Japan through the eyes of “KISHINTAI”

Japan is an extraordinarily mysterious country where the past and the present blend together. On the one side, there are ancient temples and fortresses, picturesque landscapes, sakura blossoms, stone gardens and cherished age-old traditions. On the other side — huge metropolises with their frenzied rhythm of life and the latest technological achievements. Therefore, anyone visiting Japan can enjoy the past and the future at the same time.

“KISHINTAI” students who go to Japan do so not only to train with prominent martial art teachers but also to travel across this astonishing country and learn more about its history and culture.

Below are some impressions and photos from “KISHINTAI” students after their trip to Japan.



Practicing Japanese martial arts – Aikido, Iaido, Kobudo – is for me closely associated with visiting Japan, communicating with masters during practice sessions in their dojos, traveling to various historic and natural landscapes of the country, getting to know its traditions, architecture, and the philosophy and mentality of its people.

I have visited Japan four times together as a member of the KISHINTAI centre, and every time I went there with big plans that were carried out, yet gave rise to an even greater interest about this country. For me Japan is a place I would love to visit again and again.

Let’s start with Aikido, as that is how I first came to know Japan. It entered my life pretty much by accident back in 1993, and has stayed with me ever since. When I first travelled to Japan in July 2007, I was long since not a beginner level Aikdoka, with plenty of seminars delivered by masters from Japan under the belt, yet I was still a bit nervous before attending practice at Hombu Dojo Aikido Aikikai. And the first session was at 6:30 AM with Doshy Moriteru Ueshiba. It is the busiest session of the day, as many people come to train before work. So, there are about 70 to 80 in the class, mostly Japanese although foreigners are also a common sight at Hombu Dojo. The level of organisation of Japanese was on display as they were calmly waiting for the start of the session. At 6:30 AM on the dot Moriteru Ueshiba arrived and so started my study of Aikido in Japan. At first, it was difficult to find the right rhythm, the body movements had a different flow to them, the pace was dynamic - work with a sturdy Japanese partner, a couple of minutes of rest as Moriteru Ueshiba demonstrates the next technique and then its back to working, working working... Things were not made easier by the 35 degree heat and the enormous humidity in a room without any air ventilation. What did help, however, was the knowledge of relevant terms and technique names in Japanese as it allowed me to follow the explanations given in Japanese. The session ended by the impression it left on me stayed for a long time. Another session followed 30 minutes later, led by Sensei Yokota and then, in the evening, by Sensei Sugawara. And so it continued, receiving lessons from the wide array of masters teaching at Hombu Dojo. Even though my firm belief is that one needs a single teacher in every art of Budo, the opportunity to learn from various masters at Hombu Dojo is an opportunity to expand one’s view of Aikido and experience its diversity.

After Tokyo, we travelled to the northern island of Japan – Hokkaido. That is where I met an extraordinary person and Iaido master – Sensei Mutsuyoshi Ishigaki (10 dan (Hanshi) Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu Iai Heiho, 10 dan (Hanshi) Zen Nippon Iaido Renmei (All Japan Iaido Federation). The power and accuracy of Sensei Ishigaki’s sword and body movements have to be seen to be believed. The lessons he gave to use privately are quite simply priceless. Remembering the massive amount of information contained in every concise explanation was no easy task. Body, hands, legs and sword wavered under the sensei’s steady gaze, yet his calmly delivered advice was: “It is fine, you go home, you work on this mistake for a year and you will get this right.” Then again, the next day he could sternly ask: “Why have you not corrected this? I explained it to you yesterday.” He also had the uncanny ability of simultaneous praise and critique, of making you understand important aspects of Iaido without any words, and easily demonstrate, at the age of 82, four types of upwards twisting motion from seiza (a kneeling pose) to execute the Tsukikage technique, although only one is required. Even 90 years old, the last time that I had the chance of meeting him, he found the strength and time to lead a practice session, an examination and share with us his knowledge and energy.

Just as important as training during these trips was the possibility to travel across Japan. We have been on all four major islands of Japan, but I hope that many new discoveries await us in the future. I will try to briefly share my feelings about the things I saw and experienced. Tokyo – a colossal megalopolis. It is stunning how much construction both above and below ground has been brought into a single whole, the transport networks, the number of people and the amazing capacity to retain a piece of history in this modern world. Still, Tokyo — is not for me. That is why we always go to Kyoto – the city of temples and history. Going to every temple in Kyoto would probably take a couple of months, but I already have some that I would like to visit a second time. The biggest, and most famous, among them is Kiyomizu-dera. The temple has been built on a hill as a unique structure supported by pillars. The site is beloved by locals and tourists alike, that is why my dream is to experience it with as few visitors as possible. Then there is the temple complex of Daitoku-ji. Its temples offer a chance of peaceful rest on time-polished floorboards, all while enjoying the sight of marvellous “dry gardens” where every grain of sand and stone has its place and meaning. And you can carry this feeling of calm, order and mindfulness with you. And the most amazing place, the name of which I am not willing to disclose, is a little temple with a garden of unbelievable moss. On the first trip, as we visited temples around Arashiyama, we missed it, but 12 years later, a rainy day and a succession of mistakes took me to this temple that continues to live in my thoughts.

One definitive part of Japanese architectural and historical legacy are its fortresses. We saw such historical fortresses as Himeji, Matsumoto, Hikone, restored in modern time, big and tiny. All of them have their own story and inherent beauty. So, the fortress Kumamoto on the island of Kyushu surprised us with its upright and reinforced walls. Sadly, it was heavily damaged in the 2016 earthquake. The most memorable for me is the Matsuyama castle on Shikoku Island. Its main tower hosts a breath-taking view of the city, sea and the island and instils a hard-to-explain sensation of freedom.

There are so many more sensations and impressions this unusual country can deliver. Seeing unique landscaped and “dry” gardens, hiking in fog-filled and rain-drenched forests in search of enchanting waterfalls, visiting a city inhabited by deer, climbing mountains that are home to a huge Buddha and 1,500 monk statues with differing faces and enjoying the tea ceremony in a teahouse among them, letting your eyes feast on the spectacle of Sakura trees, crossing the “Sky Bridge” offering one of the most picturesque views in all of Japan or the unusual humped bridge, hearing of a sacred island where no one is allowed to be born or to die, cherishing the image of a crater lake or a smoking volcano on Hokkaido...



“Human memory is selective”
I have been there several times. However, nine years have passed since my last visit. What do I remember? What exciting memories invite me to return?
Memories are more than mere pictures, they are unforgettable experiences. How to express them in words?

First picture:
An airplane porthole and you know the Japanese islands are close, you try to spot some through the endless, sun-illuminated cloud cover, you try to peer through yet there is just the ocean of clouds. And suddenly the sugar-white summit of Mount Fuji rises above it — I am in Japan.

Second picture:
Kyoto, Higashi Hongan-ji temple
Wooden floors, polished to a sheen by people and time. The smell of waxed wood mixed with aroma from blooming trees, heated to unbelievable temperatures in the sun. Feet touch the warm floor, while the head rests in a cool shadow, you inhale the scents of this incredible quite palace and feel transported from the 21st century back to the 14th century. Rapture...

Third picture:
People: An electronics store in Akihabara. A passage in a skyscraper foyer. Three huge TVs of various brands, three girls, each with a different text to deliver. It is still early, so there are few shoppers. Yet every girl delivers her text in full, takes a little pause and starts anew — now that is dedication to work.

Fourth picture:
Metro. An early morning, we are rushing to make it to practice. We arrive at the metro and there is a sea of people at the end of the escalator with no opening in sight. How can we make it? And yet we reach the train without so much as a bump or touch. A mystery of a megapolis.

Fifth picture:
Our teacher — Ishigaki Sensei.
A man of 82 and small stature. He sits on a little stool, watching your torment. “No, no good, how can you not understand? Ok, I’ll show you.” He rises, draws his sword, moves his hands sideways — and suddenly there is no place left for you as he fills the entire room.

Remaining hopeful,
Y. Avsey



I am very grateful to the KISHINTAI dojo and my teacher - Vladimir Jusupzanov - for making my first trip to Japan possible. I remember receiving a very generous offer for a second visit before I had even gone on my first one. This caused me some doubt- should I really plan two trips in a row? In the end, I agreed and am absolutely glad that I did, since I came down with a heavy case of Japanophilia after my first visit and I make use of any opportunity to visit this marvelous and out-of-this-world country.

I have been to Japan for a total of 4 times, 3 of them with the KISHINTAI dojo. Thanks to Vladimir Jusupzanov I have been able to not only visit Aikido Hombu Dojo, but also get to know Japan and its culture from Hokkaido to Kyusu.

Hombu Dojo is a place of special memories as there I could practice with such great masters as Doshu Moriteru Ueshiba, Mitsuteru Ueshiba, Yoshiaki Yokota, Shigeru Sugawara... I even had the luck to have Sensei Sugawara as my training partner for an entire session taught by Sensei Yokota. This is something one can only dream about outside Japan.

So, I full-heartedly recommend it to all students of Japanese martial arts, who have the opportunity and funds, to visit Japan and discover it for themselves.



I have visited Japan twice together with centre “KISHINTAI” and I hope to do so again and again in the future. Those were some of the most interesting trips I have ever went on. I had the opportunity to practice in Hombu dojo with its most famous teachers and throw them around the tatami, and even though this put my impostor syndrome on overload, there was no prior examination or special pass required. Between training sessions, a total of three per day if you are up to it, you can let yourself be carried away by the masses of this most urban of civilisations.

We visited during Hanami, the period of blooming sakura trees that can be seen everywhere and produce absolutely fantastic sights. Cities are submerged in white and pink clouds with every breath of wind scattering sakura petals like snowflakes. Tokyo is a modern city through and through with few signs of times past; for those you are better off visiting Kyoto, Nara or some of the castles spared during the revolution, be it the Castle of White Heron in Himeji or the Crow Castle in Matsumoto. Other unmissable sights include waterfalls in Kobe, tropical beaches of the Seto Inland Sea, Okayama gardens, and the red floating gate near the sacred island of Miyajima. Hot springs and Japanese cuisine will also provide you with unforgettable experiences.



My amazing journey to Japan in 2008.

Visiting Japan was an unforgettable experience — it is a country of extraordinary history and sights, that I could finally enjoy in person. The trip was made possible by my passion for Aikido and the club where I practice it, Japanese Martial Arts Centre “KISHINTAI”. During my visit, I had the opportunity to practice in Hombu dojo where the tradition of Aikido is maintained and preserved and which is a prime destination for Aikidokas from around the world.

Japan is well-known abroad not only for its history but also for its modern futurism that made me feel like I had travelled not to another country, but to a different world. If you are wondering where to go on your next trip, I can heartily recommend Japan as it will certainly not disappoint.



I visited Japan together with a group from the Japanese Martial Arts Centre “KISHINTAI” in April 2016. It was my first trip to Japan, and my first time on a long-haul flight. I had a curious feeling for the first few days in Japan for I had seen a lot of it in movies and pictures and could not believe I was now actually visiting these places in person.

At first, we stayed in Tokyo where we had the chance to practice Aikido in its headquarters — “Aikikai Hombu Dojo”. We took part in the morning classes taught by Doshu Moriteru Ueshiba himself, as well as in classes led by other teachers. Being in this dojo was an especially unique experience for me, an opportunity to access and sense its particular atmosphere.

After Tokyo we visited other cities — Osaka, Kyoto, Himeji, Nara etc. This allowed us to see the many sides of Japan — the dizzying megapolis and skyscrapers of Tokyo, the historic locations and ancient temples of Kyoto, the White Egret Castle in Himeji just to name a few. And the rides on Japanese bullet trains are a form of entertainment of its own.

I would love to travel to Japan again together with “KISHINTAI’’. The time I spent there brought me great joy that is still tangible in the pictures from this journey.



Nature, castles, shrines... complicated to explain but it is different what we can see here.
What left in mind is cleanliness, within 2 weeks spotted only 1 not clean car.... And I’ve never seen underground crosses been cleaned by wacuumcleaner Large
variety of vending machines selling all sort of things drinks (hot and cold), food, snacks, candy, toys...



Visiting Japan in April 2016 became one of the most remarkable trips in my life. Two weeks in one of the most developed countries of the Far East was an opportunity to see a different world — one that is intuitively familiar yet completely different from our usual surroundings.

Tokyo and the first week in Japan. The modern capital of the land of the rising sun — a huge, hurried city of mind-blowing technology and skyscrapers, more than 9 million residents, spotless streets, smooth-flowing masses of people in public spaces. It is also the global capital of Aikido, and I had the opportunity to practice for a week under the leading teachers of this martial art, as well as meet like-minded people from around the world — Canada, Europe, Russia, Japan and other countries.

Sakura. Sakura was in full bloom in April even though it had started to fall in some places. Nevertheless I could enjoy the traditional custom of hanami along with thousands of other people in the parks and streets of major cities admiring the beauty of blooming cherry trees. Japan is definitely the country where everyday life goes hand-in-hand with traditions. Pretty much every street, noteworthy site and remote area has a temple, a drawing featuring cranes, girls wearing yukata, feline talismans of good fortune maneki-neko etc.

Culture and sightseeing spots. These can be seen wherever you turn. A commercial skyscraper has enough room for a museum of robots, a postal museum featuring an impressive collection of stamps from all around the world and an aquarium offering a penguin show. The shopping district of Ginza has a kabuki theatre as a neighbour, where tickets are offered to 5 - 8 daily shows. A Zoo in the very heart of the city, next to Ueno park. A military museum where Europeans are regarded with some suspicion before they are allowed to enter...

Food. Japanese eat a lot more than just sushi. They actually much rather prefer noodles, rice, udon and miso soups. And kaiten-zushi or conveyor belt sushi is something I would recommend everyone to experience. Green ice cream with green tea is an excellent refreshment. An unforgettable culinary experience was takoyaki — fried wheat flour balls filled with minced octopus. Gyoza dumplings right after landing at the airport is another vivid memory.

Kyoto and its surroundings. We spent the second half of our trip in and around the city that served as the capital of the land of the rising sun for almost 11 centuries. With its more relaxed lifestyle than Tokyo, Kyoto represents Japan as “we would like to see it” with low-rising buildings and reminders from the time of emperors, samurai and monks.

Shinkansen — the Japanese bullet train network was a valuable companion for exploring other cities near Kyoto:
- Nara and its herds of constantly hungry deer roaming among Buddhist temples;
- Himeji or “White Egret” Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage Site;
- Iwatayama and its monkeys, just as curious and daring as the deer in Nara;
- Kobe and Shinkobe and the waterfall near the station that bewilders the mind with its majesty;
- Okayama, where the story of the 47 ronin originated, is located by the Seto Inland Sea that we actually had a chance to visit instead of just admiring it from afar.

And much, much more. Japan is a place that clearly shows that life has many sides and we just need to learn how to perceive them. One can leave Japan, but it is impossible to do so without carrying just a little bit of it with you in your heart.



My impressions of Japan:
1. A land of beauty beyond description. Especially during the “rose-tinted” period of the Sakura blooming season.
2. Delicious cuisine that will please all tastes — from crunchy and succulent gyoza to fabulous mochi delights.
3. An astonishing interaction between ancient traditions and technological wonders.
4. The memorable feeling of hassle-free movement in crowded areas.
5. “Aikikai Hombu Dojo” and its terrific people. Every moment spent there was truly a joyful one.

I would like to once more offer my thanks to V. Jusupzanov for this marvellous opportunity to experience the magic of Japan!