Japan Trip 2018 – Day Eight


Today, student three bought a car, so transportation is now positively luxurious and simple.

Our weary legs thank him.

In said car we travelled to the Nisshinkan.

The dynamic between student three driving behind the wheel and student two driving from the back seat is going to be a source of ongoing entertainment.

Nisshinkan was good, is always inspiring to visit.

We then lunched at Ne Ne Ya, successfully feeding everyone.

Next stop was the helix tower and its surrounds: White Tigers memorial and other shrines.

Student one paid for us to ride the travellator instead of the stairs, continuing the leg free theme of the day.

Wife, not coping with all the easy travel and worried her blister were beginning to heal, decided to walk back to the minshuku.

We chose the car.

A relaxed evening of chatting, drinking student three’s yam vodka, playing cards, then bed.



I got up.

We had breakfast, then hopped in the car, drove to the forest, then had a beautiful walk.

I went up the hexagonal, weird tower with students two and one. Dad did not go up though.

Then looked at some SPECTACULAR sacred trees, they were HUGE. Daddy too my photograph with the SPECTACULAR TREES.

Started to go back to the minshuku, then mummy showed up at the door as we arrived.

We went inside, then I had a bath and shower, cleaned teeth and then bed.


Today’s Tsukemono

Connoisseur one

Minshuku Aizu


Light rain

The ticking of the one working clock was there to remind us of the fleeting beauty of the morning’s breakfast pickles.

Pickle 1

Freshly made cucumber in a sweet brine.

Thinly sliced.

Accented with small pieces of seaweed.

A good start and the sweetness keeps with the theme of the breakfast.

Pickle 2

Flaming kimchi.

As previously reviewed: nice and hot.

But probably not an intermediate course between two sweet pickles.

Pickle 3


About 30mm in diameter

Under ripe.

Slightly furry texture on the skin.

Biting into it is an exercise in commitment. There are no nibbles with this pickle. There is initial resistance, until sufficient pressure is applied and then you bite straight down to the pit.

The flavour is intensely sweet, but doubtful that is due to the natural sweetness of the fruit.

The first impression is cherry syrup that would be poured on shaved ice.

There are notes of cough syrup and old lollipops.

I enjoyed this pickle.

Mainly because of the lingering sourness that arrives and stays.

It is practically candy.


Connoisseur two

Fresh cucumber and seaweed.

Fresh is the correct term for this pickle.

Delicious, not too piquant.

An excellent palate cleanser.


Large umeboshi – also homemade.

Too sweet, hints of aniseed.

Odd texture and quite vile.


Kimchi is back.

Perfect as before and necessary to remove the taste of the plum.



Japan Trip 2018 – Day Seven


Big festival day.

No, that was yesterday.

Is late.

Is bourbon.

Today we went for a walk in the forest.

I come here for the forest.

Off to town for the Shinsengumi remembrance ceremony.

Was hot, much sun.

It burned.

So many speeches.

Daughter and I hid from the sun behind a bell tower, where a man recognised her from last night’s dance horror and took that as permission to speak with me.

It was not.

He gave daughter some weird gifts and mentioned kangaroos and wallabies to me.

We moved away from him and back to the ceremony.

He followed us.

He explained there would be a sword demonstration.

Yes, I said, that is why we are here. I gave him my business card and explained we do sword back in the Antipodes. He looked up the web page and forced a nearby, anonymous person to photograph him, myself and daughter as a family portrait.

No sword ever happened, so the two of us left, leaving wife somewhere in the crowd.

We sat at a nearby concrete park, waiting for her. Eventually, the cigarette smoke forced us out.

We refound wife and left.

On the bus ride back the other joined us.

We and student one hopped off the bus at the nearest supermarket to the minshuku to buy dinner and, it turned out, lots of alcohol.

Student one bought pickles.

Lots of pickles.

Plan was to catch the bus home.

No buses.

We walked.

It hurt.

Was much longer than the map suggested.

Ate food, drank, good chats, will go to bed at some point; maybe shower first.



We got up, had breakfast and I found that there was soba noodles!! Yum, yum, yum!

After breakfast, we said goodbye to student four, then she left . . . . .

Then we headed out, there was a ceremony. AGAIN so boring.

Then this guy came over to me and gave me gifts! After that he wanted to take my photograph.

Me and dad left after that to eat some inari zushi. Then waited . . . . . and waited . . . . . until the ceremony FINALY finishes.

We went to the bus to go to the supermarket for food, (with mum), then headed to the minshuku and had dinner.

Hung about, then it was my shower and bath time and I had that time with mummy, then cleaned teeth and went to bed.

Today’s Tsukemono

Connoisseur one

Minshuku  Aizu


A cool morning with a slight breeze.

Only one pickle.

It looks like chopped bok choy in cow drool.

Upon lifting a small chunk of it the clear mucus appears to reach back to the bowl for safety.

I touched a small bit to my tongue and was repulsed.

It did occur to me that perhaps it wasn’t me who offended the chef, but instead another in the group.

It doesn’t matter.

I have been doomed to pickle Hell.

I await what new form of pickle torture they will devise tomorrow.


Aizu Supermarket Pickles

Below the minshuku stairs

Two packages of two pickles each


Low humidity

Slight smell of old brochures and manga in the air

Pairing: second beer of the day, (Kirin, red can)

Pickle 1 – Cucumber

Classic, slightly sweet pickle.

The pickles were a delicate small diameter that was thinly sliced.

Salty and complimented the chips well.

Pickle 2 – Cucumber


Medium diameter, thinly sliced.

The flavouring was similar to dill, but more citrus.

I found this to be a good pickle.

Worthy of a middle course.

Pickle 3 – Cucumber

This was packaged with the daikon radish.

It was a similar flavour and saltiness.

I would have begged for this pickle this morning, but tonight I found it to be far too salty.

Not a good accompaniment to the chips, but okay with the beer.

It is suitable for mindless eating.

Pickle 4 – Daikon Radish

We began the day with the worst life has to offer and we finish the day with a solid pickle.

A pickle with a crunch that resonated in my teeth.

A pickle large enough to cover the top of my tongue and delight several different flavour sectors.

This is not a legendary pickle.

Nobody is writing a song about this pickle.

But it was a fantastic way to end the day.


Connoisseur two


No real review here.

Tasted some bitter glutinously stringy mass.

No inclination to pursue beyond the first bite.

Pickles remain in their bowl.


Aizu Supermarket Pickles

1. Daikon Radish

For a generic daikon radish, it is surprisingly good, and I make an excellent homemade daikon pickle.
This one is a little heavy on the turmeric, but is crisp and nicely salty, with just the right level of piquant.

2. Cucumber A

Extremely salty – a little disappointing.

3. Cucumber B

Is purple, also very salty with a hint of citrus.
Yuzu perhaps.

Slightly disappointing chewy texture.

4.Cucumber C

Milder than the others, takes a while for the salt to build up.

Definitely crunchier than the purple, with which it shares the packet.

Best of the cucumbers in my opinion, but I have just finished my second bourbon.



Japan Trip 2018 – Day Six


Delightful breakfast, as we have come to expect.

Then crowded bus to the castle. Student two spoke to a Ginger whose Japanese was as good as his English.

Much of the festival was difficult to see – I had no idea there would be so many people here!

Wandered towards the town in the wake of the procession, to meet up with the others so we could eventually wander out again and catch a bus back to the minshuku.

Hung out there.

Students two, three and four went for a drive in student four’s car.

Wife, daughter and I went off for dinner at a local soba place.

It was shut.

So we stayed on the bus to go to an Italian café we had discovered last trip.

It was shut.

Fortunately, the café opened once they saw us – seems they remembered us from last year.

The vegan garden salad was very good.

Time to go home.

But no!

Wife hears the evil siren sound of the Bandaisan dance.

They are doing it again.

Japanese, fucking, Morris, fucking, dance!

Many, many, many hours later, I managed to plug my family’s ears with wax and blindfold them long enough to escape the endless loop.

By this time, daughter has been regaled with fans, tiny hatha, a happi coat, (which was returned after the dance), and much praise from the locals.

Walk to the taxi rank, back to the minshuku and now writing this whilst others shower.

Students two, three and four are still out.

Last anyone saw of student one, he was surrounded by flirting Japanese women in what was ostensibly a free, English language, guided tour of the castle.

He was the only gaijin in the group.



It is the day of the big Aizu samurai festival at the castle.

Today I did not want to bus, but I HAD to, yep.

I was right, so boring. I could not see ANYTHING. Tree branches, including people, blocking the entire thing.

Me and dad were going to get some water, but no water, and we could not get back to mummy.

We watched the samurai march by with all their armour. This time I could see SOMETHING!

After that mum met us and we had mochi on a stick. YUM! I had it with no sauce. Mum had it with sauce. Dad took a photograph of some spiders and a HUGE fish and a quite big turtle.

Then we walked for a while, then headed back to the minshuku. Hung out for a bit, then headed out for dinner.

I had spaghetti.

We heard some loud music with taiko drumming. Me and mum were excited!

It was the BANDAISAN DANCE!!!!!!!

Dad was like, no, no, no.

But me and mum just danced.

I borrowed the clothing for the dance and actually joined the group, then got a flower on a hair band. A lady came over and tied it in my hair then she gave me a sign. After that we did more dancing. Then a camera pointed directly at ME!

After the dance I got a gift: fan; then another gift: another fan.

Then we headed back to the minshuku. Had shower and a short bath, cleaned teeth, then bed.


Today’s Tsukemono

Connoisseur one

Minshuku Aizu


A warm morning

Sounds of traffic dominate the quiet moments between those who choose to talk at breakfast

Only one pickle on offer this morning.

The quality leads me to believe I have inadvertently offended the chef.

  • Very small mushrooms in a sweet sauce
  • Mild notes of chilli pepper
  • Slight molasses flavour

I tried.


I tried bits of this pickle throughout the meal and it complemented nothing.

The green tea only dulled the odd flavour.

I did not like this pickle and found it disagreeable.


Connoisseur two

One pickle only today, difficult to have more than one taste, but if pursued, the sense of doubt remains.

Mushrooms and what is theorised to be molasses.

Too sweet and not piquant enough for this palate, with a sticky texture.



Japan Trip 2018 – Day Five


All but daughter and I went off to a memorial service for the war dead. We thought it sounded far too much like school assembly, so decided to give it a miss.
Instead we walked to the herb garden. Daughter wanted to turn back halfway, but once there enjoyed the place immensely.

Probably because she found a cricket and a duck.

After the serenity, we made a quick dash to a nearby supermarket for lunch supplies for her and beer for me, then made it back to the gardens with three minutes to spare before the bus arrived.

At the minshuku we did the laundry, threw animals at each other and watched Sumo wrestling to a Laurie Anderson soundtrack.

Students one, two and three also eventually came back and we set off together, by bus, to the castle and the children’s lantern festival, and to meet up with the wife and student four.
They were not there, so we followed the procession into town.

Here there was an infinite folk dance loop that captured daughter and student two and later also wife.

After many, many hours we managed to break the spell, extract the dancers and escape the crowds for a long walk home and bed.


Yawn . . . . Yay! Another day in Aizu!
Lazy day!

While mum and the others went to a boring ceremony, me and daddy had the day together, so we went to the herb gardens, and my phone went out of battery. Yes, AGAIN! So annoying isn’t it?

I had a go at daddy’s camera. So complicated. But I managed to take a good photograph of some flowers. We saw a huge bee. It was this big: [                                                 ]. That is HUGE! Then saw some big fish, they were as big as the entire page! And some were Super big.

Then ducks came super close to me! So amazing! It was like the animals knew me and trusted me!

Then we headed back to the minshuku. I ate lunch: inari zushi, sprouts, cherry tomatoes and CHIPS! So yummy.

We played catch, watched sumo wrestling on TV and relaxed.

Went to the children’s lantern festival, ate some Hot Chips!.

Also did the Bandaisan dance.

Then had a shower with students two and four, then went to bed.


Today’s Tsukemono

Connoisseur one

Minshuku Aizu
Light rain
Dull senses from last evening’s saké

Pickle 1 – Seaweed
Long thin strips with sesame and a thickened soy sauce
Delightful in its unremarkableness
There is nothing about it to keep me from eating a bucket of it, or from wanting more
The sesame notes linger

Pickle 2 – Spicy Kimchi
Step 1: pick up more than you normally would, (pieces are slightly larger than expected)
Step 2: feel the limp structure of the leaves and doubt its texture
Step 3: bite down. Continue chewing longer than expected
Step 4: wait for the heat to build, and build, and build.
This is like Latin dancing with someone who is a much better dancer than you

Connoisseur two

Good texture, not too chewy, slightly sweet and sprinkled with sesame seeds. An excellent counterpoint to the kimchi.


Delightfully piquant with just the right amount of heat that slowly builds at just the right pace as one continues to eat



Japan Trip 2018 – Day Four


The ryokan was able to provide adequate breakfast for four of us.

I saw a falafel shop on the way to the train station; this glimpse counted for my meal.

Wife discovered yesterday, thanks to some helpful English speaking railway officials that our IC cards would get us to Aizu, so she loaded them up with enough yen to do so and we boarded our first train.

The rain is nice.

On the second train we were informed by the non English speaking railway staff and also via phone by other English speaking rail staff, that no, our IC cards would not get us to Aizu. So cash had to be paid to cover this leg of the journey and somehow we have to try and recover the money off the cards back in Tokyo. Wife was not happy about this and having expressed her feelings, perhaps less than adequately for her, she is now known as a person of interest to all railway employees and security personnel in the Kanto and Tohoku districts.

Dropped our bags at the minshuku; confirmed the veganess of our breakfasts and headed back into town for a relaxed meal at Ne Ne Ya, one of our favourite eating places.

Student four was waiting for us when we returned. She had been exiled from the School many years earlier for once calling Archimedes, “the heel guy”, in class and now lives in Japan studying classical history in her spare time. Catch up chats and saké before heading to bed.

No one other than myself has expressed anything besides confusion and horror at my Plan B for staying in Japan:

I have the minshuku family adopt me as their half human, half tengu hybrid offspring and they keep me here with room and board, but because of the shame, I never have to interact with others.

Is a good plan.


We got up.

We packed our bags, then headed to the train station and waited . . . and waited . . . until our train FINALLY arrives.

Mum had a talk with the handler to show us where carriage 1 is. He led us, we said thank you, (in Japanese). We boarded the train and sat down. I played slitherio. After that we hopped off and waited . . . until another train that we are supposed to catch FINALLY arrives and we boarded and I played slitherio, but my phone went flat.

I was so bored after that.

Had a wolf nap, then hopped off the train.

When we arrived at the train station I played with Akabe, then caught a taxi to the minshuku.

Showered and bathed after dinner then went to bed.



Today’s Tsukemono

Connoisseur one

Ryokan breakfast

Lingering humidity between light rain

Western breakfast with three pickles

Pickle 1 – radish

Sliced in rounds and quartered

Very peppery and crisp

Gone before I could grasp it

A fleeting thought of a pickle

Pickle 2 – shibazu?

Reddish colour and minced with sesame seeds


I could spend a moment with each 1 mm x 1 mm piece

Pickle 3 – cucumber with heavy turmeric taste

Very thinly sliced and looked withered

The spice was overpowering, but there was a satisfying crack when I bit down

Disappointing that this was the last pickle for the day



Japan Trip 2018 – Day Three


Another travel day.

Shuttle bus to airport – train to Asakusa.

Wife has organised IC Cards for us this trip, simplifying rail travel immensely.

As per tradition, we got off the train a few stops too soon and walked the rest of the way to the ryokan. Is a very nice place right in the heart of Asakusa.

Had lunch at the vegan buffet place. Good tofu.

Took daughter to the taiko shop and museum – bought her bachi, (drumsticks) and the museum was very interactive – she could try out dozens of different percussion instruments from Japan and the rest of the world. Videoed her doing some taiko on two of the drums – but somehow deleted it without realising; much sadness on my part: it was a good performance, but daughter is not bothered.

A wander back to the ryokan through the rain and the endless shopping malls of Asakusa, perhaps my least favourite part of Japan.

Wife has headed out with other members of the party for food and a much needed child free break. Daughter and I are staying in for a quiet evening. She has just enjoyed a shower, then bath, revelling in the abundance of water this country offers.

Herr Bristol rang me during this, just to add to the weirdness, but we shall leave the content of that conversation for another forum.

Now is time for Chip Stars, more of the wife’s whiskey, Japanese TV game shows and bed for the child.



Oh great . . . . . a travelling day to go to Asakusa. Luckily, I packed yesterday, so I did not have to pack today. Also, I slept in the clothes I would wear today. Is that awesome?

It took mum and dad a while to pack, when FINALLY they were ready, we went down the lift to the 1st floor with all our luggage and backpacks. We headed to the train station, then waited . . . and waited…… until our train arrived. Then hopped on. Then I played slitherio, ate some Chip Stars, (Japanese crisps), then an hour and a half later mum thought that we were at the right station, but …… she was WRONG, we should have hopped off in another two stations. But we are in Asakusa. [editor’s note: it was actually I who caused us to depart the train early].

Went to the ryokan, dropped off our luggage, then did some exploring around town and had some lunch, then headed back to the ryokan to check in. We went to our rooms, relaxed, then went out again. This time I am wearing my gum boots and I jumped in puddles. Also, we went to a taiko shop and I bought my bachi and explored the taiko museum, which had different instruments. They had symbols on them to let you know that they can be played and the ones that cannot be played. Then we did more exploring, then we headed back to the ryokan. Then I watched Japanese TV, then showered, then bathed, then more TV.



Japan Trip 2018 – Day Two


Once the meeting was over, I went back to the room; the others were awake.

Fed Daughter the inari zushi I had found at a combini during my previous, early morning, wandering.

Eventually we headed back to the lobby, as arranged the previous evening, to meet up with the others and catch the shuttle bus for a day in Narita.

Student one misremembered the time and we missed the hoped for bus. No real problem, we followed student two’s suggestion and sat in the hotel gardens, watching koi and drinking saké until the next bus arrived.

Well, some of us did, others did other things.

Wandered down the tourist strip in Narita to the temple complex.

Sat in the gardens with some food, the rest of the saké and a black cat.

Then back to the train station, where we had arranged to rendezvous with the others, who, by then, had drifted off on their own.

That is where I am now. Daughter was tired and wanted to go back to the hotel, so she and her mother have left me here waiting for the others. This is, as yet, unknown to them. It will be interesting to see how they deal with me as their hostess for the evening instead of the expected Wife.

Wife and daughter say they may return to join us for the planned group meal. We shall see. In the meantime, I am out of alcohol, have at least half an hour to wait for the others to return from the temple and if I leave this seat, I know it will be rapidly claimed. Public places to sit are rare in Japan. If gods exist, they are called Herakleitos. I now relinquish the seat for a trip to the combini.

The other three did show up.

Student one went looking for an electronics shop. Student two, three and myself went to a very tiny and crowded antique store. Student two could barely fit in the aisles and the cat was angry.

Wife and daughter re-joined the group and we went to a local restaurant. It seemed to have less vegan options than on past visits, but most of us left well fed.

Back to the hotel and bed.



Today we went into town and explored. Had mochi on a stick.

Also had inari zushi and an ice-cream cone. When I say cone, I mean the cone without any ice-cream!

Me and mum went back to the hotel. Then we had a SWIM! So much fun!

After the swim we went to our room, then showered, then went out to dinner.

I had soba noodles with edamame beans. Also chips! Hot chips!

Then went to the hotel, then chatted, then we cleaned our teeth, I packed my suitcase, then went to bed!



Today’s Tsukemono

Connoisseur one

Some restaurant in Narita


Low humidity

Pickles with a rice and miso course

I am pretty sure it was cucumber

Low vinegar taste

Not very salty

Texture: not very crisp

Didn’t hold their shape well

Size: 15mm x 2 mm thick

Pairing: First beer of the day

Light beer, low foam

Notes: not a very exiting pickle. Didn’t compliment the miso. Normally cucumber pickles are the workhorse of the pickle world, but this one is not doing any heavy lifting.



Japan Trip 2018 – Day One


Actually, it is now the morning of day two; other people sleep a lot and I am still waiting for them to awaken.

Yesterday was a typical travel day.

Pick up student one, taxi to the airport with students two and three, in plane for a way too long, (there was vegan “food” to eat, but it was best considered as a means of filling the time, rather than actual meals), through customs, to the hotel, some beer and bed.

I am currently sitting in the lobby of said hotel. I chose a seat on my own but have rapidly become surrounded by red uniformed air hostesses and black suited men, who, apparently, saw me as the perfect centre piece for a pre-flight meeting.

I was, however, given no opportunity to participate.



We got up very early and brought my bag down. We locked mum’s bag and the family’s bag and head out to pick up student one.

Then went to student two and three’s house to put our car in their driveway.

Then we went in a taxi van to the airport. We did the security stuff, dropped some bags off to go to the boot of the plane, then just waited . . . . . until, finally, our plane is ready to board.

We hopped on, waited, then lift off.

About an hour after take-off, Snowpaw wanted to watch some shows, after that Agatha, well . . . . had an accident and vomited! Eew!

Then I watched movies, had a nap, then got off the plane and headed to the airport. Did stuff. Headed to the hotel. Showered, then went to bed! Yay!



Japan School Trip – 2018: Opening remarks

Recently, myself and five students, including my ten year old daughter returned from a trip to Japan. Partly this was to attend the Aizu Matsuri, marking the 150th year since the end of the Boshin War and the fall of the castle, but also simply because we love the culture and at least one of us had never been before.

My daughter and I kept a travel diary, as is our wont; each of us writing our own perspective and recollection of the day’s events.

Over the next few weeks, I shall publish a, slightly edited version of this, including the critical tsukemono notes that myself and one of the students made throughout the trip.

Names may be changed in order to avoid excessive law suites, but what follows will be a, not quite factual, account of our adventures.

Hopefully, this will inspire more Ten Shin Sho Kai students to join us for the next trip.


Kai Cho



Sometimes it is Good to See Students Struggling

As an instructor, that seems like an odd thing to say. Well, unless you are one of the more sadistically motivated instructors, which I am not. Arguably, I lack a degree of compassion, but sadistic, I am not. I don’t care enough about the students to be cruel; I care about the School. So why make such a statement?

Sometimes I will introduce a new technique or concept into a class and the yudansha pick it up almost instantly, as if they had done it many times before. So it seems neither new nor challenging. ‘Where is the learning in that?’, one wonders.

But then the mudansha try. And they struggle.

They have an intellectual grasp of the concept, but fail to physically translate it.

Why is this good?

Because it shows that our training methodology works.

It takes a lot of time and effort to reach the senior levels, the process is slow, but deep. Once you reach a certain level of understanding, though, little is really new, it is just various forms of henka ho.

Without the contrast of the struggling white belts, it can be difficult to see just how far the black belts have progressed.


Kai Cho