Edition No. 24. Autumn, 2000. Today is


By: Bob Willingham

The Kodokan, the mecca for all Judo players, the centre for the training of the world's elite and national teams. That's as may be, but I discovered in the process of filming the video, Koga A New Wind, in the special dojo at the Kodokan, is that these facilities are in fact there for everybody who is interested in Judo and the cost of staying and training at the Kodokan can be achieved without breaking the bank!

The KodokanThe filming team stayed in the Kodokan residential facilities all situated within the same building as the six dojos and really made the most of the week stay. Filming during the day and then joining in in the main dojo in the evening. The stay was so enjoyable I thought others would benefit from a guide to the Kodokan from a Gaijin's point of view, so as to show just how easy a visit is and to minimize the worries of joining in.

Getting to and from the Kodokan:
Map to the KodokanThis really depends on how much luggage and equipment you will be carrying. It can be (it is!) quite difficult to carry a lot of bags through the crowded train stations of Tokyo, but the train is the cheapest way to go. Catch the JR Narita Express from the airport to Tokyo station for about ¥3,000. There is another train on the same line that is slightly cheaper called the Airport Narita (it's about ¥1,200), but for the extra comfort and room, I'd recommend the Narita Express. Once you get to Tokyo Station you can take the subway to the Kodokan for a few hundred yen. You'll need to take the Chuo Line to Suidobashi Station (you'll need to transfer from the rapid line to the regular line at Ochanomizu Station, but this is quite painless as you simply get out of one train and walk aross the platform to another. From Suidobashi Station, it's a straight walk to the Kodokan, about 10 minutes, just past the KFC (the site of the original Kodokan) and the Tokyo Dome. The Kodokan is a tall building that can't be missed, you'll see the Kodokan logo on the side of the building.

DormsThe sleeping facilities on the third floor range from single rooms up to the 20 berth dormitories, which work out cheapest. These are very basic but clean and well air conditioned, and if your visit is during the summer the dorms are a welcome retreat from the very hot and humid weather. The two tier bunks are very firm, and the pillows resemble large bean bags, with each bed having its own reading light and for privacy curtain surrounding it. Although this does nothing to eliminate the snoring of fellow room mates!

Be prepared if you haven't completely filled the dorm to share with other judoka visiting the centre. The wash facilities are communal at one end of the corridor and on your first introduction you might think that the showers are a little bit low, with a small mirror at waist height which seems a bit strange until it is explained that the Japanese shower in a squatting position. At the other end of the dormitory corridors is a communal area with soft chairs and a TV with a number of vending machines for drinks and pot noodles that rapidly become part of the staple diet. On the subject of food, meals are left to the individual to arrange, the basement contains a restaurant open for lunch, which serves a range of Japanese and Western foods, but breakfast is best obtained at the Mr Donut restaurant just down the road and the evening meals can be very reasonably obtained at a number of eating establishments that are a cross between a bar and restaurant. Alternatively your own food can be taken a prepared in the Kitchen facilities.

Now the training:
Main Dojo
The Kodokan contains a total of six dojo's, including the international dojo and women's dojo. The main dojo (pictured on the right) is situated on the seventh floor, but the correct route is to enter from the lift on the fourth floor. Here all footwear is left on the racks provided and you sign in and pay at the desk. If you are not staying at the Kodokan changing facilities are available here Barefoot you make your way up the stairs to the seventh floor on polished wooded floors up to the dojo. A bow as you enter the dojo in the direction of Kano's portrait, and a right turn then into "Gaijin corner." The mat area is split into four contest area with a class going on in each one, but for visitors generally this corner is for randori. There is a good range of practices available so you aren't subjected to a line up of Japan's finest to leave you broken. We were able to choose our own pace and practices which was good as it took a while to acclimatise to the heat and for the Jet lag to wear off, so the practices got better throughout the week.

On Wednesday various Tokyo companies send their teams along for the evening and this practice is generally the best of the week, but a practice can be had every day except Sundays and National Holidays. If you are part of a national team and want a full on practice each day then there are various Universities that can be reached easily by tube, but you have to make your own introductions, best before you travel.

The randori's all start in the same way, whether standing or on the ground, with a kneeling bow. The senior of the two players will be closest to the outside edge of the mat and ones back should never be towards Kano's portrait. On bowing one should say "Onegai shimasu" (this has many meanings and is hard to directly translate into English, but in this case it basically means "Please practice with me") and at the end of the practice by bowing and saying "Arigato gozaimashita (which simply means "Thank you") The dojo has water fountains on one side and toilets (although one should be sure to wear their toilet slippers to visit here). It is quite strange stepping on and off the mat without footwear but from the fourth floor up to the seventh is a clean area.

Swedish Judo Club PlayersWhile we were there the lads from a Swedish Judo Club shared our dormitory with their club coach Johan Byström and were making the most of the facilities. We asked them for their thoughts,

Ula Kaan,
Swedish Junior National Champion

"I've been training here for about a week. I would say it's quite different from our training in Sweden. It's more strict, it's not as hard here as I thought it would be, they are very friendly and the training is very good, they know exactly what to focus on."

Per Helander,
1st Kyu (4 years experience)

"I also thought the training would be harder. I thought I would be beaten all the time. I think I managed well, it's good to learn the basic techniques from the "inventors".

Celicia Anderson,
1st Kyu

"I thought it was very strange not training with the guys. Of course there were guys in the women's dojo, two older men and one younger. It was good training there, but it was strange not having the guys around."

We also took the opportunity to chat to Hirofumi Otsuji, one of the team in the Second Division, Department of International Affairs who is responsible for visitors to the Kodokan .

TWOJ: Who do you offer the facilities to?

HO: Anybody who is practicing Judo.

TWOJ: Is there any problem if the Kodokan doesn't recognise their grade?

HO: No, as long as they practice judo.

TWOJ: Is it possible for anybody to join in in the dojo?

HO: Anybody can join in, but we do have a beginners class and a foreign class. The beginners cannot join in as it would be too dangerous. The beginners can come to the beginners class for three months, then they might be able to join in. Any black belt can come and join in.

TWOJ: If a club comes what do you offer?

HO: If they contact us in advance we can arrange, private lessons, instructors and dojos, for Kata or technique or what ever. the cost depends on class size. Regular class hours are 4.30 to 8pm. Which is 4.30 to 6.30pm for kids, 5.30 to 7pm for regular adults. Usually for the main dojo people arrive from 6pm and the practice ends at 8pm.

TWOJ: Can you tell me about the monthly competition.

HO: The competitions are usually on a Thursday. We have a kids division, a black belt division and 2nd & 3rd dan division. We have no monthly competition for the women, they have a red and white belt competition twice a year.

TWOJ: What does a player who holds a grade in their federation do to get a Kodokan recognised grade.

HO: The system is that everybody starts at zero. Even Rashwan of Egypt who was the 36 stone 6ft 10in World Silver medallist took part. He came here to practice judo and he doesn't have a kodokan black belt. He took part in the red and white competition, where the winner stays on, he beat everybody up, so he got promoted! Not only do you have to fight but you have to demonstrate different Katas for different grades.

TWOJ: What other facilities do you have at the Kodokan?

HO: We have the Kodokan Hostel with a variety of places for people too stay, we have a weight training facility, we have a kitchen for people to prepare their own meals, maybe because of religion. All the kitchen utilities are available.

TWOJ: What time do you close the building?

HO: 11.30pm in the week and 12 midnight during the weekend.

TWOJ: What should people do if they wish to visit the Kodokan.

HO: For further information and prices they should contact the 2nd Division, Department of International Affairs at the following:

Simon Hicks, Bob Willingham, Finn Gleeson, Matt Carter16-30 Kasuga
1 Chome Bunkyo-Ku
Tokyo 112-0003

Tel + 81 3 3818 4172
Fax + 81 3 3814 2918
email: intl@kodokan.org

Thanks to Matt Carter for the directions to the Kodokan. I used them and got directly there, and for the Japanese phases.


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