Getting a kick out of nation’s rich tradition
Fierce martial arts and tranquil beauty were juxtaposed in Japan, writes Elaine Sng
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.