Aikido Kobayashi Dojo

Aikido, My Way.

Part 1 The Pilgrimage to Ise Shrine

Seven years or so after Kobayashi Dojo opened I found myself with a little time.  I thought when I become forty years old what shall I do?  Travel overseas and have fun?  Or maybe travel on a bicycle around the country?  I thought of doing many things but it suddenly occurred to me:  Japanese people’s origin is the Ise Shrine so why not walk to Ise as a sort of pilgrimage?  If I walked from Tokyo to Ise, it would temper the spirit.  I looked for a guidebook on traveling by foot but there wasn’t any at that time.  However, there were books on bicycling tours so that’s what I bought.

The most important thing for walking is a good pair of shoes.  To test myself I walked from my wife’s family home in Ima City to Nikko Tosho Shrines.  It took an hour and a half to climb up to the shrine; another time I also walked 25 kilometers from Kobayashi Dojo in Kodaira to Yasukuni Shrine in Kudan.  Then I tried to walk the formidable slopes of Hakone.  From these experiences I discovered that caravan shoes were easiest on the feet. The reason for this is that even if blisters develop on your toes or soles you can endure the pain, but if blisters develop on your heel it’s too much pain. With caravan shoes blisters don’t develop so easily on the heels.  I also found that military boots or hiking boots were too heavy.

On October 5th, I went to Nihonbashi, Tokyo with my uchideshi Mr. Osamu Okada.  It was eight in the morning, and the girls of the Saitama Aikido Club were there to send us off. The first day we made it as far as Hiratsuka where Mr. Kazuo Igarashi was living and stayed there for the night. We talked and drank until the early hours of the morning.  Next, we walked from Odawara to Hakone.  Mr. Okada came down with a fever of 39C degrees and was staggering along. I offered to carry his backpack but he didn’t want to be coddled and just hung in there.  By the time we reached Odawara it was pouring rain. However, the rain seemed to lower his fever.  He was only 21 years old and in the peak of health. By the time we arrived at the inn, he had already recovered.

The inn master laid out our futons.  When he had heard of our walk to Ise, he told us that he had been a soldier in Manchuria and had to march long distances.  He recommended that we apply soap to our feet to prevent blisters.  Also, the inn master recommended flipping the socks inside out because the socks from those days had stitches inside. When we talked of our problem with laundry he said, “attach a bamboo stick on your backpack and hang your clothes to dry.”  That might have been all right for the Manchurian plains, but it wasn’t so useful for us.  We ended up washing our laundry later when we stayed at an acquaintance in Shizuoka, which was a big help.

From Hakone to Mishima is downhill.  I thought that going uphill would be harder but that’s not the case; going downhill is more difficult because your weight is pushing forward and you’re pressing on your toes.  If you’re walking long hours going down it’s tough. Until that point we only had to stay on Route One but the road had a different name when you went through a town.  If you made a mistake you’d have to backtrack and lose double the time if you’d strayed off the road.  We walked all morning and I was getting tired.  I told Okada, “Okada, you’re not being careful, that’s why we missed our road.”  He replied, “Sensei, you told us to go this way, it’s not my fault,” we continued to bicker.

By five o’clock we needed to inquire about a place to stay for the night at a tourist information center in a train station.  We did find one.  However, the place was far away and no evening meal was served there. In those days there were no convenient stores, so finding an evening meal was sometimes difficult. At Toyohashi we found an inn and requested a room. The woman in charge said, “I’m going to a flower arranging class, so I can’t put you up.”  We couldn’t walk anymore, so we bowed our heads and begged to stay.   She said, “I’m going out, but if you’ll watch the place I’ll let you stay.”  It was a much more innocent time back then.  One night stay cost 3,000 yen.

We ate breakfast at around seven o’clock and set out at about eight.  In the beginning, when the weather was fine we walked until lunchtime without a break.  After we ate lunch we suddenly felt tired. Since we walked all morning, we would take a lunch break and then take it easy in the afternoon. As a result we slowed down.  It is true that the military way of marching is best – walk fifty minutes, and rest ten.  Whether you’re tired or not it is best to keep a consistent pace.

When we’d get lost we would have to ask people for directions, and different people would say different things.  Most people would say, “From here you can catch a bus to such and such station, then take the train.”  When we told them that we were walking they would usually say, “That’s good.  Hang in there!” Still others were surprised and said, “Don’t be foolish.  I’ll at least pay for your bus fare.” Along the road we saw that many of the travelers were bicyclists, but there were also handicapped people and people in wheelchairs.

Since we walked alongside cars on the road, we had to walk in the ditch. The ditches were round and shaped like a half-pipe. After a week of walking on this slanted surface our bodies were feeling weird.

It is 500 kilometers from Nihonbashi, Tokyo to the Ise Shrine, and we averaged 30 to 40 kilometers per day.  Our daily expense was around 5,000 yen.  We finally arrived at the Ise Shrine after a twelve-day pilgrimage.  In Owashi we met up with Meiji University alumnus Mr. Okami who treated us to dinner. We returned home on the bullet train, which only took three hours, and the cost was around 10,000 yen.  We realized that traveling by foot takes time and money and that, in the end, it’s a luxury.

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