Get­ting a kick out of nation’s rich tra­di­tion

Fierce mar­tial arts and tran­quil beauty were jux­ta­posed in Ja­pan, writes Elaine Sng

The Sunday Mail (Queensland) - Escape - - STRIKING JAPAN -

THE lit­tle dy­namo aimed her foot for the head of her much taller com­pa­triot and though she stopped short of mak­ing con­tact, her yells of ‘‘ kiai’’ said she meant busi­ness – and this was just her warm-up.

Eight-year-old Hina was hon­ing her spar­ring skills for her event at the 36th All Ja­pan Karate-do Cham­pi­onships over two days at the end of July in Taka­matsu, Ja­pan, and her for­mi­da­ble kicks and punches against her 11-yearold part­ner were im­pres­sive.

I was in the port town of Taka­matsu on the northeastern coast of Shikoku is­land to sup­port the two dozen Aus­tralians of GKR Karate club who were com­pet­ing at the an­nual event at Taka­matsu City Gym.

Young Hina, and her mum, Mrs Ma­tu­moto, had trav­elled from Fukuoka on Ja­pan’s south­ern­most is­land of Kyushu for Hina and twin sis­ter Aiko to com­pete.

There were about 1500 karate prac­ti­tion­ers ( karateka) aged eight to 60 from around Ja­pan and a smat­ter­ing of for­eign com­peti­tors from Por­tu­gal, the UK, New Zealand and Aus­tralia.

The event pits the tal­ents of prac­ti­tion­ers of goju-ryu ( Ja­panese for hard-soft style), an off­shoot from the orig­i­nal style of karate that was founded on the is­land of Ok­i­nawa about 700 years ago.

De­spite the sear­ing 35C heat of sum­mer, the karateka, clad in heavy can­vas uni­forms with belts de­not­ing their level or grade, prac­tised their moves un­der their watch­ful coaches while wait­ing for their events.

From our seat in the stands, we watched young Hina in the ring spar­ring. Her pony­tail fly­ing, the lit­tle dy­namo blitzed her way to a gold medal. Her sis­ter was not as for­tu­nate, but through her tears, we could see she was de­ter­mined to re­turn with re­newed vigour.

We were com­ing to the end of our three-week tour of Ja­pan and hav­ing had our fill of some amaz­ing karate from the com­pe­ti­tion, it was time to ex­plore the re­gion.

The cap­i­tal of Ka­gawa Pre­fec­ture, the 422-year-old port city of Taka­matsu is guarded by Taka­matsu Cas­tle in Ta­mamo Park on the city’s fore­shore, and was an easy 20-minute walk from our ho­tel. The cas­tle ( en­try 200 yen, or $ 2.50) is one of only three in the coun­try sur­rounded by wa­ter moats. Like many cas­tles in Ja­pan, whose pre­dom­i­nantly wooden build­ings were sus­cep­ti­ble to fire or de­stroyed dur­ing World War II, this one had been re­built and ac­cess was limited to the Hi­unkaku, the main res­i­dence. Here we wan­dered silent and bare­foot through large tatam­i­floored rooms, which were typ­i­cally bare of any fur­ni­ture and with slid­ing doors that looked out to the beau­ti­ful Ja­panese gar­den. To­day, the few rooms that are open are used for tea cer­e­monies and con­certs.

The Ushi­tora tower, Moon-watch tower and Mizute­gomon gate had been re­built and looked im­pen­e­tra­ble to at­tack­ers and tourists alike. But we were happy to ad­mire from afar the watch­tower’s multi-tiered lev­els, or­nately carved roof and white­washed walls glim­mer­ing in the sun­shine.

LAND OF CON­TRASTS: Kikuget­sutei tea-house in Rit­surin Gar­dens; and Hina kicks out at the cham­pi­onships.

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