally need to go there with someone already known to them or with an introduction from someone they know who also knows you. Unless I know someone well, I would find it difficult to make a formal introduction to a dojo or teacher in Japan. The reason quite simply, is that by making an introduction I am in effect vouching for the character and behaviour of the person whom I am introducing. So if something goes wrong the introducer’s neck is on the line.
This may make it sound as if kendo in Japan is one big secret society; this is far from the case. Most kendo teachers and dojo leaders are open to helping new people, and the fact that you are a fellow kendoka automatically makes you a good person. Many of the teachers who travel abroad leave open invitations for the people they have met to visit them in Japan, but then they have met you and gained the chance to form an impression of you.
Being a foreigner can sometimes work to your advantage. I have had the privilege of training at a number of exclusive dojo in Japan, including Saineikan, the dojo of the Imperial Palace, this would have been unimaginable for most Japanese kendoka and was only possible because of the kindness of Takatera sensei and the indulgence of Kato sensei.
So my advice to first timers or visitors to Japan is look up someone you already know and get them to introduce you.